An Open Letter to our 9th Grade Students

 

Dear 9th Graders,

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving break, Ms. Bech and I came into class exhausted.  We had spent the night before staying up late to hear the non-indictment announcement in Ferguson.  We knew Tuesday’s lesson was about the justice system and conversations about race in America, but we had to figure out how to incorporate this latest news.  We wanted to provide you with the information and time to process.  We wanted to make sure our facilitation helped you all have a voice in the conversation.

The conversation you ended up having Your discussion of the non-indictment by the grand jury in Ferguson energized us and made us proud to be your teachers.  First, we reviewed the terms.  We went over the role of grand juries and defined (and learned how to pronounce) “indictment”.  Once you had the facts, you reacted.  Many of you were outraged.  “Why doesn’t the government do something?”  Many of your were in disbelief.  “How could a grand jury be wrong?” you asked.  “There must not have been enough evidence.”   “Why doesn’t the government do something?”  Some of your thoughts, questions, and anger echoed my own.  We want to believe in the system.  We want to believe in the American Dream.

As we explored the breaking story, Tanya asked the question, that got to the heart of the matter,  “Ms. Fletcher, in your personal opinion, when will all of this be over?”

We knew what she was asking, but as we have been practicing, we pushed Tanya to name specifics.  Ms. Bech clarified, “What is the ‘this’?”

Tanya’s clarified easily and poignantly, “When will unarmed black kids stop being shot by white police?”

I didn’t have an easy answer.  I said some things about the importance of getting angry, about the importance of doing something, about the importance of making change in your communities, and about the importance of white folks getting angry.  We talked about becoming teachers because that’s how we choose to make change.  In the end I told her frankly, “I don’t have a good answer.”

It is not a satisfying answer, I know.  But, that’s the key right there.  A true education means asking and exploring questions which do not have satisfying answers.  It means examining our ingrained biases and assumptions about ourselves, our neighbors, and our world.  It means coming to school read to ask hard questions about ideas, rather than people, and bravely point out an alternate perspective.

But it doesn’t end there. It means doing something with those questions, those alternate perspectives, and those debunked assumptions. It means organizing, protesting, making a video, writing letters, holding rallies, writing poetry. It means standing up and being counted among those who say, “No, not good enough.”  Ms. Bech and I, we chose to teach. Our job is to help you figure out what you’ll do.

For now, keep thinking, questioning, exploring, and participating.  We heard you when, later in class, you asked us to make sure that we kept having discussions about race.   And so tomorrow, we’ll continue the conversation.

 

 

Thank you,

Your teachers,

Ms. Fletcher and Ms. Bech

 

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