I recently discovered abolitionist teaching, which has been pioneered by Bettina Love, and have dedicated two posts to unpacking my learnings of it. In my first post, I focused on Bettina’s book We Want to do More than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. In this post, I reflect on the panel discussion she was on recently with Gholdy Muhammad and Dena Simmons called Abolitionist Teaching and the Future of our Schools.
It may be needless to say, but it’s absolutely worth the hour and a half time commitment. These ladies put the US education on blast. There were several things that stood out to me and, for the sake of simplicity and my own future reference, I will bullet them.
- At 21:10, Gholdy calls for us to change our hiring practices and to have an explicit anti-racist and black-oriented focus during teacher interviews. This will help us gauge a teacher’s ability to interrupt white supremacy and properly serve our students — especially black and brown students. During an interview, for example, instead of asking, “Why do you want to work here?” or “Describe a challenge you overcame?,” we should be asking questions like, “How does anti-racism show up in your math class?”
- At 23:55, Bettina mentions the idea of how schools “manage inequality” as opposed to eradicate it. We have tons of positions in our school systems — positions that black educators are often given — that are designed to help schools and districts overcome classism, racism, and sexism instead of working to remove those barriers for students. My school is guilty of this. Mind blown.
- At 26:30, Dena goes into how social-emotional learning (or any curriculum) is merely “white supremacy with a hug” without an anti-racist or abolitionist lens attached to it. If we’re not direct, if the teacher hasn’t done the anti-racist work themselves, if the context isn’t explicitly anti-racist, our curriculum and our good intentions make no difference; they will still promote white supremacy and turn our efforts into weapons that harm dark children.
- During 35:45-36:25, the host, Brian Jones, asks Bettina to talk about the parallel between the abolitionists from the 19th century and educator abolitionists today. Her response during 36:25-39:08 was the most brilliant, most beautiful, most inspirational monologue of the whole recording. Rewatching this segment is an absolute must for me.
- At 49:11, Dena addresses the question that many white folks have: “What can I do with my white privilege?” She pointedly remarks that the question in and of itself is offensive. It assumes that the white person asking it wishes to keep their privilege instead of giving it up, that they inherently wish to maintain the racial status quo. Thank you, Dena.
- At 50:10, Bettina elaborates on the idea that, as a society, we should center black women and their experiences when it comes to social justice because of the world view that they have. Black women — and black queer women especially — have been marginalized on many different levels (race, gender, class, sex), if not every level, and that this intersectional oppression has allowed them to see the world more inclusively than any other group. Both Gholdy and Dena also chime in and the whole segment gives me a wealth of perspective about black women that I never had before. The gripping Kimberly Jones speech was mentioned. At 54:40, Dena drops a bomb when she discusses how black women can teach the world emotional intelligence. Between 55:20-56:44, Gholdy struck a chord with me with her compelling argument that Black Americans, given all the beauty they’ve created from all the oppression they’ve endured, should be the next models for humanity.
- During 57:45-1:01:17, Bettina rocks my world again. She talks about remote learning, the closing of schools, and how — all of a sudden, out of nowhere — so much was possible. In the span of a month, everything changed: no standardized testing, free laptops, overflowing trust in teachers and parents, tech companies giving away resources. In Bettina’s words, the system has played its hand and we cannot go back. We must maintain the expectation of compassion over compliance.
- Throughout the discussion, Gholdy constantly refers back to notion that to achieve equity and an anti-oppressive society, teachers cannot and should not be exclusively focused on skills. In her research about abolitionist readers, writers, and thinkers, she uncovered that these revolutionaries also taught themselves identity development, intellectual development, and criticality into order to help move themselves and everyone else to a racially-just world. Her book was noted.
- At 1:05:14, Bettina: anti-racist, abolitionist teaching belongs in WHITE SCHOOLS. Period.
- During 1:12:34-1:14:40 Bettina shoots off many books and organizations to plug into abolitionist and social teaching, including her own project, The Abolitionist Teaching Network. It will launch in the coming weeks. There’s a welcome webinar that I no doubt will be attending on July 13.