Movement to Reform Education of Racism

Movement+to+Reform+Education+of+Racism

The pressure for schools to expand their curriculums on the subject of racial inequality, systemic bias, and other modern injustices continues to increase with the strengthening of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is not uncommon for students to graduate high school and realize how sheltered their education was up to the point of entering the “real world.” 

There is now a greater push than ever to widen K-12 teachings in order to ensure that students learn about racism in the modern day, rather than the misconception that emancipation and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s perfectly concluded centuries of American injustice.

A group of Lynbrook alumni recently started a Facebook group with the goal of expanding Lynbrook’s curriculum to include elements of anti-bias and anti-racism through all grades. The group hopes to expose all students to diversity and inclusion and to ensure that teachers are able to facilitate this type of learning rather than talking about the history of past events alone.

Skyler Kessler, a 2014 LHS graduate and rising third-year medical student at Washington University in St. Louis, started this initiative with his fellow alumni. He is motivated by his passion for social justice and anti-racist education, which has grown since first taking a class on race in college. 

“I started this class a few weeks after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, only a few miles from my college campus. It was challenging for me, having come from Lynbrook, to confront systemic racism. I would have considered myself pretty ignorant at that point, and this was a big learning experience for me,” Kessler explained. 

He expressed that he wanted to make an effort to incorporate these topics into the curriculum for years but was unsure how feasible it would be to gain support from community allies. “Now that these movements are gaining more momentum, the need is greater than ever before,” Kessler shared.

The Facebook group now has over 80 members who share the common goal of promoting anti-biased and anti-racist curriculum reforms. The group is comprised of alumni from as early as 2005, parents from the district, and current LHS students. They plan to address the Lynbrook Board of Education at some point in the future and hope to eventually share the proposal with neighboring districts. 

“The proposal is multi-faceted — advocating for broader reform within the district, including curriculum changes that incorporate increased opportunities to learn about race and diversity. We encourage conversations to help students relate history to the present,” said Kessler.

The group meets every Tuesday over Zoom. In their meetings, they identify problems that exist within the community and set out goals to reform the Lynbrook education system. They planned to organize committees in their meeting on Tuesday, June 16. 

LHS Principal Joseph Rainis is in support of the group’s initiative: “I think [their proposal] is all part and parcel of what I envision. Things such as books and college classes open people’s eyes to the systemic racism that exists. We have a group of people from the Lynbrook schools whose eyes have been opened, and they want to share that with LHS, and I applaud that.”

Rainis shared that he plans on providing educators with a greater depth of training to cover these issues with their students. “Without that taking place on the professional development side, staff members may feel ill-equipped to talk about these issues in class. In our nation’s history, we have not successfully confronted these issues. But, I think it would be a mistake to rush into these conversations. Every perspective needs to be widened: all races, all genders, all people,” Rainis said.

English Teacher Roseanne Mitchell made an attempt to address these topics with her students and has provided them with educational resources such as the Smithsonian website and books written by black authors. She used her virtual class time to serve as a forum, allowing her students to share their feelings without judgement. She has received emails from both students and parents thanking her for talking about these topics.

“I think one of the most important roles as an educator, before the curriculum, is establishing a rapport with your students. On top of that, you need to make sure that the students have a relationship with each other. If there’s not also a sense of comfort in the classroom, or a student thinks that the teacher is being insincere, it is difficult to have these conversations,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell recognizes that sometimes “teachers can be vilified and establish an unsavory reputation very quickly.” To avoid offending any of her students, she makes sure to provide all perspectives.

“The classroom is a microcosm for the world, so I can’t pretend that every student feels only one way. I have African-American students, students of color, and students who come from police families,” Mitchell shared.

AP U.S. Government and Politics Teacher Kimberly Herrmann is familiar with discussing controversial topics with her students. She has helped her students in developing the ability to articulate their thoughts and find answers to their inquiries. 

“We teach the issues of injustice and inequality throughout history. Perhaps as a result of the current tension, it might be important to draw the parallels of the issues we teach to this current tension more directly. I do think, however, that the topic itself has to be presented in an unbiased way. For example, ‘police brutality’ implies a judgement that is confrontational. A more neutral way to introduce the topic with students might be ‘police relations,’’” Herrmann commented. 

Herrmann’s government classes discussed the purpose, need, and direction of the current protests. They also pondered and analyzed the constitutionality of the government’s response, while exploring the issues of police relations and racism as well.  

When asked if the Board of Education has done anything to acknowledge the modern movements regarding racial injustice, President William Belmont responded, “I don’t know about the word ‘acknowledge’ because that means we are accepting what’s going on. I would say that Lynbrook has always been very open and welcoming to all people regardless of their sexual orientation, race, or religion.”

Belmont shared that the Board has been contacted by alumni and is aware of the Facebook group. As of now, there are not any changes being made to enhance the curriculum. 

“We are always looking at what can be done to better our students’ education and provide our teachers with the right tools to teach these issues. We have a Diversity Committee as part of the school district. Lynbrook tries to educate on the values of empathy and understanding, not about one particular group, in order to accept all people no matter what their differences are,” Belmont explained.