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Op-Ed: ‘Act, engage, change’: Teachers pledge to help

Forty-two high school teachers across the Ventura Unified School District wrote this letter to their students:

 

Our Dear High School Students, Tomorrow’s Leaders,
Life and History, in the forms of a virus and the largest racial uprisings of your lifetime, have perhaps taught you more in the last 12 weeks than you have learned in our classrooms … if you have been paying attention.
Robbed from the opportunity to see you and speak to you face-to-face in times that history books and classes will mark, we —  some of your teachers and counselors — hope to reach you now in this time when we cannot remain silent.
All people living through tumultuous times have faced four choices: flee, help, resist, ignore. Do we flee from conflict to find a safe place, abandoning those who suffer around us? Or do we play our part and help in the changes that drive society and history? Do we resist in the face of injustice, even at the risk of suffering? Do we act, engage, change? Or do we ignore injustice and ignorance with excuses of “that’s life,” “life’s not fair,” “that’s how it goes,” and “that’s not our problem”? We are in tumultuous times and our responses have consequences. History judges people by the decisions they make, and History will ask us what we did in these days. We hope that we will then be able to respond proudly of the things we did rather than feel shame at the things we did not do.
Monumental challenges have always existed and the current crisis about race in our nation and pandemic have exposed them. Consider that many of us benefit from the inequalities and inequities that plague friends and classmates. Call to mind the representations of peoples from textbooks, the euro-centric maps, the emphasis on U.S. history through many years of school, the many English language books you read and the few translations, the restrooms that matched your biological gender, the discrepancies in the ethnic make-up of AP, honor, regular classes and school sites. In these, we hope you may begin to recognize how injustice has served some while hurting others and understand the challenge of righting these wrongs.
We, as teachers, recognize that we have come up short. We have not sufficiently looked inward to ourselves, our classrooms, and our schools; we have not addressed the inevitable but fatal subconscious biases that infect our practices and our interactions with you, our own shortcomings, our own privilege, our own racism. We have not always engaged in the uncomfortable conversations that must be had. We ask that you join us in an awareness of these personal, societal, and inexcusable shortcomings so as to engage in the difficult and uneasy work of creating positive change.

 

Often, it has been you who has taught us and, often, it was we who were wrong not to listen.
Life and History are change. Your education has not fully prepared you to deal with these changes, but now is the time to demand improvement from all of the many systems that make up your society. As teachers and students, we are part of a system within a system that perpetuates and reinforces inequality, inequity, and injustice. We recognize our role in a change that must and can only occur with awareness and dedicated action. We also know that it is not the responsibility of our students or any marginalized or under-represented people to do this work for us. We must do the work in good faith without adding to the burdens of others.
Do not subject yourself to arbitrary rules made up by someone you don’t know only to make their life easier. Privilege has embedded itself into our political system, corrupted it, and robbed us of our democracy. In many ways, our nation has substituted the rule of the monarch for the rule of the privileged.
We must think creatively about the problems we face. Old solutions and old ways of thinking are not good enough anymore. They appear helpful and ease unrest but only serve to mask the underlying problems so that they will again re-emerge. We must recognize, as Albert Einstein said that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.”
Our varying reactions to our confinement speak to our personal readiness to step up to the challenges of our times. In the days of isolation, when there was no one there to tell us what to do, some of us pushed ourselves to make something of our day, to do something. We took control. Others among us, lacking someone to tell us what to do, dismissed our responsibilities to ourselves and our society. No one had expectations of us and so, we failed to have expectations for ourselves.
We recognize the burdens and emotions felt in moments of crisis. We acknowledge that we all had reason to stay safe, that the situations were frightening, that we were right to feel danger. Yes, we love you, but we cannot assure you that you will always be safe; we will refrain from telling you that everything is going to be OK; we cannot coddle you and reassure you of things that cannot be reassured. No longer can we hide from you the harshness of our world. We cannot protect you from all things. Instead, we call on you to step up or to reach out, that we might help you step up and that you may help us learn, grow, and serve.
How we responded these last weeks is not the final word. Together, we can still and always do better, for we are not today whom we will someday become. Justice for the oppressed, human dignity, and love for humanity are cornerstones of a common purpose between all peoples.
We pledge our good will, positive thoughts, help and hope; we pledge our commitment to action, resolve to respond, and we promise to provide meaningful assistance and learning opportunities in order to work through these challenges together so as to prepare you to deal with the hardships and opportunities of the future.
Where we go from here depends on what we do next.

 

 

Linda Bergfeld, Ventura High School, Ventura
Beth (Marie) Borer, Pacific High School, Ventura
Francisco Castillo, Ventura High School, Ventura
Carlicia Castro, Ventura High School para-educator, Ventura
Teri Dath, Ventura High School, Ventura
Sébastien DeClerck, Ventura High School, Ventura
Charlotte DiPaolo, Ventura High School, Ventura
Nathan Donnelly, Ventura High School, Ventura
Diane Elrod, Buena High School, Ventura
Thomas Favero, Ventura High School, Ventura
Aimee Foster, Buena High School, Ventura
Marilyn Fox, Ventura High School retired, Ventura
Maggie Gaeta, Ventura High School, Ventura
Christian Gallo, Ventura High School, Ventura
Cindy Garcia, Ventura High School retired, Ventura
Christophe Grall, Ventura High School, Ventura
Ellen Guerrero, Ventura High School, Ventura
Margie Harper, El Camino High School, Ventura
Scott Hays, Ventura High School, Ventura
Heidi House, Ventura High School, Ventura
Christopher Jaquette, Ventura High School, Ventura
Jay Locher, Ventura High School, Ventura
Woody Maxwell, Ventura High School, Ventura
Heather Miyata, Ventura High School, Ventura
Logan Norris, Ventura High School, Ventura
Kristen Pelfrey, Foothill Technology High School, Ventura
Stefanie Pimentel, Ventura High School, Ventura
Angie Polo-Dixon, Ventura High School retired, Ventura
Greg Raney, Ventura High School, Ventura
Kathryn Raney, Ventura High School, Ventura
Judith Rollins, Ventura High School, Ventura
Karen Rodrigues, Buena High School, Ventura
Stefoni Rossiter, Ventura High School, Ventura
Cathy Saldana, Ventura High School para-educator, Ventura
Helen Scovell, Ventura High School, Ventura
Mark Schmidt, Ventura High School, Ventura
Vanessa Terminello, Ventura High School, Ventura
Alicia Verdades, Ventura High School , Ventura
Nicole Whitney, Buena High School, Ventura
Terri Withers, Ventura High School, Ventura
Karen Reynosa, Ventura High School
Margaret Sellers, Ventura High School

 

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