Three points that must be clear before I begin to tell some stories.
- What follows is all personal experience. (You know, kind of a like a song I recently released.) Although the combination of getting older and current events have gotten me thinking about this kind of thing more deeply, these are all things that happened to me.
- I think it is common to acknowledge that public education has its faults and challenges. There are so many students that do not learn effectively via the methods that are most often used to teach. I happen to not be one of those. I could read before I went to kindergarten (thanks Mom!), and I used to remember pretty much everything I would read. Considering that school most often would ask us to memorize bits of information and then regurgitate them in a variety of tests - the big standardized ones consisted of multiple choice options - well, I was good at that, because the way that I learn works within that framework.
- The overwhelming majority of educators in my experience were good, and some were great. I don't remember how old I was when I first started seeing teachers as actual people with actual lives instead of an appendage that belongs to the school.
One. Junior high. Music class. (Maybe if music class had been better executed in my youth, I wouldn't have waited until I was 20 or so to pick up an instrument.) We had to write a report of some sort, and I don't even remember who or what the topic was. What I certainly remember was being called to a one-on-one conversation with the teacher, and told that I had failed the assignment because we're not supposed to just copy words from an encyclopedia. I found that to be all kinds of insulting at the time, and I defended myself rather vigorously. Looking back... would she have had that same conversation with a white student?
Two. Junior high. One of those school assemblies. People are encouraged to stand and sing their anthem. I abstain. I am rudely poked and prodded by a teacher, who hisses at me to stand. My only response is a head shake, an angry stare, and the word "no". Another teacher approaches to ask the poker/prodder to leave me alone. Looking back... would that teacher have put their hands on me if I was a white student?
Three. Junior high. History class. I happen to love history. Most students don't, and that may be because most educators fail to teach it in an engaging way... this particular history teacher was no exception. Her method of teaching mostly consisted of reading from the textbook, or writing things from the textbook on the overhead projector. (Those things don't exist anymore, do they?) I happen to both love history and love to read, so I had read the entire textbook cover to cover by a few weeks into the school year. One particular day, she "strongly suggested" that we take notes. Considering that this was not an order, and also considering that everything she was writing for us to copy by hand was already written in the textbook which I had already read, I didn't spend the energy. For this, I was verbally castigated... and found out later that she had discussed this with other teachers in the lounge, as one of my favorite teachers jokingly mentioned it to me later that day. I got an A in that class. Would that teacher have treated me that way if I was a white student?
Four. Senior year. Standardized testing. Number 2 pencil. Fill in the circle completely. Multiple choice, you know, you select the answer that you know is the right one, then you move on. I had anticipated finishing the test well within the time allotted, and had brought along a book to read for when the test was done. I finish the test, I read my book. The "adult" in the room (a substitute this day, not a teacher who knows any of us) walks to my desk and pointedly asks why I am not taking the test. I say that I'm done. The "adult" in the room audibly expresses disbelief. I show the answer sheet with all of the answers filled. The "adult" in the room starts spouting nonsense about how long the test is supposed to take. At this point, I might have said something a little snarky about him coming back to check my score later. I was angry. Thankfully, a couple of my classmates - lovely human beings then - stuck up for me, and told the "adult" that if we say we're finished, we're finished. Would that teacher have treated me that way if I was a white student?