A math teacher in Riverside, Calif. is under fire after a student recorded her putting on a fake headdress, tomahawk chopping, and war whooping to teach the concept of SOH CAH TOA (which, if it’s been a minute, is a mnemonic device to help you remember the three basic trig ratios). The viral video is shocking and difficult to watch. Even more so when you know that it was filmed by a Native student who began recording because he “felt that violence was being committed against him.” I realize that this teacher is not representative of the entire teaching community, but we also can’t continue to pretend that this kind of crap happens in a vacuum. This is a symptom of a much larger problem, and we must do better.
This is more than an “oops”
We all make mistakes. And the fear of having them caught on camera is real. But the level of ignorance here is so high that I can’t believe it’s not willful. I’m all for over-the-top teaching to engage your students, but the lack of awareness here is staggering. I know this teacher is getting blasted on social media right now, but I can’t dredge up any sympathy for her. Let’s not pretend there aren’t a million better ways to teach that concept. As teachers, we have to know better.
This is racism, plain and simple
I can’t believe I have to say this, but this kind of behavior is racist. This is a white teacher perpetuating damaging stereotypes of Indigenous people in front of a Native student. According to Jacqueline Keeler, founder of EONM (Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry), “Wearing a headdress reinforces stereotypes about Native people and appropriates our culture with little or no regard for our traditions, I think it is egregious and contributes to the dehumanization of our people.”
This is a symptom of a larger problem
Why would this teacher think she could get away with a blatant display of racism? While many of us have adopted Dr. Maya Angelou’s “when you know better, do better” and have started teaching the truth about Thanksgiving and honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day, there are still educators who think it’s fine to teach that “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” The actual history and treatment of Indigenous people is, apparently, an inconvenient truth for them. And no one is forcing them to accept it. We have created an environment in which these behaviors can occur in education because there is no accountability. And as a society, we’ve allowed enough doubt to be sown about actual facts to prevent that from ever happening.
This is a call to action
The truth is, someone will always be there to defend people like Riverside teacher Candice Reed because she “didn’t know any better” or “it was all in good fun” or “people are too sensitive these days.” We must be louder than the voices that say we’re trying to indoctrinate youth, alter history, or make everything political. Shadae Johnson, who initially posted the video on Instagram, said, “These behaviors can no longer be swept under the rug! We need to end discrimination and violence against Indigenous youth in schools! As adults, we must stand up for our youth!”
So stand up. Do better. Demand better. Otherwise, this will keep happening. And we won’t be able to pretend we’re surprised.