Tag Archives: English Education journal

The Paradox of Tolerance

This post is written by member Shea Kerkhoff.

When I opened Twitter on the evening of Saturday, August 12, my feed was full of educators’ responses of outrage at what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the aftermath. I quickly closed my app. The rest of that night, I ignored Twitter, Facebook, even direct personal messages about the event. I didn’t turn on the TV. I couldn’t . . . or, more accurately, wouldn’t. I didn’t want to feel the deep sense of loss and sadness that was sweeping over me. I realized that I was acting out of white privilege, but I continued to shut out the news and my feelings. I could ignore these sad feelings, because for me the feelings would diminish as soon as the headlines found a new interest. For my friends of color, racism isn’t a 24-hour news cycle, but a daily reminder of the hate in our world.

It’s time to stop ignoring what’s going on. As a teacher, it’s my responsibility to help my students make a better world.

I’ve heard too many of my students use the same rhetoric as that coming out of the White House: “Both sides are to blame” or “it’s my job to de-escalate the situation, to keep the peace.” But an educator’s job is not that of peacekeeper. It is that of peacemaker. Peace is not made through a lack of violence, but through social justice, when the righteous are declared and the evil condemned.

Tolerance is a moral stance, not a neutral stance, calling for acceptance of difference but not of evil. Let us not fall prey to the paradox of tolerance; let us teach intolerance of intolerance.

Let us not teach critical literacy and poststructuralism to the point where students trust no one and nothing. Let us teach them to question what they see in order to seek truth. Their history textbooks may read that Rome had peace for 200 years, but a country wracked with oppression, even slavery, is not at peace. Let us teach our students that blanket condemnation of violence does not lead to peace. Peace is living in equality and harmony with others.

In light of recent tragic events in Charlottesville, it’s time to double down on our commitment to education for social justice. To give you the tools to follow through on your commitment to social justice this school year, here is a link to an English Education special journal issue guest edited by April Baker-Bell, Tamara Butler, and Lamar Johnson dealing with racial violence: From Racial Violence to Racial Justice: Praxis and Implications for English (Teacher) Education.

Shea Kerkhoff received her PhD in literacy from North Carolina State University. She now teaches adolescent literacy and young adult literature at Purdue University and is assistant editor of English Education.

The Responsibility of English Teachers in the Wake of Racial Violence

This post is written by members April Baker-Bell, Tamara Butler and Lamar Johnson.

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(Left to Right): Tamara Butler, April Baker-Bell, Lamar Johnson

Despite numerous claims that America is “post-racial,” modern forms of racism and race-based violence continue to operate as a daily part of American culture. The state-sanctioned brutality and murders of Black and Brown citizens, the forced disappearance of indigenous youth, and the violence against transgender people of color have generated new civil rights urgencies in communities of color and spirited academic discourse in educational spaces.

For us as Black US citizens and English educators, we recognize that “the same racist brutality toward Black citizens that we see happening on the streets across the United States mirrors the violence toward Black students that is happening in our nation’s academic streets” (Baker-Bell, Jones Stanbrough, & Everett, 2017, p. 131).

In response to this, we co-guest edited a special issue of English Education titled From Racial Violence to Racial Justice: Praxis and Implications for English (Teacher) Education that calls for centering race and racism in English Language Arts (ELA) classrooms. More specifically, we ask, What should be the responsibility of all English (teacher) educators and ELA teachers in the wake of terror, death, and racial violence? We address this question by building upon Lamar’s notion of Critical Race English Education (CREE), which suggests that teachers and students must “unlearn and engage in transformative conversations about anti-Blackness, anti-Brownness, homophobia, and other forms of xenophobia” (Baker-Bell, Butler, Johnson, 2017, p. 123).

The contributors to this special issue illustrate what this framework and stance could look like in English education and ELA classrooms. In “The Stories They Tell,” April Baker-Bell, Raven Jones Stanbrough, and Sakeena Everett examine how media reinforces white supremacy and anti-Blackness, and they offer pedagogies of healing and critical media literacy as tools to encourage youth of color to investigate, dismantle, and rewrite the damaging narratives that mainstream media constructs of them. In “#Say[ing] HerName as Critical Demand,” Tamara Butler calls upon English educators to engage in the political work of centering Black women’s autobiographies in ELA classrooms. Danny Martinez explores the symbolic linguistic violence that Black and Latinx youth experience in schools and calls for ELA teachers to imagine a language of solidarity.

We close the issue with a critical reflection from Bettina Love who uses her experience as a Black female educator to argue for teachers to have a space to wrestle with the difficult knowledge and task of teaching anti-Black, state-sanctioned violence toward Black women while dealing with the reality that their lives and spirits are also in danger.

We believe this special themed issue is important because it sheds light on what it means to teach ELA for and with Black and Brown youth, especially in a time where their lives are often devalued and disrespected. Additionally, this special issue provides educators with curricula and pedagogical tools that can transform ELA classrooms into sites of humanization and racial justice.

April Baker-Bell is an assistant professor of language and literacy in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. She is also affiliated faculty in the English Education and African American and African Studies programs. April’s research examines how African American youth construct their linguistic, cultural, and racial identities in relation to dominant language ideologies.

Tamara Butler is an assistant professor of English education in the Department of English and the African American and African Studies Program at Michigan State University. Tamara’s research explores how art, storytelling, and other creative processes can create spaces for youth, community members, and educators to collectively engage in mobilizing and consciousness-raising efforts

Lamar L. Johnson is an assistant professor of English Education at Michigan State University. He is interested in the complex intersections of race, literacy, and education and how ELA classrooms can become sites for racial justice.