Photo: Brandon Tauszik/San Francisco Chronicle Polaris)
Protestors hold signs during the George Floyd protest at 12th St. and Broadway in Oakland, Calif, on Saturday, May 30, 2020.

As the nation and the world continue to witness unprecedented chants of Black Lives Matter and calls to end systemic racism, one cannot help but feel guarded optimism.

As large segments of whites, Blacks, Latinos, Asian, Native, and mixed-race Americans fight for change it is easy to see the potential and promise of what an inclusive, multiracial democracy can look like.

Peaceful protests of a cross section of Americans demanding change at a time when unarmed Black Americans are being killed offers us all a hope that we have a brighter future ahead of us. Young people have been an integral part of the peaceful protests. Schools should watch, listen, and learn from this moment because many of the voices on the front lines have been school-aged youth fighting for equality, justice, and respect for all people.

Moreover, many school districts, like corporations across the nation, have issued statements and made declarations that they support Black Lives Matter, they will do more in the fight for racial justice, and be more reflective about how to best support Black students.

These declarations are encouraging and can offer guarded optimism, but let’s be clear, a healthy dose of skepticism is in order when schools come out and make such statements when it is safe to do so when chanting “Black Lives Matter” has gone mainstream, and when the entire world is saying that anti-Black racism is a problem.

As a teacher and author who has spent decades pushing for schools to recognize the structural disadvantages and overt racism that affects Black students and other students of color for years, only to be met with fierce resistance, this moment is confusing to say the least. As someone who has heard teachers and administrators claim that their schools are not racist, and that the problem with Black students is lack of motivation, no discipline, apathy, or no parent involvement, this moment is hard to digest.

If schools are really serious about addressing anti-Black racism beyond this mainstream moment then there will have to be a much greater investment in different policies, practices, and beliefs when the fervor dissipates.

When the marches stop, schools will need to look at themselves hard in the mirror and ask, how can we say Black Lives Matter when we are complicit in Black student failure? When the protests come to an end, schools will have to ask themselves, how can we state that we want to end systemic racism when many policies disproportionately punish, suspend, and systematically fail Black students?

As the chants stop, schools must ask why have they allowed some teachers who have deeply rooted anti-Black ideas and beliefs towards Black students to teach them, yet they never call them on it, despite repeated overtures from Black students and parents about these individuals.

In short, this moment makes it easy for schools to say that Black Lives Matter. This moment has made it comfortable for schools to say that racism is real and that they will stand up against it, but when the lights go down, will schools do the really heavy lifting to examine school curriculum which often excludes Black history, life and culture?

It will be vital for schools to take a look at the make-up of teachers, counselors, and administrators at their schools and ask “Where are the Black people?” Putting in place a concerted strategic plan to hire, support, and promote more Black educators would reflect a serious commitment to ending Black exclusion.

And perhaps the most damning action that we can end is the persistent apathy of too many teachers who just do not care about Black student achievement. These are frequently nice people — who cover the entire racial spectrum — yet they stand by with low expectations of Black students, do not teach them, have no rigor in their instruction or coursework, provide them busywork every day, and essentially give them permission to fail.

All administrators know who these teachers are, because students and other teachers know who they are. It is these individuals who do more damage to Black children than can be quantified. The passivity and indifference about Black children’s education harms them in countless ways. If schools truly believe that Black Lives Matter, then allowing passive indifference, situated in low expectations must be publicly shamed and called to task.

Will these steps be easy? Of course not. Will conversations about change be comfortable? They usually are not. Will there be resistance and denial? You can guarantee it.

But this is the work of protests and change. Remember it is one thing to fight for eradicating racism when the wind is in your sails and you can offer slogans and chants about justice, but it is something different when the wind is in your face, and the uphill battle for justice seems to be a narrow road with few supporters, intense opposition, fierce resistance, and no end in sight.

So welcome to the team, educators who are on board for the fight for racial justice. We truly hope that you are here for the movement, and not just for the moment.

