To Name Is Humility. To Ignore Is Dangerous.
If you shared with someone that you had a difficult decision to make, one of the earliest pieces of advice they'd offer is to seek the wisdom of others. Wisdom from the minds and experiences of others has its place, particularly within an abolitionist approach, because a part of our pursuit of freedom is based on partnering with our teaching and learning community to seek emancipation. However, we must discover the difference in seeking the wisdom of others as guidance, and allowing the lived experiences of others to become our choices. The grueling, complex suffering of having to make dangerous decisions for the sake of the community is part of the abolitionist approach. Dangerous decisions must be formed and informed by the human dysfunctions, trauma coping, procedural ambiguities, communication stress, inadequate information, inconsistent details, and role nuance particular to the teaching and learning community you are leading. Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth made distinct choices of how they used hymns and spirituals in their abolition against slavery. Both were spirited, resilient, and dangerous actors in the pursuit of freedom, but through choices that were responsive to their contexts. Truth employed hymns to disarm the hostility of whiteness, and Tubman as coded language for alerting the enslaved of the departure—and both were formed and informed by a set of irreplicable ambiguities. When there is clarity of values at the philosophical level of decision-making, these decisions are emancipated from the control of others beyond the teaching and learning community, and become those of the leader in partnership with the community.
Who was in the cockpit with Captain Sully? Officer Skiles. Who was on the plane with them? Three flight attendants and 150 passengers. One hundred and fifty-three people on Flight 1549, in community, reliant on the decisions of two leaders. And of those two, only one was leading their pursuit. It was a distinct, traumatic, ambiguous, hasty moment where the words of others in the comfort of a control tower were limited in scope and power to the intensity of being there. In that moment. Many had, in their minds, a seemingly rational notion that those in the tower had choices that Captain Sully should have pursued in the throes of that moment. The Wall Street Journal published a report of flight simulations in which pilots turned the plane around, successfully, and landed at LaGuardia Airport after losing power in both engines at the same point as Flight 1549. Even Patrick, a well-meaning air traffic controller, offered Captain Sully choices, the recurring of which was "to try to get us back to a runway at LaGuardia."2 But there is a problem—a problem with those simulations, and a problem with Patrick. Those simulations were recreated, on the ground, from the safety of simulation labs; and Patrick was on the ground, in an air traffic control tower. Neither Patrick nor those simulation pilots were in that Airbus in the air, at 240 miles per hour, descending from 3,060 feet to 1,650 feet.
Barry Schiff, a retired pilot who has flown more than 300 different kinds of aircraft, didn't respond well to the notion of retrospective, simulation-flights. "What's the worst that can happen?" he says. "You reset the simulator and try it again."3 Schiff alludes to the trauma of making choices in crisis moments. The mental and emotional state that a pilot experiences in an emergency cannot be compared to a simulated state. Much the same, as leaders of teaching and learning communities, we will inevitably find ourselves in heighted emotional and mental states, having to make decisions in the abolitionist interest of our students, staff, and families. It is inevitable. When our decisions are imminent, we are often advised and even compelled to pursue certain pathways by district leaders, city and state accountability boards, board of trustees and advisory councils, and accreditation teams. While mostly well-intentioned and commonly guided by prior experiences, there is a problem. Those folx are not in our community with our human dysfunctions, trauma coping, procedural ambiguities, communication stress, inadequate information, inconsistent details, and role nuance. That is the impetus of ignoring them. It is not regarded as disrespect or contempt for their charge to fulfill their roles. It is, instead, the highest regard for our communal consciousness. It is esteem for the pursuit of freedom. It is reverence for the lived experiences, knowledge, and traumas of those in the plane with us as leaders, descending at 240 miles per hour.
It is therefore necessary, as abolitionists, that teaching and learning leaders make intentional decisions to ignore the lived experiences of others from shadowing choices that disrupt freedom. The affective choice in ignoring, as an act of resistance, the sociocultural and sociopolitical powers that be is a dangerous one. Dangerous in that ignored powers tend to use defensive mechanisms, oppressive threats, and subjugating tactics to reify positional politics. These mechanisms, threats, and tactics can be at the expense of what is in the freedom interest of the students within the teaching and learning community. As an abolitionist, ignore anyway. The act of ignoring is not only dangerous, it is also dramatic. In its drama, it is staged—philosophically and strategically.