I was always a studious kid. I finished my homework early, indulged in extra credit, and was close with all my teachers. I enjoyed school and strived to do well. I never got out of line.
But then, the pandemic changed everything for me.
I was in online school for two years. Two years behind a blank Google Meets screen, listening to my classes but not participating. It was during this time, hidden behind a screen, that I found my passion. As I was sitting in class, I would simultaneously be scrolling the news. I would see fires burning through California, people of all races protesting in the streets for racial justice, and politics across the country becoming more and more heated. At the same time, I was expected to finish my pre-calculus homework and read fifty pages in my AP US History textbook. I realized that the history I learned, and the whole curriculum itself, failed to prepare us to live in a world where we can solve these problems. Our schools don’t want us to be change-makers, our schools prepare us to sit with the status quo.
I learned zero Black history during my time in public school. I had to take a Black History is American History class outside of school to fill that void. I learned nothing about how climate change is ravaging the planet. I did not learn anything about the racial disparities in our country. I had to educate myself on how Black Americans are 3.5x more likely to be stopped and searched by police and how the history of redlining has divided our cities into inequity. I was so angered by what I wasn’t learning that I started the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network, where we created lesson plans on redlining and read books to kids about anti-racism.
During this time, I realized how lucky I am. As a white person, I was able to go through school as a student and learn a history that pertained to me. I didn’t have to worry that my story wasn’t being told. I saw myself in history books and felt included in classes. I was able to procrastinate and make mistakes in school without it being attributed to my race. I had teachers that were the same race as me all throughout my public school career. And I could learn about police brutality without having to experience it. I was very lucky. Every student deserves to be this lucky.
Schools need to be places where students can thrive being themselves. Students shouldn’t have to worry about not seeing themselves included in books, or worry about teachers punishing them disproportionately, or worry that their procrastination could be viewed as an attribute of their race. Students shouldn’t have to think about dropping out because they don’t feel like they have a place in school. Schools should equalize everyone. We have a lot of change to make, and I for sure am dedicated to making it.
This is the launch of a series of op-ed where I’ll be interviewing students from across America about their experiences with the education system, and discussing how we can make change together.
COVID impacted all of us. Our generation has experienced a lot of trauma. You can share your education story here for an opportunity to be featured in this op-ed. And take a look at Our Turn’s Truth(Ed) Toolkit here.
We can learn from this shared experience and move forward by advocating for schools that are more inclusive, just, and equitable.
Let’s change the education system, together.