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Black Teachers

If you really want more black males in education, stop dragging the ones who are already there when they disagree with your whack ass

What would you think if I sent you a black candidate for an education project whose background included experience as a public school principal in two urban districts, a past position serving as the deputy chancellor of special education for the DC Public Schools; a member of several prestigious boards; a B.A in Sociology from Emory; a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction, an administrator’s certification; and a Ph.d in Educational Policy, Planning, and Administration from University of Maryland?

In black America, we would call that a success, right?

What if on top of that background of achievement I also told you that you would never meet a sweeter person than this candidate?

Well, you’ve just met Richard Nyankori and having encountered him in networking circles the best I can describe him is to say he is a brilliant caramel coated man with a beefy frame, kind eyes, an easy smile, and a gentleman’s presence that can instantly set anyone at ease.

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Richard Nyankori, founder of SpedX

These details are important because the man you would see if you met him in person is an entirely Richard than the crass cartoon you’ll meet when he is described by Mercedes Schneider, a blogging teacher who routinely takes aim at those she considers to be enemies of public education.

In her view, Richard is one such enemy.

She wrote a blog post (no, I won’t link to her hot garbage of a blog) about Richard that flogs him as a greedy TFA-alum looking to make a fast buck off of K-12 education (Richard owns a start-up company that helps states and school districts understand their special education data).

In two separate blog posts, she calls into question his integrity as a person, his legitimacy as a former educator, and says his educational background is “sketchy.”

To a #BasicBloggingBecky, one who teaches in southern public schools, the successful black man we see is nothing but a suspicious character.

That reminds me of the Malcolm X quote from years ago:

Q: “What do they call a black man with a Ph.D.?”

A: “Nigger.”

Nyankori’s vignette is just one story. He lost a contract because of Schneider’s public hate campaign, but he survived and doesn’t need me to defend him.

But he’s not alone.

I could stop writing this now and call the first ten black men in my phone who have anything to do with education and I’d collect a series of stories in which they are targets for white women who harness their social privilege and positional power to make their opinions material.

I’ve had my own experience with it, which caused job losses twice.

Yet, there is so much public talk about getting more black males into the space. There is less talk about the #Becky problem.

Maybe you read this from today’s headline: “Possible key to black boys’ academic success: Hire black men as elementary school teachers.”

The key stat from the story (the one you’ve probably heard before) is:

“Nationwide, 2 percent of public school teachers are African-American males and 2 percent are Hispanic males, while students of color make up about half the nation’s public school enrollment from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, according to the U.S. Department of Education.”

Those numbers are terrible. We should do something.

Cue the insincere surprise from education people, the symbolic concern of our “allies,” and the countless grant proposals that will be accepted with smiles but rejected for funding.

Don’t let me make light of the problem. Yes, there are too few black men seen, heard, and leading not just in education, but in every area where society determines the quality of life for our children.

Maybe a contributor to the problem is that for many of us being present and participating in rooms we don’t define (and ones that often define us improperly) can be “extra.”

I can’t speak for every other black man, but speaking for myself I can tell you one barrier to sustained interaction is the culture of the spaces I enter is made for someone else. I don’t like wearing other people’s shoes, especially when they have no interest in walking in mine.

The average American teacher is a middle-aged, middle-class, college-educated white woman, and while she may see herself as a passive victim to an over-domineering top-down education system, the truth is, she is a powerful figure that creates the culture that black males – students and teachers – learn and work in.

If you talk to an education journalist who tells the stories – our stories – you’re probably talking to a white woman, and we are at their mercy. Their whims and views become the public discussion.

My friend Tom Rademacher, a white male teacher, says:

There is a culture of White women in schools, a dominant culture that is invisible, almost aggressively invisible, to many because of its dominance. Whiteness is so dominant that it is too often viewed as the neutral norm, and conversations around race in schools focus on the experiences of people of color and not on what it means that there are so many White people.

White women own education and it’s something that is uncomfortable to talk about. It’s ok to admit that teaching is very white and feminized, but talking about how that shapes the environment, especially for the black male, is socially risky.

Are you a racist? Sexist? Are you saying that white women can’t teach black kids?

How dare you?

Yes, I dare. Let go of the pearls. Find a mirror. Be silent. Seek to understand. Then return to the debate.

Here’s what I’m saying: to be black and male in spaces that are very white and female is complicated, annoying and sometimes dangerous. Addressing that reality has to be part of any effort to increase our numbers in education.

And, when I say “in education,” I mean in advocacy, activism, and organizing in addition to school leadership and teaching.

