Introducing: Lessons In Liberation—An Abolitionist Toolkit For Educators
Featuring: An excerpt by abolitionist educator Sagnicthe Salazar
Just in time for the back-to-school season, Lessons In Liberation: An Abolitionist Toolkit For Educators, a resource that establishes foundational knowledge on incorporating abolition and liberation in, by, and through our education system, will be available this September. You can preorder your copy now!
Lessons In Liberation is a collaborative work, a labor of patience and love, and more than five years in the making with contributors including but not limited to Education For Liberation Network, Critical Resistance, Black Organizing Project, Chicago Women’s Health Center, Mariame Kaba and the MILPA Collective, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, Bettina L. Love, and so many more.
This reader is essential for teachers, organizers, parents, students—and pretty much anyone interested in increasing the reach of abolitionist ideas. It consists of a collection of tools and essays from a variety of abolitionist organizers, healers, and educators who have done and continue to do the work: effectively illustrating and breaking down the endless possibilities of intentional liberation and collective abolitionist movement. Each contributor emphasizes how it is crucial to support our communities, our youth and young people, and our educators with the political vision of a shared goal in mind—to eliminate all forms of policing and creating a sustainable world for us all. It is both deeply understood and conveyed that the role that the education system as we know it feeds and sustains carceral punishment and prison industrial complex in all its forms. Despite this, we know that another world is possible.
Lessons In Liberation is structured in three parts: Openings And Groundings, Everyday in Every Way, and Growing Our Work. In each, the book examines the varying yet interconnected ways of building our analysis, knowledge, and power.
Lessons In Liberation is a love letter to all those who came before, as well as those who will grow, learn, and unlearn as a result of that radical love.
Reflections from a Dean of Transformative Discipline: What Abolitionist Education Means to Me
by Sagnicthe Salazar
(an excerpt from the book Lessons in Liberation)
A part of our job as abolitionist educators is to break the system that is working perfectly well as a tentacle of imperialism that needs the prison industrial complex for its ongoing success.
As teachers, we must break that system and break the hegemonic notion that Black and Brown bodies are naturally inclined to crime or to violence. We must break the myth that Black and Brown bodies don’t value education. We must end the idea that Black and Brown bodies engage in activities that require cops, prisons, policing, or detention centers.
Once we break with these ideas, we must begin to talk as a school system, as educators, with young people and with our families about safety: Safety from what? For whom? How do we keep our folks safe from poverty? How do we keep our folks safe from houselessness, joblessness, from food deserts, from the perpetual stress that they live with on a day-to-day basis with these helicopters circling overhead, and having to fight for basic necessities that should be human rights?
Talking about these questions together helps to illuminate other crucial threads: there’s a reason why there’s so many Black and Brown folks in homeless encampments and prisons. There’s a reason why the number of Black and Brown bodies being killed by police is so high. There’s a reason why white supremacists march down the street, feeling all fine and dandy while our folks can’t even breathe. Building a thread between those things—why our people are dying in prisons and dying in poverty—helps us to begin to see the crucial need to also heal.
Business as usual won’t help.
This reality has impacted our bodies for hundreds of years, for generations. We need to be able to talk about what’s happening with our children, with our teachers, in our schools. We must take a pause and actually engage around what is happening and have a conversation with each other about our material conditions. And we need to think, talk, feel, and dream: what does it mean to have a world without police, without prisons?
The education system has worked so goddamn well that our babies, our families, our folks tend to be the most punitive people, because we’ve internalized the state’s line and we have internalized the belief that we need to hurt people that hurt us. We need to punish. What to do when someone breaks a class agreement or gets into a fight? Often we are the first to say suspend, expel, punish—all these things. We haven’t given our children, our families, our communities an opportunity to dream of something different. If punishment is all you know, then you can’t begin to do the work to build something different. And so, first and foremost, we need to create the space to say it is possible; let’s dream of what is, and how it is, possible.
This isn’t a new movement. Let’s give credit to the people who are doing this work already. In the Bay Area some schools have been mobilizing to not have cops in schools, not have security guards, not have JROTC. These organizations—particularly the young people in them—are doing the overt work of removing the prison state from our schools. This work is crucial, but often we’re missing the work of challenging and dismantling the many ways—often more covert—in which communities and also schools devalue humans, and particularly Black and Brown bodies. We devalue children, perpetuate isolation and punishment, and make some of our children disposable. How do we recognize and challenge how our families replicate these systems? The deep work within is to shift our thought process so that we actually value life and breathe life into the building through our practices towards every warm body in the school building, from teachers to students to families to administrators.
One of the things that we do at our school, every time that we look at our data, is look at the racial disproportionality: Is the number of students that are having disciplinary issues proportional to our population? And often, we see that that’s not the case. So we got to go back to the drawing board and think about and question: How are we replicating the system? How are we devaluing life, and how can we breathe life through the day-to-day systems?
As a Dean of Discipline, and in my particular role as Dean of Transformative Discipline, I also like to share with folks that being an abolitionist educator is also about having both super high expectations and also zero tolerance for hurting each other. Our children, our communities, have infinite capacity to meet our high expectations. To have zero tolerance for hurting each other means that we need to hold a high line that leads towards love, towards care, towards compassion. When a student or an adult kind of goes past that line, how do we actually walk with them with support? How do we actually bring that loving care that we want them to reverberate in building, and how do we have consistent practices to show that love to each other? How do we want people to relate to each other in their day-to-day, so that when they’re outside the school walls they are relating in a way where love reverberates? A part of our practices needs to be to have zero tolerance for hurting each other, and we can get there through showing consistent intense love and the true valuing of each other’s lives.