WASHINGTON - By now many have heard about the educators at Heights Elementary School in Idaho who thought dressing up as the border wall for Halloween was funny.
Words cannot express the anger and disbelief that so many educators felt at seeing the pictures of educators mocking the plight of immigrant families. It would be easy to dismiss something like a Halloween costume as in bad taste and move on. But this is profoundly disturbing, especially because those involved are educators, entrusted with making sure that every student feels respected, safe and part of the learning community of a school.
We’ve said it before, and it must be said directly, the result of institutional racism – where communities are seen as “less than” because of their race or ethnicity – causes immense harm to all. It denies equal rights and respect to those communities. But it poisons the health of the entire society. It blinds people to the impact that their jokes, prejudices, expectations and limitations have on those around them. It becomes invisible. They just don’t see it. In this case, every child in the school clearly saw the lesson that it was ok to denigrate immigrants. They learned that it was ok for children and their families to be humiliated and perhaps even frightened. This is unacceptable, and educators must be especially vigilant within our own profession.
Because this is not simply a case of poor judgment nor is this an isolated incident. But if we act, it can lead to a moment of restorative justice. It can be a moment to restore what was lost to this school community and to ensure that it never happens again. It can be a moment to truly teach by engaging on the issues that have been used to distract and divide us from our common interests. It’s an opportunity to confront wrong, talk deeply, intentionally and meaningfully about race, gender, identity and to truly become what we, as a nation founded on the principles of equality and respect, aspire to be.
To make real change for students, we must be explicit with each other about our history and the power constructs that have been built on the ideology of white supremacy which drive and support the actions of these educators. And to say anything different is to continue to avoid our challenges of race in this country.
We don’t condone, nor do we accept the actions of the educators at Heights Elementary School in Idaho. We reject their decisions and believe that they owe their students and community an apology. They also owe an apology to the many educators that are fighting to improve public education, to teach that Black Lives matter, to lift our Dreamers, to create safe zones and to stand against xenophobia and racism. And they owe their community their firm commitment to reflect upon the trust placed in them – a trust they failed. Finally, all educators can learn, and they must consider what they need to learn so that this is never repeated. The times call for us to do more than be aware. We must tell the truth. We must act. We must lead, especially in our own house.
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