Preparing Boys for Life.

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An open letter to my fellow educators
Luqman Kolade, Upper School English

Today I received a call from my mother because she knew my wife and I were going to be doing some driving, and with everything going on, she wanted to remind me of how to act if I got pulled over by the police. I told her I would be fine, but it reminded me of a similar conversation she had with me when I was probably 12 or 13, and she told me that regardless of my Nigerian-ness, I was a young black man in America, and I needed to know what that could entail. This brief talk with my mom today, her voice heavy with concern and sadness for the world her now adult son lives in, made me think of my students, and how some of them are being told the same things I learned over twenty years ago.

Because we, independent school teachers in particular, teach in schools with high walls that are often literally or figuratively far from the plights of the "inner city" it is easy to say that what is going on does not affect us, but if we take that attitude we are doing our students, those of color and those not, a huge disservice. We as teachers must grapple with any injustices our students may face regardless of whether those affect us directly or not and regardless of our political leanings. We must confront our own privileges to help us recognize what some of our students may not have and the luxuries others do have.

We as teachers must grapple with any injustices our students may face regardless of whether those affect us directly or not and regardless of our political leanings. We must confront our own privileges to help us recognize what some of our students may not have and the luxuries others do have.

We must realize that we have students of color who have learned at an early age that their lives are not always theirs, that their dreams may not be possible, and that this is not through any fault of their own, but rather just because of who they are. (Consider how this might affect learning. Consider how difficult it might be to see the importance of Physics when you are not sure of your own value.) And for those students who are not of color, we must not let them believe that they have no place in these conversations. They must be able to see that this (new?) world of political and racial strife is theirs as well, and that even though they may be in the same classes as their classmates of color or on the same teams, those friends will often see the world in a very different way.

The easy thing to do as teachers is just to teach content, to believe we can change lives by discussing Shakespeare or Calculus, but if we hide behind our content, we are cheating our students and the world they will build, a world we all will share.

The easy thing to do as teachers is just to teach content, to believe we can change lives by discussing Shakespeare or Calculus, but if we hide behind our content, we are cheating our students and the world they will build, a world we all will share. We must do the difficult work of paying attention to the world and digesting its rough truths, because for some of our kids, we are their best bet at understanding their roles and how they can change things. It is almost cliché to say that we as teachers should challenge our students, but we must realize those challenges we present to our kids, those ways we make them consider their places, will not come from textbooks, but from the real world. Hopefully, it has become apparent to us all that we cannot hide from the ills of our society, not if we want to be truly successful educators, and if we choose to shelter our students or turn a blind eye to what some of them may be dealing with, we are not teaching them what matters.

I challenge my teacher friends to remember the humbling fact that much of what we teach in the classroom can be learned without us. This means that our real jobs must be much more important than our texts. We have a duty to help students develop into the people who will one day lead our society. If we want that society to be a just one, one where all of our future students are treated equally, then we need to be ready when school comes back in session to let all of our kids know we will help them deal with this world even if we would rather not.

-Luqman Kolade, Upper School English

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