Teachers are mad at Neil Degrasse Tyson. Why you ask? Because of a tweet where he called out those teachers who make general statements about student investment in there learn, when it could be that those teachers aren’t invested in students learning. Tyson, an astrophysicist, said in the tweet:
“Some educators who are quick to say, ‘These students just don’t want to learn,’ should instead say to themselves, ‘maybe I suck at my job.’”
After reading the tweet, I traveled to the comments and well, teacher defenders had their capes on. However, I am unsure if those folks actually read his tweet. Dr. Tyson didn’t say ALL educators, he said SOME educators. In addition, he said educators; educators include teachers, administrators, and professional support staff like social workers, guidance counselors and school psychologists.
More importantly, I believe the spirit of Dr. Tyson’s tweet was missed.
It is possible, even likely, that Dr. Tyson spoke from a place of experience where his teachers or administrators may have felt that way about him before his full potential was realized. It’s also likely that Dr. Tyson spoke from the perspective of a Black student whose teachers and administrators assumed about he or his colleagues that stemmed from a racist assumption because he was Black.
Having worked in schools with majority Black and Latinx children, I can vouch from personal experience that there have been many teachers who have said something similar, if not exactly like that. They’ll say that when a child cannot keep still after sitting for 90-minute blocks of English and math back-to-back where they are drilled to the point of exhaustion.
They’ll say that when a child is disinterested in learning the same Eurocentric history they’ve already heard about. They’ll say that when a child disregards a science lesson because classroom instruction has failed to explain how the science can empower children to improve their living conditions.
What many of those teachers in the comments heard was an “attack” on teachers. What they failed to hear was Dr. Tyson’s advocating for students by challenging teacher to reevaluate their praxis and their commitment to students. I completely understand the stress and strain teachers are under due to a worldwide pandemic coupled with America’s manic obsession with capitalism and what that has yielded within our society. But Dr. Tyson brings me back to a question I always ask myself in these moments: who is speaking up for children?
Who is speaking up for Black children and other students of color?
Many of those voicing their anger in the comments section were white. Among them were educators who either felt personally targeted and attacked as an education professional or that the very profession was under attack.
Maybe they felt both things. But it’s worth exploring how the racial demographics of educators in this country influence the level of defense made on behalf of them. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the majority of educators, specifically teachers and administrators, are white. Would the same defense of educators, namely teachers, be mounted so vigorously if we were not talking about a profession dominated by white people?
Ultimately, at the end of the day, Dr. Tyson is asking the same question the Masai ask when they greet each other, Kasserian Ingera, #HowAreTheChildren?