Black elected officials, school leaders, and policy people find themselves smeared like Richard whenever they dare think a thought that hasn’t been approved by the Sisters of the Blessed Badass Teachers. That’s wrong.

Do you want peers, or do you want slaves? We can help with the former; if it’s the latter we’ll have to introduce you to our ancestors.

Everyone should be open to fair criticism, but don’t think you can shred our resumes and disregard our history and lived-experience (while ignoring your unearned privilege and positional power).

If that’s the best you can do, expect educated black men to say “no thank you.”

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Ms. Jones

    July 31, 2018 at 10:20 pm

    Very interesting and thought provoking. Education need Black men and women. Students of color will always lack true self development as long as the reflection of the person leading the class lacks a foundation and training with relating to diverse learners because relationships matter.

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Black Teachers

Ms. Johnson, I apologize

While I still feel the frustration with the glacier pace of change during your administration, I can appreciate the initiatives and structural changes you were making now in a way that didn’t make sense then. You needed support to fight the good fight, not a hasty exit to make room for killer milquetoast.

For the public record, this is a note to Bernadeia Johnson.

Ma’am, I am sorry.

A several years ago you were superintendent of the Minneapolis Public schools and I was a former school board member who had tired of a school district that I felt was insupportably slow at addressing its problems with black and brown students.

After a long fight with MPS brass and staff came to believe the district under your leadership was more interested in appeasing adults than raising achievement. In our terse interactions during that time I targeted you all for a campaign that likened the work you did to the Jim Crow South.

I think we called the slow movement toward reform, the over-suspension and warehousing of blacks students, and the lack of investments in the Office of Black Male Achievement, “Jim Crow, Jr.

You’re being from the South, almost as deep south as me, it must have been a piss-inducing label for you to hear.

While it was a particularly spiteful and angry message to send, it was also justifiable in my mind by the inadequate responses community members were given after multiple inquiries about the district’s plan was for improving black students’ lives. It seemed to us that if folks weren’t white and socially connected – from the business community or the circles of wine-guzzling power parents surrounding the tony lakes of Minneapolis – the district had little interest in the grievances of nobodies.

We weren’t having it. We wouldn’t be quiet.

But you can chalk this up to the proverbial “be careful what you wish for.” We wished for your departure, and in return the gods gave us reasons to see our folly. We thought you were the problem when in fact you were merely the veneer.

After your departure student achievement did not miraculously improve, in fact, it got worse. The teacher’s contract didn’t improve, it was weakened. Low expectations took permanent residence at district headquarters. Talented people left. The education media went numb. The school board went Solange-in-the-elevator crazy.

The children got hosed.

Yes, I think things were stalling under your administration. But, knowing what I know now, I hadn’t accounted for how many different special-interest groups you were fighting to make even modest progress. Your teachers and their union and the privileged Whole Foods contingent of Southwest Minneapolis that supported them have always been a bless-your-heart kinda special. I think we both know that when they say “equity” it’s just their way of saying “give me what I want or I’ll use the silent hand of privilege to move you out of your role.”

Good negroes do as told and rise through the ranks. Sometimes they even reach the Senate and enroll their kids in private schools. Runaway slaves open up blogs, expose people, and become national voices for education activism.

When you left (or should I say, when you were gently nudged from former supporters who wanted to let you know that while they thought you were an amazing person they also thought it was time for change) you were replaced with the telegenic, affable, white male who had been let go from his previous district because – though he was well-liked by the public and staff – they had an aggressive plan close the achievement gap and because of direct experience they didn’t see him as their leader.

Which of course means that he was perfect for Minneapolis, a place where Morton’s salt passes for an exotic spice, “nice” is better than “good,” and we crave niceness more than effectiveness.

I could belabor the point about how downhill things have gone since you left, but it isn’t necessary. Any fool in Minneapolis can see the district is a circus now. Achievement is subterranean, morale is best among the most incompetent staff, and if there is a governing body anywhere in the U.S. more juvenile and incapable of rationale thought and civic purpose than the Minneapolis School Board, I pray for the souls of their constituents.

While I still feel the frustration with the glacier pace of change during your administration, I can appreciate the initiatives and structural changes you were making now in a way that didn’t make sense then. You needed support to fight the good fight, not a hasty exit to make room for killer milquetoast.

So, having been wrong, incredibly wrong, super wrong, I mean the kind of wrong that’s like Velveeta mac-n-cheese wrong, it’s incumbent upon me to publicly announce my apology to you.

Again, I am sorry.

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