For the fall issue, in lieu of our regular editorial by Rethinking Schools editors, we are publishing most of the “Year of Purpose” call by Black Lives Matter at School. Rethinking Schools urges our readers to find ways to participate in this important effort. —Rethinking Schools editors
In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and others named and unnamed, a great Uprising for Black Lives has swept the nation and the world, inciting new urgency and radical possibilities for advancing abolitionist practice and uprooting institutional racism.
The uprising has helped create a national discussion about what public safety could be. For too long public safety has been defined as spending more money on the legal punishment system and funding for more police in schools and communities.
We believe it is vital to redefine public safety in terms of the holistic social and emotional well-being of students and educators. During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, public safety has to also mean not opening schools until the science supports it can be done safely, COVID-19 testing at schools and in communities is widely available, personal protective equipment is funded and supplied for educators and students, schools are provided functioning ventilation systems, and so much more.
The Uprising for Black lives has prompted the Black Lives Matter at School movement to expand its proposed activities to a “Year of Purpose,” in addition to the annual Week of Action held during the first week of February. The centerpiece of the Year of Purpose is asking educators to reflect on their own work in relationship to anti-racist pedagogy and abolitionist practice, persistently challenging themselves to center Black lives in their classrooms. In addition, educators will be asked to participate in intentional days of action (below) throughout the school year uplifting different intersectional themes vital to making Black lives matter in schools, communities, and beyond.
The learning environments we aspire to create reflect a deep understanding of the experiences of Black children, families, and communities, as well as our own ongoing work of critical self-reflection and personal transformation. Are we creating humanizing communities that respond to the concerns of our students? Are we committed to leveling up our expectations for Black students? As educators, we turn inward in order to reach outward, linking our efforts to broad, integrated movements for social justice. As our ancestor the Black lesbian warrior poet Audre Lorde stated, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.” This means we must commit to living our principles every day, in and out of our classrooms, within our homes, and with our communities. It is a commitment to the village.
The excerpted questions we choose to focus upon are meant to support educators — and parents who are educating their kids at home during the pandemic — throughout the year. These questions, as well as pieces from our paragraphs above, first appeared in the book Planning to Change the World: A Plan Book for Social Justice Teachers (2019–2020). We invite educators and educators-in-training to meditate on the questions that follow (below), and — given that no such list can be comprehensive — to pose questions of their own. Only through deliberate reflection can we realign our teaching practices to meet our current challenges and invent new practices where there are none.
Visit blacklivesmatteratschool.com for additional information about the Year of Purpose and opportunities to participate.
1. What is our school’s relationship to Black community organizing? Do we have relationships with local movement organizers? Do they see our school as a place that believes in their mission? Do they see our school as a place to connect with local families?
2. How are schoolwide policies and practices — especially disciplinary practices — applied across categories of race? Do problematic patterns emerge when we look at how policies are applied to Black students and when we also consider the intersections of gender, sexual orientation, and (dis)ability with Blackness?
3. How are the voices, accomplishments, and successes of Black folx uplifted in my lessons, units, and curriculum? Rather than focus on singular events or individuals, does my approach highlight the everyday actions and community organizing that will lead to change?
4. In what ways do our practices erase the histories of our students and prevent them from bringing their whole selves into the learning environment?
5. How do I understand the role that local/state laws and policies have on the educational experiences of my students? What is my role in working to change policies, regulations, and practices that harm Black students and families?
Actions and Activities
During the year, Black Lives Matter at School encourages educators to participate in days of action. Actions are grounded in principles shared by the Movement for Black Lives. —Rethinking Schools editors
Justice for George Day
Principle: Restorative Justice
October 14: George Floyd’s birthday.
Justice for George Day is a day to remember him and call for the defunding of the police and the redirecting of those funds toward social programs and education.
Transgender Day of Remembrance
Principle: Trans Affirming
November 20: Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The lives of William Dorsey Swann and many others should be remembered on this day.
International Day of People with Disabilities
Principle: Globalism and Collective Value
December 3: International Day of People with Disabilities.
Harriet Tubman and Fannie Lou Hamer are two disabled freedom fighters we revere, even as the disabilities they carried with them into struggle aren’t consistently lifted up as assets in their fight. To fight against societal ableism, we must celebrate our differences and understand how the lessons from Black disabled organizers teach us how to build inclusive, accessible movements.
Queer Organizing Behind the Scenes
Principle: Queer Affirming
During January, we find it critical to lift up Bayard Rustin, one of the principal organizers behind the March on Washington, which is crowned as one of MLK’s lasting achievements. To be queer affirming means lifting up our queer ancestors who were at the foundation of our movements throughout time. This deepens the purpose of MLK Day to understand that no one person makes a movement, highlighting how MLK’s legacy encompasses the contributions of many.
Unapologetically Black Day
Principle: Unapologetically Black
February 18: Toni Morrison’s birthday.
A day to lift up the work of Morrison and others like Audre Lorde.
Student Activist Day
March 6: Barbara Johns Black Student Activist Day.
A day to celebrate Black student activists.
Revolutionary Black Arts
April — During National Library Week we seek to center the classic contributions of Black writers and artists across the generations: Zora Neale Hurston, Faith Ringgold, Alma Thomas, Augusta Savage, Jasmine Mans. How are the themes and radical visions that they brought to their art reflected in your classrooms and communities? How can young people expand on these legacies?
Black Radical Educator Day
Principle: Black Villages
May 3: On Septima Clark’s birthday we celebrate Black Radical Educator Day.
Principle: Black Women
June 5: Breonna Taylor‘s Birthday.
A day to call for justice for Breonna and uplift the #SayHerName movement.
Education for Liberation Day
Principles: Black Families and Diversity
Juneteenth: Education for Liberation Day.
A day to celebrate the struggle that brought down slavery and reflect on what must be done to win Black liberation.
Last Day of School:
A Day for Self-Reflection
Review all 13 Principles
Last day of school: Reflection Day.
Reflect on your year of anti-racist teaching, possibly in groups.
Visit blacklivesmatteratschool.com for additional information about the Year of Purpose and opportunities to participate. Photos taken by Joe Brusky at Black Lives Matter at School events in Milwaukee in 2020.