A few weeks ago
Last Thursday I went on a bit of a “Twitter rant” about the challenges that I face as an inner city mathematics educator. I shared how much I love my content but how the challenges that my students face outside of school sometimes force me to push the academics aside momentarily so that my students and I can address those challenges as a community of learners. I feel that listening to what students care about, and engaging them about those things, is essential to building a classroom culture where students feel safe and are willing to share and learn from the teacher and from one another. As I reflect on what I shared that day, I suppose I was doing more “thinking out loud” than “ranting.” In any case, I shared my thoughts and received a very positive response from the education community on Twitter. My thoughts were “re-tweeted”, “favorited”, and I gained 20+ new followers that day. All of whom were White. I appreciate anyone who is willing to listen to anything that I have to say, particularly when they could be following Billionaires, Pop Stars, or “Social-Media Celebrities.” However, I did feel slightly uncomfortable with the new follows because I felt as though I had become some sort of unofficial spokesperson for inner city teachers everywhere. A very well meaning follower of mine connected what I said to President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which was to say the least, weird for me.
The comment was flattering, but it made me feel strange. I couldn’t quite suss out why until this morning. I felt uncomfortable with that comment in particular, and the subsequent Twitter follows it generated, because I know that my experience is simultaneously very common in inner city schools and also very uniquely my own. My fear is that the White educators who follow me on Twitter, read my blog, or listen to my podcast may drape my experiences atop those of other Black educators, and their students, without actually knowing these people, instead of seeing my thoughts as being uniquely my own. I think my concern is legitimate, because there is still a firm belief in the existence and validity of singular Black voices speaking for entire segments of “Black America.” That isn’t at all how I wish to be perceived, nor how I wish to present myself.
Black users make up nearly 25% of all users on Twitter. However, we aren’t nearly as strongly represented when you begin to dig through the various self-identified subgroups organized by profession or interest. When I participate in Twitter chats like #BlackEdu, #HipHopEd, or #SaturdaySchool, those conversations are dominated by Black educators and educators of color. However, when I participate in the more “mainstream” education chats like #EdChat, #EdTech, or #MathEd, I rarely see Black faces…or read Tweets that take into account how poverty, systemic racism, or privilege manifest themselves in interactions between students and teachers.
I find immense value in both universes, but each feels as though it is less than what it could be because, by being so segregated, the opportunity for the cross pollination of ideas about curriculum, instruction, social justice, relevance to students, the impact of policy on student performance, the manifestation of racism and racist policies in schools, etc. are lost…or drowned out. For instance, #MathEd sometimes feels like a subpar chat because the importance of context, relevance, and immediacy of purpose as related to the content and strategies we use to work with economically disadvantaged Black students are rarely addressed (this is really a consideration for ALL students, but these students are most susceptible to suffering if these things aren’t considered). A chat like #HipHoEd also comes up short because the connections that participants make to curriculum and instruction are sometimes very loose.
Twitter and other social media outlets where educators congregate NEED the voices and experiences of Black educators and other educators of color because our experiences are often unique in that we must simultaneously grapple with the challenges of implementing curricula, integrating technology, navigating race and racism, and addressing students’ social and emotional needs in a way that many, though not all, of our White counterparts don’t have to. Our challenges, frustrations, hard work, innovation, and triumphs will remain the stuff of fairy tales if we don’t share them with one another and the world. Twitter needs to be filled with the experiences of more Black educators because my voice should not speak for YOU or for your students. You should. But that can’t happen if you’re not there.
So, I ask that you sign up for Twitter, connect with @TheJLV, @MDAWriter , @RafranzDavis, @UncredRewrite, @IlEducProf,and of course yours truly (@JovanDM) to start. Holla at us. Take part in #SaturdaySchool, #BlackEdu, or #HipHopEd. But also jump in on #EdChat, #MathEd, #EdTech, or any of the other Twitter chats listed here. Share your thoughts and experiences. Feel free to raise an objection or issue a challenge to anyone whose assertions fly in the face of your reality. Learn from the other educators online and give us the opportunity to learn from you. The ideas exchanged will be fresher and the perspectives considered will be more diverse once you’re there.
The conversations will be richer for your presence.