Educators cannot love Black kids without loving their Black families.
At times, we attempt to love Black kids in spite of their families, like Black mothers and Black fathers and Black grandmothers and Black aunts and whomever-Black-else are on a list of “at risk” influences like homelessness and food deserts.
We engage in neglectful behavior.
Too many of us have mastered car line avoidance tactics and call-screening, ducking our heads and pretending we called back. We send letters home and assume that they will never return. Or don’t even bother to send the letters.
It is impossible to love and teach Black children while feeling sorry that they came from a Black family, despite some of us being raised by Black mommas and poppas ourselves (this is both ironic and disturbing). We think that, “His Black family ain’t my Black family. With my parents, I knew better.”
We disengage from Black families before we even make a true attempt to gain investment through a relationship. Calling families relentlessly like Sallie Mae isn’t effective outreach. It is weathering and leads to monstrous piles of hate email. Writing-off families as thought partners is not impactful. We cannot ignore and disempower families into oblivion.
“His Black family ain’t my Black family. With my parents, I knew better.”
LOVE — STOP LEADING EVERY CONVERSATION WITH A BEHAVIORAL REPORT
Students are more than merits and demerits. They are more than the color green on a chart, or smiley faces. It is true that strong schools build both the character of students and their academic ability, but too often we lean towards the former, implementing strategies that are oppressive and confining. We have become obsessed with the control of Black bodies. Compliance takes priority over engagement. We have trained parents to value quiet, conforming, blindly obedient students, but then expect these students to become self-efficient, bold leaders, without realizing the contradiction.
I’ve observed too many mutters from fathers and mothers at the crack of dawn as their child exits their car: “Make it a green day.” After several hours and events at school, the first words their child enthusiastically and proudly yells as they re-enter the car during dismissal is “I was on green today!”
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be proud of students when they show respect and positively impact their learning community by meeting a teacher’s expectations.
What I am saying is that we must place more value in the systems and structures that support students learning, and less value in the systems that simply regulate behavior. We pass our obsession with behavioral feedback to families, and we message to them that we only value their support when it concerns getting their kids in check when we fail to.
LOVE — SET HIGHER EXPECTATIONS FOR HOW PARENTS CAN SUPPORT ACADEMICALLY
Families can do more, if we trust them to. Yes, with the arrival of Common Core, the way children are taught is different and challenging and frustrating. The way many parents (and anyone that went to school before 2009) learned math in their K-12 experience without the use of strategies like the “arrow way” and “number bonds” to add and subtract. Their English teacher might not have been using language in elementary school like “use the textual evidence to make an inference.”
Educators must still find ways that parents can support their children at home. Assuming that all parents do not have time to provide extra homework support is an irresponsible presumption. It is true that some parents are busy or working or tired, but refusing to make an attempt limits the extra support and practice available to students at home. Refusing to make the attempt is disempowering.
LOVE — QUIT GOSSIPING ABOUT FAMILIES
As educators, we have to stop choosing to gossip over providing feedback. Venting as substitute for a tough conversation is not in the best interest of students. We then place so much value on that venting that it become the single story that dominates the narrative surrounding Black families within an educational context. This isn’t fair. We owe families dignity and transparency. Love can come in the medium of challenging feedback.
Engaging the families of our students is vital to their success. Equally as important, is the way we love our students, and love and empower their families whom want the absolute best for them.