Rise Above

Dear #BlackLivesMatter...

In many respects, I have remained heretofore disenchanted with your movement; not for its lack of momentum, positivity, or even accuracy—I believe that the collective demand that Black Lives, as well as All Lives, matter should be acknowledged. However, I am wholeheartedly convinced that the primary sources for your claim and targets for your discussion is missing the heart of the matter. As most informed people have reiterated, police brutality and mass incarceration targeting specific populations is not a new phenomenon; but honestly, it isn't even the catalyst for the negative impacts of race relations in this country. When do citizens first encounter the system's/society's evaluation and devaluation of specific subsets? Where do they first learn that prejudice of certain kinds is not only allowable but also encouraged?

Short answer: School.

The way our students, schools and classrooms are structured, developed, and even studied is subversively indoctrinating the citizenry with the basic, fundamental conceptual elements that Black Lives, and those like them, don't matter.

First, let's examine the State-to-State curricula. How many present American History as a gallant and innovative, patriotic quest for freedom and dreams by free men despite the facts that all success was gained by one or maybe two specific subsets of the population while most everyone else, from the indigenous to subservient populations, were being oppressed and/or exterminated in the process? How many lessons teach us of heroes and heroines who advanced the desires of the few over the needs of the many? Where is the thorough study of the impact and contributions of other cultures and ethnic groups to the advancement of America? Why is this information excluded from the history we teach America’s children?

Because it would sow the seeds of inclusion and the idea that all peoples and their contributions equally matter, without which people could easily be convinced that the only opinions and contributions that matter are from those of certain groups.

Second, let's examine the structures. Schools, especially those in more homogenous, urbanized locales, are architecturally and psychologically designed in ways reminiscent of the prison and hospital systems. As an educator, I have yet to step into a building that did not follow the prescriptions for institutions designed to foster and encourage complete compliance and adherence to a specific set of social norms. In those walls learning is taking place, and the lesson is that you are what you are told you are. In this respect, the prevailing version of ourselves provided in some of our most pivotal developmental moments are based on what and how the system perceives us to be. For many Black males in so many schools across the country, this is communicated via the implementation of the special education process.

As a Special Educator, I have personally witnessed the disproportionate number of Black Lives that are impacted by the stigma and prejudice that accompanies a special education categorization unlike any other label in schools. If we do a simple search, we will see that many more Black Lives are being incarcerated and brutalized by a system that tells them from a young age that the way they think or live is "abnormal" and thus matters less in comparison to others. This is a very powerful message, and yet we are not addressing its transmission at all.

Finally, let's examine the ways children/students are segregated. Let's be frank: true integration not only never happened, the process called "integration" under the law was implemented in ways that did more damage than the Jim Crow South could have ever dreamed (the problem is that it backfired). The public validation of the choice and accountability movements, the political fire behind the expansion and legitimacy of charter schools and standardized testing in public schools, has basically resegregated schools into worse conditions and statuses as their international counterparts, so much so that our reported literacy and numeracy scores rival those of third world countries with no public schooling system to speak of (especially when compared against neighborhoods consisting of predominantly Black Lives). No one can deny that the institutionalization of standardized testing, and its inherent bias, and multi-national charter school networks owned and operated by non-Black Lives, thus lacking the perspective or understanding of the meaning of the words "trivialized" or "devalued" embedded in a shared history/reality, has been for the better. If anything, they have contributed to, and even evolved, the pre-conceptual elements and attributes that found the conclusions and hypotheses of the inhumane bigot.

And what we need to do is talk about it.

In life, more often than not, people end up exactly where they are directed. Nothing directs the systematic mass incarceration or brutalization of Black Lives more than the school system that endorses that message to ALL OF OUR CHILDREN.

I think if the movement wishes to be effective, you must target the heart of the matter—you must channel energy into the reevaluation of the structure and function of our educational systems from State to State, because for many citizens the source of our illness emanates from our participation and indoctrination into a systematic belief that specific lives matter more than others.

I make a call for the community, especially those dedicated and working in education of any kind, to come together and collaborate on the ways we can address the physical and academic structures that teach our children to devalue life. I likewise challenge #BlackLivesMatter, and organizations contributing to their dialogue, to incorporate this issue into their discourse.

The sickness is deeper than we think.

©2017 Kevin J. Quail, II. All rights reserved


Kevin J. Quail, II is an experienced, certified Special Educator and Advocate. For over a decade, he has worked as a direct hire and independent contractor in public, private, and charter K-12 as well as college school environments in various capacities, including: Test Prep teacher, IB Librarian/Media Specialist, Tutor, Substitute, ESL teacher, Humanities/College Prep teacher, English, and GED prep teacher. He currently works as an independent research-practitioner and service provider serving in both the Honolulu and Washington, DC metropolitan areas to provide tutoring, homeschool support, test preparation, substitute teaching, special education services, curriculum design, advocacy, professional development and coaching for students, parents, schools, and other independent educators.