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Current Issue

Winter 2015

Die-In at HGSE

On December 9, 2014, dozens of people from the Ed School community staged a die-in at Gutman Commons. Ph.D. student Clint Smith spoke to the crowd. Here is his speech, in full:

“The past few weeks have illuminated a profound moral incongruence in the way that our nation’s criminal justice system works. The recent non-indictments of the officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown, considered among the deaths of countless other black and brown men and women at the hands of police and extrajudicial incidents, calls for urgent and purposeful action to demand that such transgressions do not remain a permanent fixture within our nation.

As educators, it is essential that we recognize our unique position in the struggle toward justice.  Educational policies and trends such as zero tolerance and the militarization of schools play an enormous role in the way that the young people we work with are perceived by others, but also how they perceive themselves.

If we are here to ‘Learn to Change the World,’ as we say, we must reflect deeply on how many of us are complicit in policies that criminalize black and brown children throughout their schooling:

• Black students account for 18 percent of pre-K enrollment, but make up 48 percent of suspensions;

• Black students are expelled at three times the rate of white students;

• Black girls are suspended at higher rates (12 percent) than all other girls.

These statistics reflect something deeply troubling in our education system and the way it both perceives and treats black youth. It would be morally and professionally dishonest to assert that these numbers reflect merely the actions or character of our students, and not the failure of an education system that too often sees them as problems before they see them as children.

Additionally, while it is important to talk about what we are doing in schools that criminalizes our black and brown youth, it is equally important to talk about what is happening in the schools of those who took their lives.

Officer Darren Wilson had a teacher. Officer Daniel Pantaleo had a teacher. George Zimmerman had a teacher.

What is happening in the schools and communities where these men grew up that had made them profoundly fear black and brown life? How are our schools socializing and institutionalizing this fear? What can we do as educators to push students to unlearn the prejudices and biases they been inundated with by our society?

In addition to this reflection, it is crucial that our institution actively recruits faculty and supports curricula that directly address issues of race, urban inequality, ethnic studies, and social justice. HGSE must demonstrate its commitment to this work not simply when national tragedies occur, but at all times.

We hold this die-in in tandem with the work of others who have held such actions across the country, as a direct challenge our nation’s callous disregard for black life. We do this as a show of support for those whose lives have been taken, and with the students, families, schools, and communities we hope to serve in a way that is just.”