Maureen Downey, AJC, June 21, 2019
University of Georgia education professor Bettina L. Love set off a ruckus in a recent education journal with a column declaring that white teachers cannot love their black students if they don’t understand the racism built into our laws, culture and classrooms.
“Let me be clear,” Love wrote in Education Week. “I do not think White teachers enter the profession wanting to harm children of color, but they will hurt a child whose culture is viewed as an afterthought.”
Love’s belief that teachers of black children must be social justice warriors forms the basis of her book, “We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom.” Drawing on the creativity, rebellion and determination of the abolitionists, Love argues for a radical change in American education so that black children matter and matter enough that their teachers, schools and communities fight for them.
In a recent interview, Love said the education system teaches black kids to survive rather than thrive and discounts their resourcefulness, resilience and joyfulness. And a large part of that comes from teachers who do not know these students or their worlds.
A key problem is the lack of teachers of color, according to Love. In her eight years in the UGA College of Education’s department of educational theory and practice, Love can count on one hand, maybe two, the African-American students in her required class on diversity. Despite a rise in teachers of color, about 80 percent of teachers are white. And most are women.
The aspiring teachers in her UGA classes are “incredibly bright but have limited experience with other races, other cultures. I try and disrupt the myths and stereotypes about black and brown children. At the end of the 16 weeks, I ask my students to tell me what is beautiful about black and brown children, what is the joy of teaching them,” she said
She tries to help future teachers understand they must speak to injustices that threaten or disparage their students, not an easy task with a generation programmed by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top to bubble in answers and follow rules and rubrics.
How do you create a teaching force of revolutionaries and radicals when many teachers, worn out at the end of a long day of overcrowded classrooms and underfunded mandates, want to go home to Netflix or a nap?
A former classroom teacher, Love said, “What I am asking for is solidarity. One of the things we don’t talk about in the profession is the mistrust between teachers of color and white teachers. What I am asking teachers to do is cut across racial lines to have those difficult conversations around race, gender and citizenship.”
In a school based on abolitionist principles, teachers think deeply about culture and social justice and about healing children. And the children know they are loved and in an environment that believes in them, she said.