Teachers Address Derek Chauvin’s Guilty Verdict

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Teaching the Chauvin verdict

On Wednesday, many teachers will have a big topic to discuss with their students: the news that a jury convicted Derek Chauvin of murder for the killing of George Floyd. We reached out to some of the educators who have been in touch with this newsletter to see how they’ll handle it.

Emily Beenen, an English teacher in Albuquerque, N.M., said she will have “just a very simple debrief” with her students, and then ask them some basic questions: What do you think? How do you feel?

“I am not trying to traumatize anybody, but you want to acknowledge their lived experience, but do so in an academic way and in a supportive way,” said Beenen, who teaches mostly Native students. “It kind of gives these names to these things that they already see and know around them.”

Kellie Crook teaches at an all-girls charter school in Baltimore that she said was “99 percent Black.” Like other teachers in the school, she plans to start a conversation with the poem “Allowables,” by Nikki Giovanni, and discuss justice and accountability.

“A lot of my girls have so much more experience with violence and death and negativity than I probably ever will in my life,” said Crook, who is white. “Those experiences matter and they should have every right to express their own opinions about this.”

The verdict caps off a year of fraught conversations in schools about privilege, racism and a society in tumult. It also shows students just how far the country has left to go.

“I know some kids are like, ‘All right that’s George Floyd, but we have people in Philly getting killed all the time, like my homeboy was killed or I just lost my friend,’” Angela Crawford, who teaches 11th and 12th grade English at Martin Luther King High School in Philadelphia, told Chalkbeat. “‘When are they going to find the people who killed him?’”

This summer, as the U.S. engaged in the largest protest movement in its history against police brutality, many students marched together. This winter, as Trump supporters rioted at the Capitol, teachers pointed to other parts of U.S. history. Earlier this week, schools in Minneapolis planned to shift to remote learning, in case of unrest, and students walked out in solidarity with the racial justice movement.

Beenen has been teaching “The Finkelstein 5,” a short story satirizing a young man navigating his Blackness, and “Between the World and Me,” a letter from Ta-Nehisi Coates to his son about being Black in the U.S.

“We don’t teach any of these things in a vacuum,” she said. “The idea of critical thinking is that you are always critical thinking and making these connections to other texts, in your life, in the news, in politics. ”

Zachary Gosse, a high school special education teacher in Long Island, N.Y., focused his conversations with students on Darnella Frazier, a teenager who filmed the murder and upended the police department’s highly misleading initial description of Floyd’s death.

“If you were in that situation, would you be willing to stand up?” Gosse said he asked his students.

Jasmine Hobson Rodriguez, who teaches English to high school juniors in Hesperia, Calif., structured her Black History month curriculum around police brutality and racial justice, inspired by the George Floyd protests. She structured the project around the theme “The Art of Resistance” and asked: How can social justice or standing up for a cause be beautiful or artistic?

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On Wednesday, she will return to their work to help them think through the moment. Some students painted Floyd. Others analyzed songs about police brutality or made websites to collect petitions. Like Beenen and countless other teachers across the country, she will open the floor: How do you feel? What do you think?

“I will make sure my kids have the space to talk about what they want to talk about, or not,” she said. “And then, we’re going to go back to reading ‘The Great Gatsby.’”

From Opinion: “Students need a way of thinking, not a series of conclusions,” Esau McCaulley, a professor at Wheaton College, wrote in an essay for The Times. “But I also believe that students deserve the truth as charitably and carefully as I can deliver it. To ignore these issues is a privilege too many of my Black and brown students lack.

“So we wade into the troubled waters. I let them all know that there is no escape from these issues. There is no place to hide. There is no world where they can live, learn, fall in and out of love, other than the one they inhabit.”

Class Disrupted

Updated April 14, 2021

The latest on how the pandemic is reshaping education.

    • Why online education is here to stay, even after the pandemic.
    • Research shows that many young children have fallen behind in reading and math. But some educators are worried that a focus on “learning loss” could stigmatize an entire generation.
    • Students are joining remote classes from outside the country. In one New Jersey school district, computers were traced to 24 countries on single day.
    • College admissions essays provide high school seniors a canvas to reflect on a turbulent year.

    More diversity at elite colleges

    Early data suggests that next year’s freshmen class at many elite universities will have record numbers of Black students, Hispanic students, low-income students and those in the first generation in their families to go to college. These schools admitted a higher proportion of traditionally underrepresented students than ever before.

    In part, my colleague Anemona Hartocollis writes, that’s because a wave of 650 more schools dropped their standardized testing requirement because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some critics said testing requirements favored more affluent families who can afford tutors and test prep.

    As a result, more minority applicants applied. Across the country, top schools saw enormous increases in the percentage of applications from racial minorities. And the change could stick: Most schools will continue the test-optional experiment next year.

    Jianna Curbelo, who lives in the Bronx and got accepted to Cornell, believes the George Floyd protests also had an effect on both her and the admissions officers.

    “Those protests really did inspire me,” she told Anemona. “It made it seem like the times were sort of changing.”

    MJ Knoll-Finn, senior vice president for enrollment management at New York University, described reading the essays through the lens of the current moment.

    “You could tell the story of America through the eyes of all these young people, and how they dealt with the times, Black Lives Matter, the wave of unemployment and the uncertainties of the political moment, wanting to make a difference,” she said.

    Around the country

    College update

    Senator Bernie Sanders and other progressive lawmakers is introducing legislation that would make college tuition free for families earning up to $125,000 a year.

    Liberty University sued its former leader Jerry Falwell Jr. for $10 million, accusing him of breach of contract and fiduciary duty.

    A growing number of colleges will require vaccines for the fall. But not all, including the University of Tennessee system and the three top public colleges in Iowa.

    College athletes in Alabama will soon be able to receive compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness. Lawmakers in South Carolina are considering similar legislation.

    A good read from The Times: Fraternity members at Louisiana State University paid off their longtime chef’s mortgage. At 74, she can finally retire.

    An opinion from Cornel West: “Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture,” he wrote of Howard University’s plan to dissolve its classics department.

    K-12 update

    Public high schools in Chicago reopened Monday, more than a year after shutting down.

    Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona removed the state’s mask mandate in schools, a decision that some school leaders called “embarrassing.”

    Connecticut public schools will integrate music into the curriculum, an effort to combat learning loss and make students excited about school again.

    Connecticut may soon end its religious exemption for school immunization requirements.

    Democratic lawmakers are pushing for $25 billion to replace gas-fueled school buses with electric vehicles, with 40 percent earmarked for mostly nonwhite and poorer communities.

    The United States Department of Agriculture will extend universal free lunch through the next school year.

    New York City’s influential teachers’ union endorsed the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, in the race for mayor.

    A good read from The Washington Post: Washington, D.C., added more than 4,100 seats for in-person learning in the last quarter of the school year on Monday. The wealthiest ward got 1,705 seats. The two poorest got 48 combined.

    The trials of pandemic puberty

    Going through puberty is hard, no matter what is happening in the world.

    But for students who haven’t been in classrooms or hallways for a year, it may be even harder because they may look completely different than they did more than a year ago. Dr. Perri Klass wrote in The Times about how to support a self-conscious teenager. Basically, keep in mind that it’s all normal and part of growing up, and keep communication channels open. Ease them back into socializing. And pay attention to their health: The stress of the pandemic may have even brought on early puberty.

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