This is the true story of 40 strangers picked to meet in a park, talk together and have their conversations taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real… on education.
Okay, so this isn’t an episode of The Real World, and the MTV series that sparked a reality television revolution probably isn’t recording on your DVR. But a new video series featuring Black parents, teachers and students should be all over your iPhone, Android, MacBook, PC, and whatever tablet you use to stream video. Because when it comes to education in the United States, our world is just different, and we actually have a few things to say about what’s working and what we think should change in order to improve our public school experience. As one gentleman in the video put it: “There are a lot of people talking about education about us, without us. “There are a lot of people changing the game and changing where and how you go to school, and it’s not us.”
This has certainly been true of my education story. Growing up as the only Black student in all of my classes until high school, I don’t think anyone outside of my parents ever asked me what it was like to be the only one of me in school. The only Black male educator I had taught my gym class in ninth grade. And school choice for my parents meant sacrificing the diversity they valued for the academic opportunities afforded in a less diverse community.
So when I watched the videos, I thought to myself: “How cool is this? A whole video series about the Black experience in public schools?”
As I listened to parents, teachers and students talk about the joys and frustrations of choosing a school, the belief gap, Black teachers, discipline and parent responsibility, I found myself both nodding in agreement, and at times, shaking my head—appalled by what others have had to endure.
Like Tynisha Jointer, I too wondered, “Where are all the Black people?” as a young kid going to school. But unlike Unique Morris, not once did anyone ever say to me, “Your kind will never amount to anything.”
Come to think of it, I don’t believe any of my teachers thought I couldn’t achieve the very best. But, I also made sure to fill whatever belief gap that attempted to enter their mind with “A” upon, “A+” upon “A++” with every assignment and exam given, because as the only one of “my kind,” I often felt I had no choice but to achieve the very best.
So today, as a Black female who has worked in a variety of different school environments, I own the power of my presence as a Black role model for students. I may not be a teacher, but I am another adult playing a role in their academic experience. And while I say “thank you” to the colleagues who compliment me on my style of dress, I don’t do it for the compliment. I do it so that every Black child I pass in the hall can see someone else who looks like them, making a life for herself and making a difference for others.
These are just some of the things that have shaped my real world experience in education.
The point is, we all have a story. Some of our stories are similar and some are vastly different. But they all matter. Giving 40 Black strangers the opportunity to share their story shouldn’t be a unique experience. It should be something we’re constantly sharing with each other, as well as with our White friends and colleagues.
We can learn a lot from each other’s real world experiences. Hopefully with knowledge, comes empathy, and with empathy comes a willingness to work together to improve the experience for all of us.
If you or someone you know wants to share their real world education story, Colorado School Talk is a safe place to do so. Email me at [email protected] to get started.