On April 22, two days after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, the Shorewood School District sent a communication to all high school teachers. It contained a letter that they were instructed to read to students at the beginning of first hour on Thursday.
The four paragraph letter was, overall, disappointing. The whole address felt forced, unnatural and superficial. Teachers, many of them improvising part of their address, failed to create an environment that was open to discussion, and many of them appeared uncomfortable with the conversation. We, the Ripples editorial staff, wish there was more discussion about these issues –– structural racism, police brutality, the broken justice system, and more –– throughout the school year, not in random spurts like these. We also wish these topics were incorporated into the curriculum, so we could have deeper and more meaningful conversations about them.
Just because we want these topics incorporated into the curriculum instead of discussed in this fashion, doesn’t mean we expect the district not to address the importance of the Chauvin verdict. But in this case, the setting was not ideal for conversation.
For many students, it may have felt like they would be disrupting class if they contributed what they felt. After all, if a meaningful, effective conversation were to take place, it would need more than just a few minutes, and the class lesson would have to wait. It feels unproductive to offer an invitation for an unrealistic discussion like this. A way for conversations to feel more realistic would be if the efforts to start discussion would not be limited to major events. In general, most students have little to no practice with discussions. The district has a tendency to be much more reactive than proactive in general. And because we aren’t consistently and actively having these kinds of discussions, many students and even teachers feel like they don’t know how.
The content of the letter was also disappointing. Part of the letter reads “Let’s take a moment to celebrate the justice provided for George Floyd and his family and deepen our resolve to create a more perfect union for all of our citizens through the Shorewood Public Schools.” The use of the words “celebrate” and “justice” is contradictory. Why should we be celebrating “justice”? Do we normally celebrate things that are supposed to happen? A celebration implies that there has been a victory, and that is very far from what this verdict actually is. Instead of justice, we should see this as accountability. How was this justice if Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, was fatally shot by police hours within the Chauvin verdict being read? Justice will not be on the horizon until the police stop targeting and in many cases, fatally shooting Black Americans as well as other people of color and marginalized communities. We will not be anywhere close to justice until all police officers who have perpetrated police brutality, not just Chauvin, have faced legal consequences.
The letter also doesn’t suggest any steps of action that the administration, teachers and students, could take. The language is incredibly vague when talking about steps towards “a more perfect union for all of our citizens through the Shorewood Public Schools.” The sentence is filled with cliches, and talks about the end goal, which is rather obvious, not the work that needs to be put in to get there. The district also writes “In Shorewood, student activism, local demonstrations, lessons in the classrooms, and community learning opportunities about the historic and current impacts of systemic racism have allowed for many of us to learn, reflect, and grow.” Even if it wasn’t intended in this way, it feels insensitive to say that systemic racism is a channel or means that has allowed everyone to learn and grow. Because for people of color, it is an integral part of existence.