If you are truly dedicated to racial justice in education, recognize that it is not for the faint of heart, not for the thin-skinned, and is not for those looking for easy and comfortable victories. It is a long, tireless, and often grueling road. But it is a fight that is worth our time, effort, and energy, because our students’ lives are at stake.

•••

Tyrone C. Howard is a professor at the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies at UCLA. He is also the Pritzker Family Endowed Chair in Education to Strengthen Children & Families and director of the UCLA Black Male Institute.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. Commentaries published on EdSource represent viewpoints from EdSource’s broad audience. As an independent, non-partisan organization, EdSource does not take a position on legislation or policy. We welcome guest commentaries that reflect the diversity of California. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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  1. Pedro wilson 23 hours ago23 hours ago

    This dude needs to read Thomas Sowell’s “Black Rednecks and White Liberals.” This is a cultural problem that desperately needs to be addressed. When blacks will stop calling other blacks Uncle Toms just because they want to get educated, we might start going in the right direction.

  2. HEIDI WATSON 1 month ago1 month ago

    In school I was told I could do or be anything I wanted but it would take hard work on my part. I would have to do homework, study and be prepared. Success would not be handed to me. These words stuck in mind and helped me to ignore taunts from kids who didn’t work at studies but argued with teachers and failed. I graduated. I got a job. I’m involved in my community projects … Read More

    In school I was told I could do or be anything I wanted but it would take hard work on my part. I would have to do homework, study and be prepared. Success would not be handed to me. These words stuck in mind and helped me to ignore taunts from kids who didn’t work at studies but argued with teachers and failed. I graduated. I got a job. I’m involved in my community projects to make life better for everyone. Making excuses was not accepted by my mother or teachers.

  3. Darin L Clements 2 months ago2 months ago

    Poor victims. Nothing is ever the fault of the self-professed victim.

  4. Lisa Gross 2 months ago2 months ago

    Thank you for this article. One thing that was not mentioned is the lack equitable resources in low-income minority schools. It is hard to provide a good education with little support, where teachers have little training to deal with kids with so called "aggressive behaviors," and trauma. Where, rather than supporting students with mental health issues and trauma they are suspended, tracked and often wind up in the juvenile justice system. … Read More

    Thank you for this article. One thing that was not mentioned is the lack equitable resources in low-income minority schools. It is hard to provide a good education with little support, where teachers have little training to deal with kids with so called “aggressive behaviors,” and trauma. Where, rather than supporting students with mental health issues and trauma they are suspended, tracked and often wind up in the juvenile justice system.

    Without money and serious ongoing teacher training we will not change the systemic and structural racism that exists in the education. system.

  5. Stephanie 3 months ago3 months ago

    Our son recently graduated high school with a 4.0 gpa from a southern california public school. The student body was predominantly white, asian, persian, and latino. Our son is black. The only "awkward" incident in H.S. he reported to us was his engineering teacher, a white male retired U.S. veteran, who "regularly asked (me) during class projects if I needed help." Our son said he at times felt singled out and wondered if his teacher assumed … Read More

    Our son recently graduated high school with a 4.0 gpa from a southern california public school. The student body was predominantly white, asian, persian, and latino. Our son is black.

    The only “awkward” incident in H.S. he reported to us was his engineering teacher, a white male retired U.S. veteran, who “regularly asked (me) during class projects if I needed help.” Our son said he at times felt singled out and wondered if his teacher assumed he was a low-achiever because he is black.

    So where does our son’s teacher fall in this author’s view of education? Is our son’s teacher a racist because he made an extra effort toward a black student? Or would he have been more racist if he had not made an extra effort?

    Or, can we admit we are overthinking all this?

    It is possible our son’s teacher has seen his past black students struggling more than their peers?

    Is it possible that this white teacher genuinely cares about the success of all of his students, including his black students?

    If most teachers are racially biased, and black students can only learn from black teachers and administrators, then how did our son achieve a 4.0?

    I will tell you how: He worked hard, and he earned it.

