An Abolitionist Vision

The eighth rhythm calls on those of us who are committed to an abolitionist approach in our leadership to participate—with our students and communities—in creating, embodying, and actualizing a vision for abolition. I can recall my beloved mother, Roslyn, in all of her Black, saintly wisdom saying, "Don't you ever, and I do mean ever, demand something of others, especially people who see and trust you as their leader, that you won't do yourself—it is the epitome of hypocrisy, and I didn't raise a hypocrite." To invalidate any claims of hypocrisy, and more importantly, to not disappoint my mother, I endeavor to conceive of a vision of abolition for Black students, Black classrooms, Black schools, and Black teaching and learning communities. I use Black from this point to be inclusive of all shades of blackness and browness. Visioning demanded a question—the same question, I invite you to ask of your own community—what is, if fully actualized, the intent of abolition? Not so much the abolition of individual student lives or singular policies within schools, but the abolition of an entire schooling system that privileges assessments as indicators of value, stratifies students on nineteenth-century grading scales, and pays teacher wages comparable to the industrialization era. Not abolition as a cloak for reform, but abolition as a vision for a new way of teaching, learning, and care.

Abolition would mean an inclusive and moral division of the United States Department of Education that empowers, mobilizes, and resources its students and teachers equitably— ensuring the highest level of resources in response to the highest level of need, which would privilege urban and rural communities. Abolition would mean a plethora of historically situated, racially relevant, culturally contextual, communally conscious curricula that unerringly and authentically depicts Black brilliance, Black suffering, Black resilience, and Black participation in the nation-building of America and in culture-building of the world. Abolition would mean a federally mandated teacherwage minimum that accounts for the time, investment, and integrity needed to ensure a cognitive, literary, mathematical, and social-emotional roadmap for students who enter into classroom communities at varying points of "readiness." Abolition would be deconstructing and eliminating body and uniform policing, behavioral surveillance, suspensions, and expulsions, and creating lasting, humane alternatives to punishment and discipline. Abolition would mean a capital-building fund where our nation's schools are regularly evaluated to ensure safe environmental conditions for learning. Abolition would mean clean water, working toilets, asbestos removal, tiled ceilings, and natural lighting. Abolition would mean nutritional wellness and healthy food options for breakfast, snack, lunch, and supper for every student and family. Abolition would mean access to school-based, preventative healthcare regardless of insurance. Abolition would mean demilitarizing school safety by eliminating guns, tasers, handcuffs, restraining devices, and all forms of militarized paraphernalia from safety officers. Abolition would mean increasing our investment to provide social worker-to-student and psychologist-to-student ratios at an equivalent ratio of teachers-to-students. Abolition would mean a willingness to deconstruct and then construct new academic proficiency metrics to account for the indigenous, inherent knowledge that students bring into the classroom without a need for scaling knowledge. Abolition would mean for white educators to show up as coconspirators, not well-meaners, allies, or accomplices, in the exhausting and exhaustive work of calling other white educators in and out on their micro-aggressions, macro-aggressions, implicit biases, explicit biases, and racism. Abolition would be restructuring pathways to teacher preparation programs as a means to widen access for Black and brown and indigenous folx with the will to do this work, but not the resources. Abolition looks like white school leaders—public, charter, and Independent, and religiously affiliated in and of predominantly Black school communities—yielding power to Black folx whom at the most essential baseline identify with the racial realities, racial nuances, racial politics, racial trauma, and racial burdens of the students being cared for. Abolition looks like local boards of education ensuring an equitable percentage of representation that aligns to the demographics of the community. Abolition would mean annual salary audits of all schools that receive public funds of even one dollar to ensure racial compensation equity for equivalent titles and responsibilities. Abolition would be a radically human, trauma-responsive paid-time off (PTO) policy for all teachers and staff. Abolition would mean restructuring and even eliminating our metrics of attendance and tardiness as indicators of family engagement. And abolition is delaying the reopening of school buildings in our most vulnerable communities after a global pandemic, reallocating the monies saved from not operating to supplement the food, health, and income insecurities of families. For any abolitionist vision, we must hold to the paraphrased, poetic wisdom of Robert Browning—that our "reach should exceed our grasp, or what's a heaven for?"8

Without a vision for abolition, the students in our school communities are plagued to continue enduring a white, capitalist, patriarchal imagination of people like Thomas Jefferson, who led the American empire in envisioning public schooling to stratify "the laborers and the learned." Alas, this is now your invitation to purposefully and meaningfully disrupt the Jeffersonian imagination that inherently rejects the dignities, limits the possibilities, denies the opportunities of Black students, and invites the reconstruction of an America where an equitable, abolitionist vision is realizable.