Be the Teacher Who Inspires the Next Generation

Social justice work asks us to rethink who we are, and the amount of space we take up. To hold ourselves accountable in ways that are deeply uncomfortable yet necessary. 

Part of why white supremacy is so successful is because it uses excellent teaching methods. It reaches out and comforts white people, tells them it’s ok to have hurt feelings, that they are good and right. The white supremacy leverages how social justice educates to radicalize people by telling them that anyone who is challenging them to be better is just a snowflake.

Part of what we need to recognize as we do social justice work is that we often create unsafe learning spaces, especially for new people, and that feeds the white supremacy.

Quick note: 

It is never anyone’s responsibility to be a teacher. Especially if they have a marginalized identity. 

Not everyone is ready to be a learner, and you cannot force someone to learn. Deciding who is ignorant but wants to learn and who has malicious intent isn’t always easy. 

If you are taking on the role of a teacher, you do not have to teach every student.  Maybe you are only interested in teaching advanced classes and want to leave social justice kindergarten to others, that’s ok! 

It is never anyone’s responsibility to be a teacher, yet if you take on the role of a teacher, it is your responsibility to use compassionate teaching methods. 

Telling a learner to “Just google it” or that they should know already, that if they were a good person they would get it… is an unethical way to educate. 

Imagine we taught any other subject that way. If your math teacher told you to google calculus and gave you no help, practice, or direction. Your piano teacher looked at you in disgust and said you should just know how to play that if you were really listening to the music you would know already. 

We can see that teaching that way wouldn’t be constructive or ethical, so ask yourself why is teaching social justice any different? 

Google searches aren’t easy. Knowing which search terms to use, what is a good source: isn’t something we automatically know. No one is born understanding everything about social justice; we all have grown and had people who helped us on our journey.

Ask yourself, is part of why we use unethical teaching methods because of our feelings when the learner makes a mistake? Are your feelings because you have a marginalized identity? Or are you letting your privilege insulate you from dealing directly with the white supremacy?

Part of shutting down the white supremacy is recognizing our role in how people are radicalized, changing how we educate, and choosing to keep learners engaged even when they struggle.

The goal of a great teacher is not only to impart specific information but to empower the learner to continue learning. 

If you are doing social justice work, especially as an educator, think about how you are teaching. Who are you willing to teach? What subjects will you teach? And how will you compassionately redirect people who you don’t want to educate in a way that encourages them to continue to learn? This applies to all social justice work (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc).

Be the teacher who inspires the next generation of educators.

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By Mel Wilde

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