When the events in Charlottesville began to unfold, I was mostly relying on the radio for my information. I often rely on National Public Radio (NPR) to keep me up to date with current events. However, the night of Tuesday, August 16, I watched this and was brought to my senses:
This shook me to my core and reminded me of those times when educators must put any plans aside and focus on what really matters. What happened to Michael Brown, what happened to Trayvon Martin, what happened to Tamir Rice, what happened in Charlottesville… This is what really matters for our nation and our students.
These are the moments in our lives when we truly have an opportunity to teach and encourage dialogue to promote, hopefully, a brighter future for their generation.
Last weekend, America was forced to look in the mirror and see the reality of its society. As the “Unite the Right” rally made its way to Charlottesville, Virginia, it brought neo-Nazis, skinheads, white nationalists, white supremacists and general alt-right, violent, racist protestors.
These protestors were coming to the defense of a statue of Robert E. Lee, which was scheduled for removal. They were met with hundreds of anti-racists protesters ranging from representatives of the clergy, Black Lives Matter, and average citizens of Charlottesville who were appalled by the racist presence, invading the streets of their city.
The protests didn’t proceed peacefully. Heather Heyer was killed in what has been labeled an act of domestic terrorism, as an alt-right protestor rammed his car into traffic. This did not only resulted in the murder of Heyers, standing on the right side of history, standing up for what she believed in–an anti-racist America. Along with her murder, the crash injured 19 additional anti-racist protestors.
Now, those are the facts. As an educator, that conversation would be difficult enough. What happened next, though, complicates my ability to address this vicious act of racism within my classroom.
The president initially placed the blame for the violence in Charlottesville that led to Heyer’s death on both sides.
Then he spoke two days later, under pressure, calling out the KKK and neo-Nazis for being despicable racist groups.
Then he spoke yet again, the next day, taking many steps back by falsely equating the anti-racist protesters with those attempting to preserve the legacy white supremacy.
Is the President reflecting our nation’s ideals? Our identity? Is he a role model our students should look up to?
The Benefits of Having a Well-Established Personal Learning Network (PLN)
So, what now? What do we do as teachers? How do we address the complicated history and legacy of racism that took the life of Heather Heyers? I posted a status on Facebook as I was reeling in emotional turmoil after seeing footage from Charlottesville for the first time, and I re-posted the call to action and the call for help on my Twitter.
After venting a bit online, I immediately began looking for answers and resources for help to address this, specifically within my seventh grade English classroom.
When I ran into a colleague, she told me she saw my Facebook post and posed the question: So how are we going to approach what happened in Charlottesville last week?
I am known within my building to be on-top of addressing current events and pivotal moments in our culture. I was glad that a senior colleague sought out my help regarding this, as part of each other’s professional learning network. I’m proud my colleagues value me as a resource.
In an interview with TED about his book Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere, educator and blogger, Will Richardson explores how we can improve education by better networking ourselves, especially in the age of the internet (2013). He says, “I think the first step is that educators have to reexamine their own learning practice and move toward becoming more networked and connected themselves.” This is especially true when our values as a society are being questioned, and as teachers, we don’t know what to do.
Here is my opportunity to work through this for myself, in some ways, to help my colleagues, and to help all of our students digest this complicated moment in our history.
Resources to Address Charlottesville, Racism, and Our Shared History
Below, I collected resources from across the internet to help teachers go back to school with some tools in their belt to fight for social justice and to help build the types of future citizens we need, right within our classrooms.
The Washington Post published an article by Valerie Strauss titled, “The first thing teachers should do when school starts is talk about hatred in America. Here’s help.”
- This provides many online resources including Tolerance.org, ran by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which allows you to create and explore VAST collections of texts and media, as well as activities that promote social justice education.
- Please explore the #CharlottesvilleCurriculum feed on Twitter for continuously updated resources and tips from across the web.
NPR’s education site published a well-developed resource page, “Resources For Educators To Use In The Wake Of Charlottesville” by Anya Kamanetz.
- Starting Out: Tips and resources with how to introduce the topic and give background knowledge.
- Historical Background: Information from the University of Virginia outlining the racial histories of segregation and the displacement of African Americans in the city. They also give context for the controversy surrounding the removal and history of Confederate statues.
- Ripped from the Headlines: How to keep up with developments surrounding the tragedy of Charlottesville. Websites and Resources Highlighted:
National Council of Teachers of English published an extensive blog with websites and resources organized under the following lenses:
- Resources for Working with White Students (which is something I was specifically worried about!)
- Resources for Understanding White Supremacy
- Charlottesville—Specific Resources
- Resources for Understanding Bias
- Articles and Other Readings
I hope you will take the time and special opportunity we have as educators at this time to explore these topics and the tragedy at the heart of it. If we don’t make time for these opportunities for dialogue and growth within our classrooms, where do our values as educators really lie?
I will leave you with Riz Ahmed’s performance of a rap, spoken word style on Jimmy Fallon. Consider sharing this with your students as well.
Kamenetz, A. (2017, August 14). Resources For Educators To Use In The Wake Of Charlottesville. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2017/08/14/543390148/resources-for-educators-to-use-the-wake-of-charlottesville.
NCTE’s Standing Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English. (2017, August 16). There Is No Apolitical Classroom: Resources for Teaching in These Times. Retrieved from http://blogs.ncte.org/index.php/2017/08/there-is-no-apolitical-classroom-resources-for-teaching-in-these-times/.
Richardson, W. (2013, February 17). Why School? TED ebook author rethinks education when information is everywhere. Retrieved July 20, 2017, from http://blog.ted.com/why-school-ted-ebook-author-rethinks-education-when-information-is-everywhere/
Strauss, V. (2017, August 13). The first thing teachers should do when school starts is talk about hatred in America. Here’s help. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/08/13/the-first-thing-teachers-should-do-when-school-starts-is-talk-about-hatred-in-america-heres-help/.