A Lesson Plan for America

It is a time for teaching. The downward spiral of violence in our communities must stop, and we must help raise up generations of citizens who will not tolerate or perpetrate it any longer.

This is a time for teaching.

I mourn with the families, friends, and co-workers of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two more on the list of too many.

My father, after two tours of duty in Korea, served as police officer for 40 years in the city of Detroit. He was devoted to this country and to the profession of law enforcement, but he was also a fiercely outspoken critic of both.  He was the one who sat my siblings (2 brothers and a sister) and me down for “the talk” about the very real threat of police brutality for black people, especially for black males. He made us role play various scenarios and cautioned us that those who might harm us wouldn’t necessarily be white. He considered any cops guilty of such brutality as traitors to the oath of office and unworthy of the uniform. He taught us to respect the law and those in positions of authority, but he also taught us, by his own example and at a personal cost, to speak truth to power and stand for justice.

I’m a cop’s daughter. I know what it’s like to see Dad leave the house each day not knowing if he would come home.  He took on that risk willingly, bravely, and professionally, as do so many of the law enforcement personnel in this country. In fact, Dad helped establish a fund for widows and families of Black police officers, and the main fundraising event for that fund today bears his name. So, I mourn, too, with the families of Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens. Their deaths are tragic—but no more and no less than those of Sterling and Castile, or than the thousands of young lives violently taken in our communities. In the words of a great teacher, Ella Baker:

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons

Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons

We, who believe in freedom, cannot rest.

It is a time for teaching. The downward spiral of violence in our communities must stop, and we must help raise up generations of citizens who will not tolerate or perpetrate it any longer.

  • We should be teaching our children to be compassionate, to respect themselves and others.
  • We should be teaching our children not to prejudge other human beings, and that just because someone is different from them does not mean the person is dangerous or subhuman.
  • We should be teaching our children how to think things through before speaking (or tweeting, or posting, or updating their status).
  • We should be teaching our children to speak up or stand up for what’s right, to defend the weak, and aid the suffering.
  • We should be teaching our children that laws are made by the people, for the people, and the people have the power and responsibility to change those laws and/or the representatives who make them.
  • We should be teaching our children that true and conscientious civil disobedience carries a heavy responsibility and should not be entered into lightly.
  • We should be teaching our children that the laws must be applied to all of us—including those in law enforcement—equally and justly.

—————————–And these lessons are best taught by example.

  • FarrahJ

    Exactly what WE should be teaching…..

  • WendiPillars

    Thank you, Renee

    Renee, knowing you as I do, I understand that when you speak, I need to listen to your wisdom. And with this, you again provide the words that I have lacked or haven’t been able to solidify into something that makes sense. 

    I appreciate your emphasis on our action(s), not rest or complacency. And it bears repeating that these actions are ones we can take individually, so that the aggregate of the community taking the same actions will have exponential impact(s). 

    We need to be honest with ourselves and our biases, too, before, during, and after we model by example…always learning, always reflecting. 

    Thanks, Renee, for always being such a voice of measured reason and wisdom. 

  • C. Jimenez

    Masters question

    Hello everyone,

     I believe this post is a reflection of how our country and our school systems should be upgraded and reminded how important our school culture is. 

    A lesson plan should include and incorporate levels of diversity. As educators, we should be able to teach our own kids information that it will continue to uphold a great sense of pride under the United States of America.


    Thank you everyone,

    C. Jimenez

  • JustinMinkel

    Movement for reform from within


    This is a powerful, personal, practical piece. The line that keeps playing in my head is “He considered any cops guilty of such brutality as traitors to the oath of office and unworthy of the uniform.” 

    Part of my frustration and anger this year has been with the scarcity of police officers, particularly white officers, willing to break ranks and say clearly “We have a problem.”

    I was reading about an African-American community organizer in L.A. who had white cops come to her, once trust was built, and admit, “I feel fearful of African-American men. Help me get past that.”

    In some ways I see a parallel to alcoholism–until you can admit clearly that you have a problem, you will never take that first step.

    In one sense, of course, the brutality that technology has let us see more clearly has been going on for hundreds of years. Still, the inarguable innocence of both Philando Castile and Alton Sterling have made this moment feel distinct. I have finally heard some police officers stepping forward to speak out for reforming their profession from within, though I have also heard an upwelling of hatred and blame sparked by the police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

    Short term, we need clear action that prevents the almost daily murder of innocent men and even boys by the police sworn to protect them, with the same legal consequences a civilian would face when those murders happen. But long term, I have seen the failures and animosity that have come from people trying to reform the teaching profession from outside it. Long-term change has to come from within police departments–not in isolation behind closed doors, but by police officers partnering with reformers from outside their profession in good faith.

    Thank you for the clarity you bring to this issue. I’m still figuring out how the many instances of police brutality this year have shaped my job as a teacher of predominantly Latino 2nd graders, but this piece helped me get a little closer.

  • ReneeMoore

    Moving the Conversations Forward

    Thank all of you for your comments. I am hopeful that people of integrity, especially teachers, will use information like what I and others have shared to help us get beyond “starting” conversations about race, equity, and justice to actually making change.

    To your point, Justin, how people of color are viewed by too many police officers as potential criminals, carries over into our schools where too many children of color are misperceived as troublemakers before they have done anything wrong. We know the power of expectations and perceptions in the classroom, and we have to be more attentive to (and responsible for) our own attitudes and prejudices.