  6. Craig barbare 3 months ago3 months ago

    As a teacher I was required to take classes and follow guidelines on Diversity. Then classes on how black boys are raised differently and deserve special treatment; extra tutoring sessions were created for black kids. Disciplinary measures for black kids were referred to a black male teacher because "he understood them better" ....on and on. Detention was always 80% black. I have one question. All my students were in the same room at the … Read More

    As a teacher I was required to take classes and follow guidelines on Diversity. Then classes on how black boys are raised differently and deserve special treatment; extra tutoring sessions were created for black kids. Disciplinary measures for black kids were referred to a black male teacher because “he understood them better” ….on and on. Detention was always 80% black.

    I have one question. All my students were in the same room at the same time receiving the same instruction as the other kids. How do you account for the lower grades? It comes back to effort, motivation, reward, behavior, maturity. What are their parents doing to help?

    We can’t be teachers, counselors, mediators, advisors, guards, rule enforcers, babysitters, role models, and more and still fulfill the comprehensive duties of an educator.
    Where are the parents?

    Replies

    • Tiffany B 2 months ago2 months ago

      It can be frustrating, but don't be daunted by the task. Make the difference for one. Just because they are all in the same class at the same time doesn't mean that they were all at the same starting line. Be the voice that speaks affirmation, build authentic relationships. You're in this field, so you're built for this, just like the rest of us. I learn as much from my … Read More

      It can be frustrating, but don’t be daunted by the task. Make the difference for one. Just because they are all in the same class at the same time doesn’t mean that they were all at the same starting line. Be the voice that speaks affirmation, build authentic relationships. You’re in this field, so you’re built for this, just like the rest of us. I learn as much from my kids as they do from me…sometimes more.

  7. Adriana Blanco Ajamian 3 months ago3 months ago

    Bravo Mr. Howard! You nailed it! Our schools have been failing our students for decades. What keeps bad and jaded teachers teaching? Why hasn't there been a significant effort to incentivize Black Americans to become educators? We've put our votes and trust in community leaders that have failed over and over. Why? Scared of the unions? Do they want to keep minorities down and dumb so they stay in power? Is it just too … Read More

    Bravo Mr. Howard! You nailed it! Our schools have been failing our students for decades. What keeps bad and jaded teachers teaching? Why hasn’t there been a significant effort to incentivize Black Americans to become educators? We’ve put our votes and trust in community leaders that have failed over and over. Why? Scared of the unions? Do they want to keep minorities down and dumb so they stay in power? Is it just too difficult to understand that education is the key to success? It’s time for real change and it’s not about handing out money.

  8. cameron DOUGLAS 3 months ago3 months ago

    All lives matter. I have not seen so much racism since BLM started it dividing the country. Friends and family, it is politics, liberals.

    Replies

    • Leona 1 month ago1 month ago

      Racism has been happening. Open your eyes. People are calling out what’s been happening for centuries . You are part of the problem & the reason of why racism continues in this country. Cause people like you ignore it because it’s not happening to you.

    • Leona 1 month ago1 month ago

      This wasn’t made up by liberals. Even our government confirms that black people are treated unfairly. The American people were angry & started the protests. Some resulted to violence, but the majority of protests were peaceful. People deal with their anger differently, but regardless this has to stop. Let’s all be treated equally by the government and then we can all move on from this as a society.

  9. EDWARD SMITH 3 months ago3 months ago

    Why don’t you do a little teaching before you blame the teachers. Ten years from now the same inequalities in education and achievement will exist because you blamed others for your own cultural failure.

  10. Ben chavis 3 months ago3 months ago

    When less than 500 black students in the USA score 1400 or above on the SAT there is a national problem for them.

    1. Mr. Howard what do see as the reason our students low performance on the SAT or ACT?

    2. What do you believe should be done to correct this academic injustice in the education of black students?

  11. Mike 3 months ago3 months ago

    Peaceful protests? You’re out of your mind. BLM is dividing this country and inciting a civil war. Liberal anarchists have hijacked an important and legitimate cause.

  12. Bella 3 months ago3 months ago

    Thank you! I would also like to see those features of systemic school racism outside of the classroom addressed. There’s an unfortunate tendency to focus only on the teachers and not on other causes of systemic racism, such as closing urban schools in communities of color to open those schools several miles away in white, wealthy suburbs.