Don’t let this moment go to waste.

Crazy times provide teachable moments.

Don’t let this one go to waste.

by Fedrick Ingram, President of the Florida Education Association

What should you say to the people in your life during a pandemic when instead of “hello” we say “crazy times”?

What do you say to children as you’re trying to navigate the transforming landscape while struggling with your own anxiety and uncertainty in the face of the Covid-19 health and economic crises?

What do you say when you are feeling angry and deeply frustrated at the police killing of George Floyd? When you are stunned to disbelief at President Trump’s inappropriate response to injustice and inequality while holding a bible in front of a church like it’s a prop in a play?

What do you tell yourself? What do you say to those around you?

Some people will take it all in and say nothing while others will want to scream. I believe we should talk and we should teach.

This is a teachable moment. Don’t let it go to waste.

Events shape each generation. The economic hardships caused by the Great Depression and the sacrifices brought on by World War II helped forge what’s come to be called “The Greatest Generation.” The ensuing surge in births, civil rights movement, Vietnam War, cultural shifts in the 60’s and 70s, and Watergate scandal all played a major part in the development of baby boomers.

In a similar manner, this pivotal historic moment will shape the two post-millennial generations in our schools today: “Generation-Z,” sometimes called “Zoomers”(those born between 1997 and 2009), and Generation-Alpha (children born after 2010).

Our youngest Americans belong to the potentially most highly educated, most diverse—and unfortunately most at-risk generations in modern times.  Their K-12 schooling has been interrupted by the Coronavirus and their college education—if they go to college—likely will be saddled with more debt and less public support for higher education than that of previous generations. For African American children, inequality in schools, healthcare and other aspects of our society add to these burdens.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can take some concrete steps right now to help all our children succeed. We must turn this crisis into a moment to help our Black youth and educate others about what is needed to move us all forward at a steady clip:

 Talk to your children about the history of African Americans. We have persevered from slavery, through Jim Crow, to the civil rights movement to the Obama years. Along the way we have had to fight to open doors to schools, professions, corporate America, and lunchroom counters through hard work, civil disobedience, collective bargaining and the collective energy to achieve change. Despite those hurdles, much of our national culture in music, sports and fashion stem from the contributions of African Americans.

The recent protests are another step on that long journey. Our African American history should be taught more often than for a few days in February. I suggest that you take a look at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture for  online resources that you can use.

Provide resources to your local public school to help educate other children.  Soon students will be back in the classroom.  All Americans, not just students from African American families, should be exposed to books and images that tell the story of African Americans along with the stories of other citizens with other racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds. Consider buying books on Black heroes and historical figures and donating them to your school’s library or classrooms.

Here’s a sample list to get you started.

Offer encouragement to African American students. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has produced videos for years telling parents not to say things like “girls aren’t good at math,” because it has been proven that those kinds of remarks discourage girls and keep them out of STEM fields. Many young African Americans, male and female, have been limited by similar comments. Take a couple of minutes to watch this video of noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s experience growing up to better understand why we need to be cheerleaders for academics.

Also, encourage African Americans to choose teaching as a career.  Here in Florida and around the nation we’re having serious teacher shortages. Deans at schools of education tell me that the number of minority college students choosing teaching has declined greatly. In fact, only 3% of all teachers in Florida are African American males. Encourage young African Americans to choose teaching. They will serve as role models for Black students and help open the minds of children from other backgrounds.

Speak out against inequality and injustice. Join with others who are taking a stand. I’ve been heartened by the images of young white people marching and holding signs alongside African Americans at the protests that followed the Floyd killing. Business, education, and labor leaders, along with clergy have lent their support. I respect Trump’s former Secretary of Defense James Mattis for denouncing President Trump in the Atlantic for his reaction to the protests. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people— does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us,” he wrote.

The reality is that for most of us, our vote is our voice.  Vote this fall – if possible, do it early.  Crazy times, crazy times. Who knows if we will be able to walk into a polling place this fall if the virus comes back to bite us for a second round? And if we vote absentee, will our ballot arrive? The day after Trump stood in front of that church, voters in Washington, DC and nearby Maryland voted in primary elections with fewer than the normal number of polling places open. Lines of voters standing six feet apart stretched for blocks. Here in Florida we have a history of election irregularities. “Remember “hanging chads?” We also are known for close elections such as Bush v. Gore and Gillum v. DeSantis to name just two. Register to vote, apply to vote-by-mail and vote early to ensure your ballot is counted.

We can remove those who hold the levers of power by voting and gain fresh leadership that will be up to the challenges this turbulent year has exposed.

The Zoomers and Generation-Alpha are dependent on our actions.  Let’s treat this time as a teachable moment.  As the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said:  “Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.”  He could have added, “Teach it.”

Fedrick Ingram is the president of the Florida Education Association, representing 145,000 teachers and school employees. A music educator, he was Miami-Dade Teacher of the Year in 2006.

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