“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”’ – Martin Luther King Jr.
No Education Justice? No Peace!
I have been a teacher for ten years and for most of my ten years I have taught in fear. Fear of my bosses, mostly. Fear of being chastised, bullied, not meeting the standards, my students not meeting the standards, constant, never ending, paralyzing fear.
The Rochester City School District is masterful at instilling fear and has many soldiers who will dole out the daily trauma required to carry out the harm it is tasked with. The distinguished educator made note of the culture of fear that silences educators and how this silence harms the district. The harm I refer to is the daily trauma of institutionalized racism. Racism that takes the form of crumbling buildings, culturally irrelevant curriculum, massive layoffs every few years, constantly changing tests and standards.
After living in fear for so many years, I finally found a way out. You don’t beat fear on your own, I have learned. You beat fear with a protective barrier of hundreds of others around you, supporting you, standing with you, facing down the bullies and the terrorizers together. And here is where I come to the word, “peace”. That elusive term. What does it mean? Peace, for so many, means the absence of conflict. Therefore, peace must be passive, compliant, quiet. And yet, Martin Luther King Jr., so many years ago, spoke of his deep despair as so many white people preferred a “negative peace” instead of justice.
Justice has been a struggle. Justice continues to be a struggle. And so, should we not retrain our minds, and those of our children and our young people, to prepare for the struggle, the struggle FOR peace. The struggle for peace is not compliant. The struggle for peace is not quiet. The struggle for peace is inherently in conflict with the powerful systems that value order over justice. Just as the freedom fighters were hosed down in Birmingham, beaten and bloody, struggling for peace, we must be ready to struggle for peace.
In our classrooms and schools, what can this struggle look like? Does it look like compliance to new curricula that have harmful images of Black and brown characters? Does it look like compliance, forcing children to take culturally irrelevant tests that belittle their knowledge, and label them as failing?
In my opinion, the fight for justice in the classroom, in the school, in the district, looks like struggle. Collective struggle, of course, is the only way to transform systems that uphold a negative peace, over justice. I beat my fear when I found my collective voice, and my collective keeps growing. Those who are willing to struggle beside me for a more just world for our students, and for each other.
And every step my collective has taken, every critique we have made, every action we have taken, has been met with criticism, doubt, fear. Does that mean we are wrong? Are we struggling incorrectly? Are we the wrong people, at the wrong time, doing the fight for justice wrong? Of course not! Every movement for justice has been met with these same tactics. The struggle for peace will not come without conflict. The sooner we accept that changing any systems will be met with deep resistance, and we carry on, the sooner we will move toward a more just world.
I call upon our community of educators, caregivers, and workers from all walks to refuse to be compliant any more. Find your people, find the people who will say we will no longer do harm to our students with this curriculum, this test, this day void of play and joy and love. We will stand up together, collectively, and demand better for our students and ourselves. And when we stand together, and demand more, and they say “No.”? That is just the beginning. Nothing worthwhile ever came easily. We are in a marathon that began hundreds of years ago, and we will not rest until we have the PEACE we have been struggling for all along.
About Claire Labrosa
(she/her/hers) Claire Labrosa is an English as a New Language teacher in the Rochester City School District, and a founding member of the Rochester Organization of Rank and File Educators (RORE) a social justice caucus in the RTA. Claire is a lifelong Rochester resident, a graduate of the RCSD, and a passionate advocate for equitable and fully funded public education.