I got an email from an irate set of grandparents. It was kind of cryptic in that they didn’t mention anything they were really mad about, just that their grandson, a “wonderful boy,” was saying some “really disturbing things” about things going on at school. They didn’t ask for a meeting; they demanded one. Given what I know about the aforementioned “wonderful boy,” and some of the hateful garbage that has spewed from his mouth,I had a feeling this had to do with our language arts curriculum. Specifically, our choice of reading Breaking Through.
I emailed my VP about it and said that I’d be more than happy to meet with these grandparents, so long as I could leave at around 5 pm because I had to meet with the school board. She found me after school and said, “you know, I’ll meet with them and let you know what comes up.”
“But they cc’d me on the email,” I responded. “I assumed that that means they wanted me there, too.”
“No no, I’ll meet with them,” she said, waving off the concern in my voice. She loves to wave me off.
Lo and behold, on Tuesday, I get an email from my VP, saying that she’d had a very “interesting” meeting with these grandparents and that if I wanted to know more, I should come find her.
First of all, why must I go find her? I’m the one with 180 students to teach for five periods a day, with a 15-minute food stuffing break and about 3 nanoseconds to pee. My schedule doesn’t exactly allow me to go meandering around the school looking for a wayward administrator. I’m convinced they use this tactic because they know I have no time and won’t go looking and therefore spare them a potentially awkward conversation.
Anyway, I found myself with a miraculous two minutes before first period started and checked by her office. She was on the phone, and instead of giving me some sort of signal to acknowledge me, she turned her back to me and kept gabbing. I felt like an idiot, just pathetically standing outside her door, but I knew I wouldn’t have time later. So I stayed.
When she finally got off the phone, she turned to me and said, “Hey! What’s up? What can I do for ya?” First off, you know exactly why I’m here. Secondly, I’m not ordering a burger from you. But I digress. I said, “You said to come find you if I wanted to know more about that super awesome conversation with Wonderful Boy’s grandparents?”
“Oh right,” she said. “I talked to them for almost an hour. They are great, lovely people…”
“But?” I said, glancing at the clock behind her. I had one minute before 32 middle schoolers were going to come charging into the main building. Also, I know that starting with assurances about how nice someone is means that they actually aren’t. Like when a person says, “I don’t want to sound racist, but…”
“Oh, they just thought you had chosen Breaking Through because of the election. You know, because it puts a positive spin on immigration. That bothered them. Also, the banner your students made earlier this year. They thought you were forcing students to sign it in favor of Hillary.”
Before I could process any of it, she ended on this beauty: “Basically, they said you were pushing a liberal agenda and didn’t feel comfortable with that. Really though, such nice people.”
The message I got was: “So, these racist old people came to school and wanted to meet with me because they can’t say racist stuff to you, but they can to me because I’m white and safe. But believe me, they’re super nice racist people.”
I’m not even annoyed that Racist Grandma and Gramps were telling me I’m pushing a “liberal agenda.” This is about the 4th time I’ve been accused of this, because anytime I teach anything about not making largely generalized assumptions about any group of people, I get this sort of response. They can fling those accusations at me while I create critical thinkers and compassionate people. No big deal.
What annoys me is that all four times, these parents/families have asked to talk to my administrators instead of with me. I am pretty capable of talking about why our department (not just me) have chosen the books we’ve chosen. I can easily talk about why we talk about differing viewpoints regarding immigration. I can tell them about the banner students made to tell their community that they are allies for everyone. I can just as easily spout off why it is important for our students to be exposed to different voices and perspectives, because that is in the mission statement for our district.
As capable as I may be, I’m still a Mexican immigrant woman of color, and it is really tough to say racist things to a teacher like me. Yes, I’d loooove to hear about how we should be teaching that all immigrants should be deported. Tell me more about that. I get it. It’d be like me talking about the merits of eating red meat to a roomful of cattle and pigs (maybe that’s how the running of the bulls began…).
But, still. If you’re going to raise those concerns, raise them to my Mocha brown, immigrant face. Don’t be a coward and go running to my Uber Latte administrator because she makes it easier for you to be hateful and ignorant. Ugh.
Speaking of the Venti Vanilla Latte that is my vice principal, why was she so willing to make sure I wasn’t a part of a conversation that I easily could have handled? And WHY was she so willing to accept what they had to say and still think they were “such nice people”? When she recounted the story to me, it was as if she was super proud of herself for putting them at ease.
I suppose that she also thought she was protecting me by not making me sit through that meeting. But allies don’t hide the people they’re advocating for. They give them the microphone and say, “hey everybody, listen up!”
If my VP had been an actual ally, she would have sat with me in that meeting. If that had happened, I could have had a really meaningful conversation with the Racist Grandparents. I could have shared my story with them, and told them how that has come out as we read Breaking Through. I could have told them about how we break down single stories and about how their Wonderful Boy, after a conversation regarding the vetting process, said, “man, if you just want a better life, this process should be made easier.” I could have maybe started to help them understand why this work is so important. Yes, it’s a “maybe,” but a maybe is better than, “not a chance.”
Instead, they were assured that I would never do such a thing (psyche; I do it every day!) and that our school will always be neutral, don’t you worry. They were told that their ignorant values were valid and would not be questioned. Also, they were allowed to set a precedent for other ignorant ways of thinking to shape how we teach our students, and to question our curriculum.
Next time I get one of those emails, I’m setting up the meeting. Then we’ll see what happens. Like Scrappy Doo says, “Let me at ’em!”