Wanting to stay in class can apparently get you arrested. After it gets you brutalized by a grown ass man.
Arrested for disrupting school is apparently a thing.
This is what our education system is. This is what schools feel like.
Like most people, when I saw the video I was in shock. It is terrible. Totally uncalled for. Unlike most of the people I see talking about this, I didn’t think this was an isolated incident. I don’t believe Ben Fields is a bad apple. And I certainly don’t believe this type of aggressive and raw demonstration of domination is limited to Spring Valley High. This is simply an extreme manifestation of the power dynamics that school reproduces all across this country.
This video surfaces at a time when Saint Paul is coming under fire for its discipline policy. According to many the district has gone soft and ignored discipline problems that should be met with firm consequences. It is not much of a stretch to think some of those folks would like to give the police more power in the schools. I have argued that this obscures the real problem: lack of culture and authentic cultural interfacing. What happened at Spring Valley High should be all the evidence I need to make my point.
This young black girl was assaulted because she refused to leave the classroom after quickly taking out her cell phone. That quite clearly does not warrant this type of reaction, in fact, despite what Don Lemon says, there is nothing she could do that would justify how she was treated when we the camera begins rolling. Sadly though, this type of interaction is not uncommon in schools. And just like with police murders, it takes video for us to pay collective attention. That is a disgrace. But it is not surprising given the workings of white supremacy.
Public education by and large are sites of social reproduction. Young people go to school with others who are from a similar walk of life. This sets the atmosphere and expectations for the school as a whole. When the school is made up of majority students of color this atmosphere is often one focused on shaping behavior and teaching “middle class values.” You should read that as focused on assimilating students into whiteness. When this is how students are approached it creates an ever-present, pervasive, and exhausting state of conflict. The microaggressions (important to note that a read line comes up when I type that…) add up and eventually students take a stand, or act out, or some combination of both. Often, it looks like not wanting to leave a classroom.
And let’s start there. If this was NOT about controlling students, if this was NOT about putting this young woman in her place, if this WAS about teaching and learning, why not let her stay? In the video she is not belligerent, in fact none of the students are. There is no sign that the classroom was chaotic at any point in the recent past, why couldn’t the teacher teach? A petty and insignificant rule was broken, and when she challenged the teacher — and by proxy the school and therefore larger society– she had to be taught a lesson. That where Ben Fields comes in, the teacher of the real lesson. What lesson was she being taught though? (
This is how whiteness works. This is how whiteness has always worked. Setup institutions that on the surface seem benevolent, or even pinnacles of equality and justice, while embarrassingly close to that surface maintain a vicious system of oppression that is in no way nonviolent.
I think about how calm the students were during this. It almost felt like they were used to it. Conditioned. The one student who spoke out also got arrested. What does that tell us? More than that though, I think about how calm the teacher was. We, as teachers, must do better. We can not be the medium through which the violence of white supremacy is made manifest. Quite the opposite we need to be a barrier to it. It helps no one to think this is an isolated event disconnected from the larger systems that shape too much of our collective pedagogy. We must see this as intimately connected to our own city, our own school, and even our own classroom. We must reflect on our own practice. Do we demand conformity from young people? Why? Do we engage in power struggles? Why? Do we leverage the power of our institutions to impose our will? Why? Are there police in our schools? Why? Are the young people unsettled, restless, disengaged? Why? There are reasons.
In Precious Knowledge Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade says: “I’ve never met a kid with a dysfunctional relationship to learning. I’ve met a lot of kids with a dysfunctional relationship to school.” If we are going to create schools which kids can have a healthy relationship to we must do our homework on whiteness and work at unlearning its violence. The #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh taught us that.