teaching: why teachers need to be informed about Black Lives Matter

February 29, 2016


One of the sessions of district professional development that I attended last week was on the connections between the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. The speaker passionately spoke about the lesser known details of the Civil Rights Movement, the connection between historical and present movements for equity, and the necessity of understanding Black Lives Matter in the modern classroom. Here are my thoughts on the necessity, and benefits, of learning about and including Black Lives Matter into the classroom.

Connecting the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Lives Matter Movement

If you agree with the ideas of Black Lives Matter, but disagree with their tactics, please hear me out.

Disruption is necessary. The bus boycotts, the sit in's, and the marches of the midcentury created disruptions. Blocking highways, protesting at places like the Mall of America, and interrupting presidential candidates are disruptions. These actions target systematic and institutionalized racism by drawing people's attention to inequities that many people of privilege can be blind to. Disruption shakes people out of their routine and requires them to focus on their discomfort in comparison to the loss of many lives to police brutality. 

I would highly recommend watching the movie Selma if you haven't already. The parallels between movements are obvious while watching the film, and Selma does a strong job of showing the resistance against the actions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the powers that be at the time. 

Another great resource that I recently found is this video on the friendship of Bayard Rustin, and James Baldwin, who were both involved in the civil rights movement, and gay. The video touches on many important events in this history, including the murder of Emmet Till, which I never learned about in school.

Why teachers should be aware of the movement

Our students are aware of Black Lives Matter. Our students are aware of Donald Trump. Ignoring or skirting around topics involving racism breaks trust with students, and passes up valuable chances to engage students in authentic classwork. Whether we teach diverse or homogenous groups of students, they know that race is important, and they know that it is being talked about across the country. By being able to direct students to resources, or include a lesson on race and Black Lives Matter, teachers are able to reach out and interact with their students on these topics. Students of color benefit from the ability to see themselves represented in a curriculum, and white students are able to learn that the struggle against white supremacy can involve them, and needs to involve them.

How to get informed

I would really encourage any teachers (or people in general) that want to know more about Black Lives Matter to follow the closest local chapter to them on Facebook. I follow Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and have so much respect for the community organizing and events my chapter supports and endorses.

The other resource I want to point out is the guiding principles posted on blacklivesmatter.com/guiding-principles. These principles call out Black Lives Matter's principles: inclusion of transgender and LGBTQ+ people, restorative justice, empathy, and community (among other things). This, to me, is a gorgeous picture of what a more just world should look like.

If you are up for more time intensive undertakings, I would suggest reading Between the World and Me by TaNehisi Coates, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

How to talk about Black Lives Matter, and include it in your curriculum

You don't need to press your beliefs upon your students, but becoming aware of the connection between Black Lives Matter and the civil rights movement is a good start to engaging with it in the classroom. Providing resources for students who ask questions about this is another way that you can authentically engage with this topic. 

I have included Black Lives Matter into my curriculum. I used articles about the death of Jamar Clark at the hands of a police officer to examine point of view and bias with my ninth graders. I used a press release from Donald Trump to explore tone and emotion in writing. Now, my students will be completing a literary analysis of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and looking at theme, structure, tone, and figurative language. My students were intensely interested in our units, and I found that my rapport with students grew as they understood who I am, and the importance that I place on the sanctity of all human life. 

It's okay to not have all the answers. It's okay to be nervous that you won't be able to talk about race or other issues of discrimination with enough finesse. Be transparent about that with our students. Give students the chance to process their beliefs, and create a space of accountability and respect that includes you. 

All we have to lose is our chains. 

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