The current climate of political race-baiting has reached public schools whereby Black educators must be on alert and need anti-racist educators and community members to have their backs. White politician and white parents alike have employed the southern strategy to prevent the teaching of truth to students about American history.
Words and phrases such as “Critical Race Theory,” “CRT,” or “Woke” are coded terms to mean “dismantling the myth of white supremacy and explaining the harm it’s caused.”
White politicians have also employed the strategy to galvanize white voters to win elections and it’s working. For example, in the 2021 gubernatorial election in Virginia exit polls, when asked how much say should parents have in what schools teach, 77% of respondents said a lot; 54% of those voters were white.
In addition, when asked if Confederate monuments should be left intact, 82% of respondents said yes while voting for the Republican candidate; 69% of those voters were white.
Sadly, where Black educators are concerned, this strategy has cost them their ability to educate in the name of standing up and teaching truth on behalf of Black students and the entirety of their school community.
Former Superintendent of the Prince George’s County school district, Dr. Andrea Kane, was forced out of her position simply because she said Black lives matter in an email to parents. Former Superintendent of a southwest Connecticut school district, Rydell Harrison, resigned; frustrated over white parents accusing him of indoctrinating students with hate, all because of a task force established in response to district alumni calls to change the racial animus in the district.
In Texas, another Black administrator was removed from their post.
Principal of the Colleyville Heritage High School, James Whitfield, was first suspended and has now mutually agreed to part ways with school district, because parents accused Whitfield of indoctrinating students with Critical Race Theory. However, there is no evidence that Colleyville Heritage High School or Whitfield taught critical race theory.
Sadly, it seems that the accusation of pushing Critical Race Theory onto students is a ploy to rid Whitfield for other incidents that made him a target. Sadly, the students of Colleyville Heritage High School are without their principal; Black males make up only 5% of all public school principals. The research strongly suggest that we need more Black principals in general—especially for Black children.
A Wallace Foundation report that investigated how principals affect students and schools cited numerous studies to explain Black principal impact on Black students’ math scores and their receiving gifted and talented services.
The impact of principals is primarily tied to teachers because of principal influence on teacher hiring. The Wallace Foundation report cited a study saying Black principals are more likely to hire a Black teacher than a white principal in the same school. It matters, of course, because Black students perform better when taught by Black teachers. Schools with Black principals are 5% to 7% more likely to hire Black teachers; much of that having to do with the phenomena that Black principals, and white principals, tend to hire teachers who share their own racial category.
Black teachers are also less likely to leave their school when the school is led by a Black principal than when that same school is led by a white principal; Black teachers at schools where the lead administrator was also Black were 2% – 5% less likely to transfer to another school.
In addition, Black principals are the highest percentage of principals with their doctorate or professional degrees, i.e. education; whether they lead public or private schools.
Nevertheless, many white parents believed, and the school board agreed, that Whitfield needed to be summarily removed as principal. But as part of his settlement package, Whitfield is on paid administrative leave until August of 2023.
That a school district would choose to pay a principal for the remainder of this school year, and next, to preempt the possibility of students learning about systemic racism, and faculty learning how to become antiracist in their pedagogy and instruction speaks volumes to the levels of racism and vitriol towards teaching truth in a state, Texas, that has a law banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory and similar topics on the books.
Other states have similar laws or proposals to enact legislation.
Sadly, this example is an extension of the invisible tax applied to a Black principal. For many white people, their barometer for accepting us, whether in schools or any white institutional space for that matter, is too often dependent on our level of acquiescence. So long as we don’t challenge the racism we find in schools, the systemic racism that impacts both Black students and Black education, nor teach about the racism of our nation’s past and present, we’re likely to be accepted. But if we confront racism in our policies, procedures and curriculum, we’re designated for departure. But, we must, as my fellow colleagues in the Philadelphia School District used to say, Never be afraid of being fired for working on behalf of Black children.
The unfortunate truth is that the more we, Black educators, acquiesce to the rabid racism of white educators, parents and politicians alike, the more valuable we are to them and the less valuable we are to students. We become valuable to them when we uphold the myth of white supremacy and therefore the white power structure.
But the role of the Black educator must be to serve students; Black students who are failed by the current system of education and non-Black students who’ve never sat under the instruction of a Black educator driven by passion and purpose for the people.
It wasn’t insubordination or deleting emails that got Whitfield fired. Teaching truth and confronting lies caused his departure. It wasn’t that Rydell Harrison and Dr. Andrea Kane were incompetent that drove them out of their jobs. Rather it was because they too spoke truth to power and got white folks angry.
But I say to all the Black principals and superintendents out of a job due to racist policies, racist politicians and racist parents, there’s work for you in the city of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. With Dr. Hite’s resignation, we’re in need of a new superintendent.
The School District of Philadelphia should reach out to all educators who have been removed for fighting against white supremacy and hire them post haste. We need more educators in the business of teaching truth, fighting injustice and promoting antiracism.
Those are the the types of educators our students need most.
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.