In response to the violence committed against African Americans
June 1, 2020
One faculty member wrote how they “believe that our school cannot stand aside and be silent.”
Another wrote, “It would mean so much to me if we, as a school, could make clear, in a brave and public way, that we demand an end to the killing of unarmed people of color by law enforcement officials. I recognize that historic, systemic racism is a huge topic to tackle…and that these types of extreme events are merely the culmination of long standing and complex inequalities, and that there are many, many things that we should demand an end to. But this case, particularly because it was so egregious, offers us such a clear opportunity to remind our community of where we stand and the world we want to strive towards.”
Others wrote of a “collective stance against racial injustice” and whatever “will do the most collective good.” Another colleague elaborated, writing, “It is important to recognize the school’s values of diversity, equity and inclusion in this horrible moment in time. Moving forward, I would imagine…proactive strategies to support [People of Color] in our Vermont communities while encouraging our students to be the best citizen they can be in this world.”
Someone else added, “I support…taking a stand against police brutality and speaking up for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
“I support,” wrote another faculty member, “the speaking out against the race-driven police brutality issues and having discussions on what we need to do as a community to take steps to fix our broken system.”
A colleague added, “Our stance against racial injustice…is a part of our ‘Global Responsibility’ at VCS and our responsibility to our students. I also support helping students learn how to have their voices heard in an effective and peaceful way.”
Poetically, one more colleague wrote, “They say hate does not grow well in the rocky soil of Vermont. That may or may not be true, but we should assure our community and especially our students that at the very least, we will not allow it to take root in our own garden.”
Several faculty members met last night, and several more got in touch during the day today. Some altered their plans for their classes so that they could create a time and place for their students to be able to talk, process, discuss, and learn about the events sweeping our nation right now. To do what they do best—help students find knowledge and understanding. That’s our job.
We must work in the medium of our craft, and this is the minds and hearts of young people. Our job is to make sure they encounter crucial information, that they work with it to try to understand it, that they learn how to assess it and situate it in a broader web of knowledge, and that they see opportunities for using their evolving wisdom to improve the world for all.
Where do we stand? What is the world we strive for? I refer you to our anti-discrimination statement:
“Vermont Commons School is committed to maintaining a work and learning environment free from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/civil union status, ancestry, place of birth, age, citizenship status, veteran status, political affiliation, genetic information, or disability.”
The school—the country, the world—that statement describes does not have any room in it for the dehumanizing treatment of George Floyd before he was killed, much less killing him. It does not have space in it for the appalling murder of Ahmaud Arbery. For the death of Breonna Taylor. For the—to quote Nobel laureate Toni Morrison—“Sixty Million and more.”
The study of how action and language in the past have been shaped to create understanding or suffering can help us find wisdom for the future, can help us reject millennium-old racialized preconceptions of each other, can help us continue to undo racism in ourselves and others, be they friends or police departments, schools or governments. As Terrence Floyd said yesterday afternoon, on visiting the site of his brother’s death, “Educate yourself.”
So we need to talk. In our classes, in our writings, over our dinner tables, on our phone lines. We need to look in the face what is happening in our country and make it okay for our kids to talk and think and write openly about it with us and to others. And then we need to continue to take steps in our school itself around curriculum and community, returning to the key questions: Who’s here and who’s not? Who’s included in our curriculum, and who’s excluded from it? How are people represented, depicted, and treated at Vermont Commons? Why is that and what are we going to do about it?
If we as adults can’t wrap our minds around everything going on right now, we need to let our children know that there are times when language in fact fails us. Times when something is so unspeakable, we are not going to be able to make sense of it for them. There’s power in that too. And maybe, just maybe, if we’re doing our collective job right, they’ll have some things to say and do and fill that space themselves.
Thank you for reading. Be well and take care of each other.