Sunday, August 27, 2017

Would you let YOUR kids take a knee?

Last week one of my dear friends and colleagues posted the following video on Facebook:

The caption on the video says: During the 2016-2017 NFL season Colin Kaepernick took a knee in protest of police brutality of African Americans. The league responded by blackballing him. 

The creator of the video goes on to encourage a boycott of the NFL. I watched the entire video and I wanted to do something. A boycott isn't really going to work for me...I don't watch football. I don't buy tickets. I don't even know which team Colin played for. But I do know Colin. I know him because young men of color, just like him, sit in front of me every day while I teach social studies. Because I don't watch football, or follow it in the least, I didn't quite know what was going on last year when a large portion of my class "took a knee" during the daily reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. We say the pledge every day at school. But on this particular day, I saw something I hadn't seen before. When the announcers came on and directed us all to face the flag, multiple faces turned in my direction. Looking for permission for something I didn't understand. The pledge was said during a time of day when the kids in my class were all children of color. Almost all of them were Black males. 

They didn't really know me very well yet, and didn't know what I would do when they made their decision to take the proverbial knee during the pledge. One of my students was the first to make it clear that he didn't want to participate, but he is a rule follower and one of the most respectful kids I know. I remember his face looking right at me, and he saw the confusion on my face. I could tell he didn't want me to think he was a trouble maker. I wandered over and he said, "Do I have to say the pledge?" 

I started to put some pieces together, having heard rumblings about Kaepernick on the news, I had a feeling the two were related. I said to him, "Nope. Your first amendment rights allow YOU to make that decision." 

After a few of us were done pledging our allegiance to the flag, we had an awesome class discussion. They told me about Colin and why they wanted to take a knee. They were genuinely in shock that I wasn't mad at them or forcing them to participate in this daily ritual. They couldn't believe I would engage them in a conversation about the benefits of a protest. They couldn't believe I wasn't mad at them. I was just getting to know this particular group of students, but this was probably what led to the relationships I was able to build with them. From that point forward, some kids pledged, some didn't, and the deal have to be respectful during the pledge. But I was certainly not going to force these young men of color to pledge allegiance to something they felt was in direct opposition to who they were. 

I know some teachers would whole-heartedly disagree with me. I know some people whose blood will boil just reading this. I am really OK with that. Because that's how we make change. We engage in dialogue. We think about how it might impact someone else. We consider the feelings of others that have an experience we can't understand. I have no idea what it is like to be a Black male in the United States right now. From what I have heard and read, Colin isn't even on a team anymore. I've heard he is a great football player (I have no reference point for that) and that doesn't matter because the NFL doesn't want him. They don't seem to mind players that are criminals and have forgiven players for egregious acts. But this kid isn't playing football because he gave a voice to the voiceless. 

Shame on the NFL for building their franchises by employing mostly men of color, but not letting one voice be heard because the white fans and team owners might feel uncomfortable. I want to hear from teachers on this. Would you let your kids take a knee? Would you let them take a stand? Do we fight for a 13-year-old's right to stay silent during the pledge? Do we respect their wishes and let their voices be heard? Or do we force them to pledge allegiance to something they don't believe represents them?

We can't avoid discussions of racism in school. Our kids are feeling it and experiencing it more than ever before. I think about this all the time and I want to do what is right by my kids. 

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