Prioritizing Oppression

Would you agree that everything that matters to us in teaching and learning has a tendency to be treated as if it matters equally? Would you be willing to admit that in teaching and learning communities, the system often overrates the technical and pedagogical functions of our work and underrate the reparative and healing functions of our work? Can we say that we, as a collective, have a tendency to misperceive our measures of priority? In this sense, prioritizing work that unapologetically centers the reparative and healing and freeing work with students of color, particularly Black and brown students, is a transcendent mechanism of accountability. When one is committed to the mechanism of prioritization, every practice, policy, protocol, process, and program is filtered through this lens—does what I am doing restoratively and justly prioritize folx of color? In essence, how will what I am doing prioritize the conditions for students of color in this classroom, in this school, in this community, and in this world? As Gorski asserts, in teaching and learning communities, prioritizing all students' needs as a function of "equality—attending equally to everybody's interests—reproduces inequity."3 In response, we must be accountable to prioritizing the interests of oppressed folx in our communities, not to other the identities of the folx themselves, but to abandon our assumptions that free folx and oppressed folx require an equal level of prioritization and institutional investment in our pursuit of freedom. If the free are already free, then, by prioritizing the free, we are guaranteeing access to more freedom, which is privilege; by prioritizing the oppressed, we are moving toward the freedom already secured by the free, which is abolition.

Esteeming Humanity

For Rabbi Sam, the most transcendent form of accountability was his belief that God had an expectation of esteeming all of humanity as our neighbors—a value, or principle, or commandment that is critical to Judeo-Christian ethics but that dates back to early Egyptian thought, reflecting the goddess Ma'at, in a story called, The Eloquent Peasant. For teaching and learning communities, all of us should connect esteeming all of humanity to our belief that the ideals of freedom, hope, imagination, and possibility—the fruitages of our work—are inherently accessible. This idea of esteeming humanity as accountability is, in fact, the highest order of transcendence in that when we recognize and value the inherent dignity of all folx within and beyond our communities, we are compelled to solely act in ways that demand and demonstrate dignity above all else. Calling forth the generational wisdom of family elders, raised in the throes of Mississippi in an era of sharecropping, I'd often hear one of them say, "If you don't do anything else, treat me like a human." It may seem like a low bar for accountability—humane treatment of all folx—yet treating Black students like human as a mechanism of accountability would compel a reexamining of every practice, policy, protocol, and process that animalizes, criminalizes, and dehumanizes the teaching and learning experience. As we do the technical and pedagogical work we have been called to do, esteeming humanity is our devotion to find our way back to ensuring that before we clarify learning goals, simplify the language of core standards, and identify criteria for success, we personify a radically human commitment to the dignity of every student.

 
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