Pedagogy of Rage: Teaching in the Ruins of Ferguson

Last night as I participated in social media and joined in the communal tense waiting for the verdict, the sense of collective trauma was palpable. When the verdict came through, the collective pain and rage was also palpable. It seems to me that every group that has ever faced systematic oppression has also faced a similar struggle that was of course material and political, but also personal and spiritual. This sense of collective trauma and my own struggle with this aching sense of rage illuminates the ongoing question of how to stay strong in the face of such moments of violence and traumatizing oppression. How does one survive the dehumanizing and psychically corrosive dimensions of violent repression?

For me this is not only a personal question, but also a political and pedagogical challenge. As I begin my morning to go to campus to teach courses centered on social justice, I am sitting with this question of rage in the aftermath of the legalized lynching of another young black man who might have been one of my students.

How do I work with my students on their own rage and despair and confusion? How can our classrooms be engaged with students in these traumatic moments of collective injustice and despair? If our classrooms cannot be places where we work inside the current and most pressing moments of oppression, then what claim do we have to critical education?

I have recently become active in my teacher’s union because I am outraged over the attacks on pubic education and higher education that attempt to gut the most essential critical traditions from our schools. The education that has changed my life and changed our world. All those disciplines that asked hard questions and taught us to speak our truths to power.

In that conversation, there is frequent acknowledgement that our schools and the communities of which they are a part are inseparable and that schools must be in solidarity with the needs of the communities to which they belong. There is widespread acknowledgement that structural racism must be opposed in and through critical education as one part of that intra-community relationship.

This moment is pedagogical in the sense that it calls the bluff of these claims. It challenges all teachers, schools, universities and teachers’ unions to demonstrate our commitment to the needs of all students and to our claims of solidarity with communities and youth of color.

The current outrage in communities of color and by youth of color cannot be understated. If teachers and schools and universities and teachers’ unions truly want to stand with youth, the youth are in the street with their hands up shouting “Don’t Shoot.” Where are the teachers and the schools and the colleges and the teacher’s unions? While I am fully on board with challenging standardized testing and charter schools and defunding universities, you can’t give any tests to dead children. Right now, if we want to stand against racism and stand with our students, we must stand against the legalized murder of black and brown children and youth and the violent racism that is traumatizing all communities of color. We must not be silent in such a moment of collective rage.

Which to me this morning as I sit here full of rage and despair and I try to see the best way to hold classes today to work with my students as they navigate this historic moment in their lives and their own emerging political histories, I see this moment as offering a pedagogy of rage.

How do we work collectively to channel and survive the trauma of violence and the rage and despair it entails?

We must develop not only a critical consciousness, but also the inner strength to survive that painful cultivation of our awareness of the brutalities by which we and our brothers and sisters are surrounded

As teachers, we must cultivate a pedagogy of rage where in we learn from and through our rage how to strengthen each other and our students in our inner work of healing so that we can continue outer struggles for justice.

And it is a challenge to our pedagogical claims as teachers that we stand with and for our students. Right now they are not only in our classrooms, but in the street with their hands up screaming for justice. If we want our classrooms to be worthy of them, we must join them in the street.

#Hands up, Don’t Shoot