Allowing Student Voice: Understanding 2015 as a Teacher in Baltimore

Baltimore_riot_police_VOA (1)By Nick McDaniels- Happy New Year Marquette Educator Readers!  For this post in the past, I have professed some teaching resolutions.  And often, just like that extra 10 pounds I hoped to lose, or the student loan debt I hoped to pay down, those resolutions have been quickly forgotten.  I often use class time on the first day back from winter break to give a rousing “new year, new you” speech and ask for academic resolution from students.  This year, I did none of that.  Not because it usually is an ineffective practice at improvement, but because mainly, after a year like we had in Baltimore, it goes without saying that this year must be different and that last year has shaped us.

2015 was marked by one major event in Baltimore that has made us all forget American Pharaoh’s win at the Preakness, and, thankfully, the Ravens 2015 season.  In April of 2015, Freddie Gray, a young man living in West Baltimore, died after an interaction with police.  His death sparked what has been called an uprising, unrest, and riots.  Schools were temporarily closed.  The international news media made a trip to Charm City.  The National Guard occupied our streets.  The violence in the city then erupted, leading Baltimore to a nearly murder-a-day rate for 2015 and a record setting per-capita murder rate.  Quite simply, it was a difficult year to be a student in Baltimore.

So I told my students, just as my teacher told me on September 11, 2001, that, at least in Baltimore, people, their children perhaps, will want to know someday where you were and what you were doing during that time in late April of 2015.  The events impacted the lives of everyone in the city and the fallout continues to do so.  Trials for the officers charged in the death of Mr. Gray continue.  This is not, and may never be, behind us.

What we must remember now, in 2016, if there was a resolution to be made, it is that student voice in times of crisis and tragedy is extremely important.  So as the trials and the protests and the violence continue, we must allow space for students to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the events that are impacting their lives. We can hope that such events will never happen again, but, as we know, they can.  As such, we must charge ourselves as teachers to not look back on a year of tragedy and crisis having not given our students a chance to lift their own voices in response.

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