Inspired by Baldwin, an Ethnic Studies Teacher is Ready to Take On A Second Year

With a new school year only weeks away, a new teacher finds himself anticipating and preparing to not only learn about his student's concerns over current world problems, but to deliver an education experience that reflects students of color and moves them to participate in the process of liberation.

“If Trump wins will my parents be deported?”

“Mr. Juarez, why are we targeted and killed by cops?”

“Didn’t Martin Luther King Jr. stop all these bad things?”

These emotionally charged questions were asked to me by my students of color during my first year as a teacher. As part of the same community where my students come from, and having been undocumented for 23 years (I’m a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), it has been emotionally draining to learn about the struggles that my students and their families face.

In a couple of weeks I start my second year teaching Ethnic Studies in an east San Jose high school, and I expect the same questions to be asked. As a teacher I provide concepts, historical and contemporary information, as well example the students’ own experiences so they can come up with answers to their questions. I believe that it is essential for students to understand three things: that people of color face oppression; that all of us need to bear witness to injustices; and that our participation is needed to change the status quo.

Like many in the struggle for economic and racial justice, I believe education should not be passive or muddle reality; rather, it should inspire students to be active in their community and speak truth to power. Unfortunately my experience and that of many of my friends in school was very different. As students of color, we knew that the experience of people that look like us was not given equal coverage to white people. It seemed like Iowa’s Congressman Steve King wrote the educational standards denigrating the contributions of people of color. It was not until we reached college that we were exposed to knowledge and professors who we were able to understand and be inspired about the contributions of people of color. It also inspired us to be involved in the creation of a more equitable and loving society. My hope then and still now is to bring this same experience to the high school level.

Fortunately, previous movements, and currently the Black Lives Matter. and the immigrant rights movements, among others, urge us to understand why there is much pain and injustice in our communities that needs to be addressed. Talking about it is necessary at the high school level because it strengthens communities. The movements have been able to make it happen. I am able to do it, but it has been a struggle due to the paradox of education that author and activist James Baldwin wrote about.

In a letter that James Baldwin wrote to teachers in 1963 he explained the paradox of education that on the one hand allows people to examine the world and all its complexities, question it, and finally encourages people to try to change it. On the other hand as he explains, “What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society.” What founders of this country and many in power wanted was the latter for people that did not look or behave like them. This continues today through misinformation by corporate media, and institutions like many police departments, courts and corporations. Laws and nativist politicians add to the problem.

As I start my second year as a teacher I am brainstorming how to start my classes. I am leaning towards beginning just like last year – by showing a picture of myself getting arrested at a civil disobedience action I participated in to stop deportations in our community. I tell my students that my hope is to not inspire them to get arrested but to understand that the much needed change that was needed in the past is still needed in the present and that change has been achieved through struggle.

There is hope. I took some students with me with their parents’ permission to the Trump protest in San Jose a couple of months ago. All of my students were peaceful, but it was an empowering event. A student that was quiet all semester felt so passionate that she picked up a bullhorn to tell Trump and his supporters that she is an educated Latina and that the bigoted comments he has said are wrong. I encourage more schools to offer ethnic studies with the goal of not only exposing and analyzing injustices, but also of actively encouraging participation in the process of liberation.

This article is part of the categories: Community  / Education  / Immigration  / Law & Justice  / Politics  / San Jose//South Bay 
This article is part of the tags: DACA  / Ethnic Studies  / James Baldwin  / Students of Color  / Teacher  / Trump 


Very inspiring article. This teacher's students are lucky to have him/her. And the teacher is lucky to have the chance to witness and nurture the strong spirits of these young people. Wonderful! Thank you.

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