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Teachers: The Police of the Classroom

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

#AbolishThePolice #DefundPolice are hashtags that have been trending lately. Due to a lack of knowledge about what it actually means to abolish and defund an institution that is so ubiquitous in U.S. society, there is an overwhelming amount of backlash to this sentiment. With the visibility of police murders fueled by anti-Black racism in recent months, there is a bit more openness to the notion of lowering police budgets and implementing training and reform. 

But the real question is, where has reform gotten us thus far?


There is another institution that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has received an inordinate amount of attention - but contrary to the police, the attention on teachers has been positive. We are likely the second runner up behind ‘essential personnel’ like those in food services and medical practitioners, as the heroes of these turbulent times. Many caregivers expressed how much more they now value teaching due to the ways that ‘distance learning’ has made them responsible for carrying out home-school for upwards of two months in closing this academic year. On the receiving end, teachers felt that it was the most positive attention we'd received in the recent past and with good reason. The field of education has been in a constant state of reform for at least a century, we have consistently failed the same population of students. Disproportionately, Black and brown students have lagged behind their white peers on standard measures of academic success. 

Again I ask, where has reform gotten us?

Here is where these stories converge. It is less difficult to reform an institution that has somehow gone astray, than to abolish one that was built on unjust principles. The police as we know it were developed as slave patrols to return property (enslaved Africans) to their enslavers. Their responsibility was not originally to serve or protect, but rather to secure and return property or to destroy it if deemed necessary. Even white Americans who were not police were regularly deputized to perform these inhumane acts. Given that knowledge, how do we restore an institution to a functionality it never had?

Education, one must think, most certainly could not have originated to protect property! What, then, would you make of this;

School in the U.S. was originally a right of the white and rich. The version of schooling available for indigenous students included stripping them of their identities and culture in an attempt to ‘civilize the savages.’ While school became compulsory in the early 19th century, on a national level it was completely segregated and prior to this Black children could only sneak to become literate while risking a number of violences ranging from the loss of a finger to their very lives. In the south, schools were only sanctioned by the state in an effort to retain labor as many Black people migrated north to avoid terror and earn a living with their newly emancipated statuses. In order for these schools to be funded by taxpayers, a campaign had to convince the working-class that it was worth their investment. Appealing to folks who were actually paid a living wage (read as overwhelmingly white men) to part with tax dollars as a means of ensuring there was less competition on the job market and more cheap labor, is the legacy of the school system as we know it. It was not conceived with Black, disabled, indigenous or a number of other marginalized communities in mind because they were either considered property or disposable. 

What would schools for social uplift look like? Can the institution of school in its current state be a place that celebrates identities and promotes liberation? Is it possible to change a system rooted in racism? How successful are teachers who reject a curriculum that reinforces a stratified society where the property of white men - inclusive of access to a living wage via education, is maintained?

Unless we as a nation are armed with the clarity of our history, it is unnerving to conceive of community-oriented safety and schooling as it must be birthed from our imaginations as a wholly new endeavor. If the only way to rectify how we protect and serve our communities is to start over rooted in the wisdom of Black, brown, indigenous, disabled, queer and other marginalized populations, then the argument to do so for schooling is equally as valid.

Anderson, J. D. (1988).The education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935. Univ of North Carolina Press.

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