If Only

By:

Kids working on project

Growing up, race was not discussed in my daily life. In fact, it was avoided. Addressing race was taboo In my small community because many felt that to even acknowledge race meant you were, in fact, a racist. To be “not racist” was to ignore race and everything associated with it. Except during February. During Black History Month, surface-level racial recall was crucial and everywhere. It was the one month of the year I could experience parts of my history and develop my identity without feeling invisible. 

I sometimes get lost thinking about who I would be today if only someone during my K-12 experience had taken a step to include me and my cultural connections into the school day. What if they had focused on ensuring curriculum where I saw myself as a positive influence instead of always as oppressed? What if they were open to helping me discover my intersecting identities or to at least defend them? What if even one teacher helped me to understand and navigate the complex systems that would become my greatest barriers to happiness? Who would I be? 

While working on my undergraduate degree I was exposed to an overwhelming amount of new knowledge, and I couldn’t get enough. I’d hyper-fixate on an event, document, or person and spend hours, even days, consuming everything I possibly could. I would think, Why wasn’t I taught this in high school? or Why didn’t we read or learn about this person or event?  

When I became a social studies educator, I found the answer to all my questions. I was forced to use a textbook riddled with confused information, missing perspectives, and language disconnected from the reality of historical truth. I sped through information to make it to the next unit instead of taking the time and care to ensure a thorough learning experience. 

I knew I needed to take a chance and change the way I was teaching. As I began to expand my curriculum choices, I felt guided by the wondering younger me. 

If only one of my many English teachers had noticed my love of words and storytelling, they could have introduced me to Toni Morrison. 

If only one of my many science teachers had seen my love for nature, they could have sparked my joy for Indigenous culture and its connection to the earth. 

If only one of my music teachers had taken the time to provide the context, history, and culture of jazz music, they could have empowered my musical self-expression. 

If only one of my math teachers had seen my love for the stars, they could have guided me to study Benjamin Banneker. 

If only one of my many social studies teachers had seen my passion for historical truth and justice, they could have given me James Baldwin or Angela Davis.

As antiracist educators we do not need to be content experts. We need to be inclusive about what students will learn and brave enough to embrace their curiosity.