next steps

Terence Crutcher was a KIPP parent, and the charter school network urges action

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Leila Hadd
A KIPP school in the Bronx

A national charter network is urging its schools to take action this week to show support for the family of Terence Crutcher, the black man shot and killed this week by a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Crutcher was the parent of a child at a KIPP charter school, the network’s leader told principals in a letter Wednesday morning.

“This is beyond a tragedy. It is an outrage,” KIPP CEO Richard Barth wrote. “While Mr. Crutcher’s death hits home in the KIPP community, it is part of a pattern of violence that has gone on across this country for far too long.”

Now, KIPP is asking its schools across the country to act in solidarity.

“This could involve releasing balloons, holding a moment of silence, posting on social media, or any other actions you see fit,” Barth wrote. “Take a public stand.”

A number of charter leaders have spoken publicly against the violence against black Americans that has fueled a wrenching national conversation about race in recent months. But since June, when multiple shootings heightened the conversation, both a coalition of Black Lives Matter groups and the NAACP came out against the publicly funded but privately managed schools.

Those moves drove away at least one prominent supporter, a Black Lives Matter leader and charter school advocate in St. Paul, Minnesota, where a school worker was killed by a police officer in June.

But Barth’s message suggests that he is sticking by both the movement and the nonprofit. While he does not mention Black Lives Matter by name in his letter, he emphasizes the idea central to the movement: “For many of our KIPP families and students, the threat of police violence is a constant worry. There is a very real sense that no place is safe for black and brown bodies.”

He also vows to support the NAACP’s Pledge to Protect and Preserve Our Lives, a call to cut funding to police departments shown to discriminate and to create a system to review police shootings.

Here is the full letter:

Dear KIPP Team and Family,

By now, many of you have heard about Terence Crutcher, an unarmed African American male who was fatally shot by police in Tulsa, OK on Friday. As news outlets have reported, Mr. Crutcher was a beloved father and brother, a college student, and a singer in his church choir.

What you may not know is that Mr. Crutcher was also a KIPP Tulsa parent.

This is beyond a tragedy. It is an outrage. While Mr. Crutcher’s death hits home in the KIPP community, it is part of a pattern of violence that has gone on across this country for far too long. In my view, this is about fear – the senseless killing that can result from fear. Fear is what makes a police officer discharge their firearm on an unarmed person. And if a police officer is that fearful, they either need more training or they should not be a law enforcement officer. Full stop. We must demand this, for fear cripples us – all of us. For many of our KIPP families and students, the threat of police violence is a constant worry. There is a very real sense that no place is safe for black and brown bodies.

Before I share some thoughts on our collective response, I want to share a quick update on KIPP Tulsa. There are grief counselors on campus this week, and staff from the KIPP Foundation and KIPP Oklahoma City are on hand to lend support. School staff met this morning to start processing their reactions, and tomorrow students will read and talk about an adapted version of a CNN article. On Friday the school community will gather on the lawn and release balloons in a show of solidarity with the Crutcher family.

Andrew McCrae, our fearless leader of KIPP Tulsa wants to thank all of the members of our nationwide KIPP team and family who have reached out in support. If you would like to reach out to the school, please contact KIPP Foundation Senior Relationship Manager Quinton Vance at [email protected]

Now, for how we can harness the power of the KIPP community (and our own personal influence, for those of us in positions of privilege.) In my opening remarks at KSS 2016, I said that we need make this part of the fabric of our work—to engage with it every day. Part of that is showing up on issues of social justice, of equity, and of equality.

In that spirit, I ask all of you to consider two things:

Act in solidarity with KIPP Tulsa this Friday, September 23. This could involve releasing balloons, holding a moment of silence, posting on social media, or any other actions you see fit.

This is a systemic issue and will require public officials stepping up and promising to protect black lives. I support NAACP’s Pledge to Protect and Preserve Our Lives. Will you support it? What will you do? [This paragraph is an updated one from a version posted on KIPP’s website.]

And I would like to repeat what I said at KSS, and what I shared last week: get out and vote. And join the 12 KIPP regions hosting voter drives to get others to vote. If we don’t like something in America, we need to exercise our right to change it with our vote.

As a Team and Family, we laugh and we cry together. We live and we learn together. We celebrate and we mourn together. And we show up for each other, and with each other. KIPP is about learning and growing, moving toward a better world. We use education and schools to accomplish that lofty aim. And to do that, we must advocate to create safe and secure environments for our students to develop, and to achieve the better world we all want to see.

Onward,
Richard

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Eagle Academy For Young Men in Queens. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below.