Students at the opening ceremony for OPRF High School

The Docuseries Every Teacher Needs to Watch

By Andrea Mau
Web Content Contributor

As an aspiring teacher, social and political awareness is essential to tackle relevant subjects in the classroom; this is represented best in the docuseries, America to Me.

Shot by various directors, the show follows students, teachers and administrators from Chicago’s Oak Park and River Forest High School. Although the public high school is praised for its urban and diverse student body, it is still plagued by deep-rooted and systemic discrimination. 

The side of OPRF’s school building
The side of OPRF’s school building

The series documents the hidden segregation still present in education systems that disadvantage students within the black population. This doesn’t just start in the classrooms, but the community as a whole as many of the black students are exposed to gang violence.

What is essential is how teachers address these disadvantages to their students. Some teachers, such as Jessica Stovall, explain these concepts using the equality versus equity model and encourages open discussion.

Jessica Stovall teaching a class in America to Me
Jessica Stovall in America to Me. Image by Steve James.

Other teachers prefer to address the state of affairs with jokes to try and relate with their students through humor. More common, many of the teachers simply do not address it at all and an even greater number of the education board members remain silent.

What this shows to future teachers is that political and social issues do affect their students and their performance in the classroom. By denying students recognition of important injustices, white teachers are consciously lowering black students’ confidence and setting them up to fail.

The most valuable aspect of the docuseries is the wide range of people it follows, spanning from members of the athletics program to theatre. It not only gives a fuller picture of the student body but shows how all-encompassing racial problems are. 

Jada Buford looking at a computer in a film class in America to Me
Jada Buford in America to Me. Image by Steve James.

I particularly liked it when they followed the film student Jada Buford. In episode five, “I Don’t Have to Think About Being White,” Jada and her friends show high awareness of the race relations within the school and provide particular insight into why white students are afraid of talking about race.

Grant Lee posing for family photos in America to Me
Grant Lee in America to Me. Image by Steve James.

Grant Lee was another student who touched me because of his Freshman status entering high school. The first day of school is difficult for everyone, but even more so when the odds are stacked against you as a black student.

Black students are shown in the series to go through a harder time finding their place in social groups, as racist tensions place unnecessary pressure on them to act in certain ways around certain colors. Overall, there is an overwhelming sense that black students have to be much more concerned with their race than white students. 

A student and teacher on the computer in America to Me
A student and teacher in class in America to Me. Image by Steve James.

In education, I hear that a lot of the problems for students stem from the home, but this sort of thinking denies any accountability for school systems to do better. In reality, schools are much more a part of the problem than they like to let on. 

An unwillingness to change is at the heart of this problem because white people don’t have to deal with the consequences of racism. The “ignorance is bliss” approach school boards are taking now is the opposite of what schools should be encouraging as an ambassador of knowledge. 

Meanwhile, black students are suffering in silence. The effect of this treatment in education institutions will follow them all their lives as the basis of their learning experience. Schools are teaching black students that they do not matter.

Charles Donalson putting on his headphones in America to Me
Charles Donalson in America to Me. Image by Steve James.

In better words, “Every activity, every assembly– Everything is made for white kids because this school is made for white kids because this country was made for white kids,” said Charles Donalson in episode one of the docuseries.

For future and present educators, America to Me is a must-watch to better understand the complexities of race relations within schools. Silence on issues such as Black Lives Matter is detrimental to all students.

To better prepare children, teachers must explore the issues not everyone is comfortable talking about, specifically so they can get comfortable talking about them. Education should be at the forefront of these issues, and not behind.

Featured image by Andrea Mau via Screenshot.

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