I recently joined the Badass Teachers Association. The BAT Facebook forum exploded rapidly over the past few weeks, drawing together thousands of teachers who want to fight back against the corporate education “reformers”. These politicians and think tanks, who should be called “deformers”, are setting us up to fail by imposing new centralized standards while at the same time cutting crucial resources we need to teach. I’m happy to see that teachers are tired of this, and that we are starting to organize ourselves to fight back. I’m happy to see we’re done playing the role of passive, obedient professionals, and instead we’re ready to act like badass workers. This puts us in good company: it puts us on the side of badass truckers, longshore, warehouse, and fast food workers who have been fighting back recently.
Badass longshore workers face down EGT, a company pushing for “corporate waterfront reform” (aka unsafe working conditions, and more corporate control of workers on the job)
However, to build a movement of badass teachers, we will need to break through the wall that has held back so many labor movements in the past: the wall of institutionalized racism, or systemic white supremacy. White supremacy divides working class people, giving some of us unearned advantages over others, and making some of us complicit in the oppression of others. This weakens the overall struggle of the working class for freedom and creativity. Instead of fighting back against the capitalist system that is controlling us, white supremacy prompts us to go home at the end of the workday thinking “at least I’m not Black” (or Latino, or Native, or…. )
White supremacy can only be broken down through action. When a mostly white jury found George Zimmerman not guilty for the murder of Black teenager Trayvon Martin, thousands of people took to the streets. Imagine what it would be like if workers built off of this energy by shutting down business as usual, saying “if you are going to kill our youth, we will refuse to work”. This is how the West Coast prisoners have responded to injustice; why can’t we do the same? Of course, a strike action would take serious coordination and organization, and I hope that networks like the Badass Teachers Association can start laying the groundwork for that within our schools.
However, judging from the Facebook debates, not all of the Badass Teachers are on the same page about the need for this kind of solidarity. Some suggested that talking about race, rather than racism itself, is the source of the divisions among us.
The whole discussion about Trayvon had started because some teachers were posting heartfelt questions about how they could help their students process these traumatic and racially charged current events in the classroom. Others were emphasizing that many of their students could be the next Trayvon if we don’t take action to challenge the racism that lead to his murder. However, in response to these genuine expressions of solidarity, other teachers argued that talking about Trayvon or about the underlying racial issues is a distraction from fighting the corporate education reforms.
I strongly disagree with that last perspective, and I posted this statement explaining why:
Some people on here are asking why issues of race are relevant to badass teachers. Here’s one answer. Teachers are under attack by corporate education deformers like Gates, Broad, the privatizers, etc. One of their main strategies is to rally working class communities, including working class Black communities, against teachers. They do this by pointing out how the public schools reproduce class and race inequality in society – what they call the “achievement gap”. The thing is, our schools DO reproduce inequality and everyone knows it. The corporate “reformers” have no effective solution to that problem – they will simply scapegoat us for it, in order to deflect popular anger away from them. But they will succeed at doing that if we remain complacent in the face of all the inequality in our schools. So if teachers want to defeat the corporate attacks on us and our schools, then we can’t simply defend public education as it currently exists . We need to fight to transform it. We need to directly confront institutionalized racism and white supremacy, in our schools and in the larger society. Joining our students in making sure they don’t become the next Trayvon Martins is part of that.
That’s one more reason why I’ll be out there on Tuesday joining with students who are rallying to make sure they are not the next Trayvon. If we are going to be badass teachers, we need to act like badass fighters against all forms of oppression, including the white supremacy that is devouring the lives of our students and communities.