In 2016, before beginning my tenure as Superintendent, my high school students and I had a remarkable dialogue about professional English at Democracy Prep Charter High School. At the time, I shared my strong belief and personal experience as a person of color that mastering it is an essential tool for our scholars in their quest to break through barriers and combat systems of oppression that still exist today.
Several days ago and unbeknownst to me, my thoughts on this important topic were repackaged and shared with scholars at Democracy Prep sparking concerns among some of our scholars. While I was unaware that my words from 2016 had been shared anew, I applaud our scholars for raising their voices and speaking truth to power. A local news outlet has since picked this up and presented it as a dispute between the students and myself. Igniting this kind of dialogue is exactly what we teach our scholars to do at Democracy Prep and I couldn’t be prouder of their passion and voice.
As an African-American woman, with family from the south, New York City, and Jamaica, I know firsthand the difficulty black and brown people face in this country because of false stereotypes with regard to our education and ability to succeed. I believe that standard English, both in written and spoken form, is an essential and fundamental tool that our scholars need in order to be successful in this country and acquire access to the often-elusive American dream.
It is a known and studied fact that people of color in this country do have to be twice as good as others, not only noted by a 2015 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, but also by former First Lady Michelle Obama who in a 2015 graduation speech at Tuskegee University reinforced what many of us as people of color in this country know all too well, stating:
“The road ahead is not going to be easy. It never is, especially for folks like you and me. Because while we’ve come so far, the truth is that those age-old problems are stubborn and they haven’t fully gone away. So there will be times when you feel like folks look right past you, or they see just a fraction of who you really are…they will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world.”
If we fail to equip our scholars with the basic skills needed to be successful, we are neglecting our role as educators. For that reason, I have always asked teachers I’ve worked with to make it clear to students that various dialects can and should be studied in and outside of the classroom. However, I expect all educators to teach scholars how to practice standard professional English in the academic setting because they would be doing them a disservice otherwise.
I do this work because I have a deep respect for the intellect of our students. I will never water things down for our scholars, “hide the ball” from them with regard to how to gain access to power in this country, nor shy away from my role which is to ensure they are educated in the most rigorous college preparatory environment possible. Our scholars are more than deserving of the American dream and they are likely the individuals who will help us solve pressing problems that will change our world for the better.
With love and the utmost respect,