Eric Parker is a social studies teacher at Taft Middle School in Oklahoma City.
Activist Fred Hampton said it best: “If they don’t have the education then they nowhere, you dig what I’m saying? Because they don’t know why they are doing what they are doing.”
Growing up in Oklahoma I never learned about Hampton in school, even during Black History Month when my peoples’ history got some time in the sun.
Hampton’s message is that education is fundamental to implementing change and progress in society.
At this point in life, I look back to all the knowledge that was lost to me because of the education system. Without family stories passed down by elders and my own desire to seek more, I wouldn’t be at this point. I wouldn’t feel confident in my own knowledge to use my voice to advocate for those around me.
As a teacher, my goal should be to give students that voice, knowledge, and confidence to make change.
But that’s easier said than done, especially these days as the fight for quality education seems harder than ever.
A system that has struggled for years with low funding and shallow curriculum, is now facing a pandemic.
COVID-19’s impact on our students will be significant. Getting away from the important face-to-face instruction many students need and taking away the space that many students depend on for safety and community will do great harm.
The virus is also amplifying the economic struggles our most vulnerable students face as schools transition to virtual learning.
It will be imperative that teachers are ready to address the situation, be open to conversations with students, and allow them chances to express their thoughts and feelings on the state of things in their community and the world around them.
But even before the coronavirus, students struggled to understand their world because of a too-often biased curriculum that omits different perspectives and doesn’t leave room for differing ideas.
Across the country the education system is riddled with single perspectives and American Exceptionalism. It’s our job as educators to provide a complete picture and allow students the freedom to take what they want from it.
If we ever want to see progress and change, we can’t ignore the stories of the unheard and oppressed. We have to look at ugly truths. We can’t make the choice to hide it away for the students.
Our students have questions and issues with the world around them. How can they feel empowered to stand up for their beliefs if they do not have a grasp on where the issues came from or how some systems came to be? It’s hard to fix a problem if you do not know what caused it. It sets these students up for failure and sets them up to not fight for something better for themselves.
But even with a well-rounded curriculum and the absence of a pandemic, the defunding of public education makes this all feel like a rigged game.
The education system’s low funding forces teachers to do more with less, or leave all together.
As a teacher, it often feels like there isn’t much I can do. I can say I will stay and teach here my whole career with 40 kids per class, limited supplies, and just enough money for my family to get by, but not everyone can do that.
The obstacles in our way don’t budge, they just seem to get bigger.
It will take a lot of people to move them out of our path. It will take people believing in education and wanting to change the world around them. It is giving new generations a voice and a fighting chance to build on, replace, or fix the problems and systems around us.
Rather than hindering our students, we should uplift them, giving them the confidence to tell us how we can go around or go through these obstacles.
There can be no true revolution or change without education.