Thursday, November 3, 2016

Mary Manor - Fighting the Power: The Positive Story of Public Education

Mary Manor is a proud union member and public school teacher who teaches social justice through the lens of literature and writing at Minneapolis South High School. Mary lives in South Minneapolis with spouse, Corinth, and their dog, Lenny.

Last May, the racial equity student group at South High held “Racial Equity Day.” Student-organized and student-led, the day featured dozens of workshops focused on engaging students in discussions of race and justice in our communities. As a unionized public school teacher at South High, this is a powerful, positive story I can tell about public education.

In contrast, the public education story told by our most powerful government agents, richest capitalists, under-served communities, and disenfranchised students is one of failing schools, ineffective teachers, disengaged students, and long summer breaks. This narrative gives credence to punitive policies, loss of teacher autonomy, destructive teacher evaluations, funding cuts, and school closings.

My union colleagues and I grapple with the harmful effects of this narrative even as we help create positive ones. The power of the negative story comes from money and oppression. The power of our story comes from the work we do, the action we take, and the successes of our students.

I am fortunate to work at Minneapolis South High with colleagues that prioritize the struggle to put social justice issues at the forefront of education. We teach English classes that focus on readings from historically marginalized authors and give all students the opportunity to engage on a deep and authentic level. We have math classes focused on social justice – using poverty rates, demographics, and educational achievement data to teach algebra and statistics – so students can practice practical applications of math and examine social issues that affect communities in which they live. We teach American history classes that privilege the absent narratives of people of color and create engaged, active young citizens who are ready and willing to fight for civil rights.

The power of our story is also dependent on the humanities. My own study of the humanities has helped me develop the knowledge, understanding, compassion, and need for action that shapes my life and teaching. The Minnesota Humanities Center’s workshops have focused my attention on the power of story and the need to engage in the work it will take to change the American narrative for the better.

This summer, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, in memory of Philando Castile, and while holding tightly to the hands of the unionized public school teachers on either side of me, I sat down in the Nicollet Avenue and 8th Street intersection in downtown Minneapolis along with eighteen others. Some of my students peppered the crowd. We chanted and sang until the police gave the final warning to clear the intersection. We remained seated as people from the crowd – friends, fellow teachers, students, union comrades, and community members – gave us hugs and handshakes. Moments later, we were arrested to resounding applause and cheers. I took action because I believe black lives matter. I took action because I believe my black students matter. I took action because I could not go back to my classroom this fall and teach students that they can and should create a powerful, positive American story without living those lessons myself.

1 comment:

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