When Mrs. James told me she had asked the students to write a brief summary of what they had learned from our project since we had started, I got excited.
I thought, “Oh, they will talk about empowerment and growth and development and understanding!”
When I read the students’ comments about what they learned over several months of working together I felt confused.
I compared them mentally with what I remembered the students wanting to study and learn. They had clearly identified racism as a huge problem at their school and in their lives. They had been obvious through their initial questions about the disconnect they felt with White teachers. When they had talked about what they wanted to learn the students were matter-of-fact about and a bit demanding to gain greater insight into White teacher perspectives on their relationships with Latino/a students.
But after working together for several months, the students, through their comments, seemed resigned. It seemed to be almost a superficial game playing.
This was the game they had to play to survive. The game of not rocking the boat, so to speak. And accepting a whole lot of blame for the negative feelings they had about their relationships with their White teachers. But, was it really a game? Or something else?
I kept asking myself, why the drastic shift? Why did this happen? Did I do something wrong? Was it Mrs. James’ fault? Was there some theory that would explain all of this? Could the students themselves explain it?
And then I began to look back on the interviews I had had with the teachers in the school. And I looked back on the interviews the students had conducted with the teachers in the school. I continued to interview teachers with an eye toward understanding this shift.
I realized that these students are receiving some pretty direct, and what I (and others) call silencing messages every day.
Some are more explicit, others more subtle. But all of them have the effect of silencing these students and stunting their ability to produce knowledge that is deemed valuable by those in positions of authority over them.
EVERYDAY MESSAGES FROM TEACHERS
Click on the quotes below to read more of what teachers are saying to students every day.
Then consider the questions posted below each quote by yourself, in your class, in your family, or with others. What types of messages are these (and many other) students and youth receiving every day about themselves, their peers, those in authority over them? About racism? About life?
Tear Down Racism, Build Up Unity