On Anti-Black Police Brutality and State-Sanctioned Murder

From the Executive Committee of ISLS

The recent brutal murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN; Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY; Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, GA; Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL; and countless others across the United States, by police officers and civilians, have once again called attention to the history of violent anti-Black racism that has shaped the country’s history. What’s more, the problem and very real consequences of police and state-sanctioned violence against Black and other minoritized groups is a global phenomenon. As we witness these killings and continued violence against Black people, our hearts are breaking. This is a moment when we need to come together to create a different way of being with each other and of holding each other accountable to our dearest values of justice and care.

As a global organization dedicated to the study of human learning and improvement of education, the International Society of the Learning Sciences also concerns itself with how consequential learning is inextricably intertwined with the systemic inequities and oppressive ideologies that harbor anti-Black racist violence. In our educational contexts, this violence appears in our curriculum, in the voices we neglect in our syllabi, in unexamined grading and assessment policies. For our Black students, these forms of violence are compounded by the knowledge of state-sanctioned dismissal of Black bodies and life, resulting in a relentless and untenable trauma. At the same time, we must recognize and remember the strength and brilliance of these children and communities who survive and thrive under these hostile conditions.

ISLS can and must do more to advance racial justice, to protect and lift up our most vulnerable learners and communities. We must be committed to naming the kinds of anti-Black racism driving and reflected in recent events, and the systemic inequities and oppressive ideologies that allow them to continue to occur. Last year, the Society designated a special seat on the Board for a member with scholarly expertise in equity and power. This is only the bare minimum for laying a foundation for us to change and make change. This month at our annual Board Retreat the Society’s leadership will be further educating ourselves, and interrogating our infrastructure and committee activities to better fight for Black scholars and communities, support anti-racist teaching and mentorship, and promote justice-oriented scholarship and activism.

We also call for the learning sciences community to dedicate itself to anti-racist teaching, design, and scholarship that advances individual, social, and systemic change for justice. We offer just a few suggestions, as a start:

  • In teaching, we might: Use our own privilege, whatever it may be, to help protect Black students from the many forms of violence they face. Fight institutional racism alongside our students, without allowing the burdens of anti-racist education and change to fall on them. Transform our classroom and mentoring practices, our syllabi, and our degree requirements to deliberately challenge racial violence by rejecting White supremacist logics.
  • In design, we might: Interrogate our own motivations in our work, especially if we are outsiders, to avoid saviorism and the reproduction of violent ideologies. Become knowledgeable about the ingenuity behind community partners’ existing tools and practices, then examine to whom our technologies and tools will be available, accessible, and accountable.
  • In scholarship, we might: Study how racism, particularly anti-Black racism, shapes learning ecologies, how racialization is learned, and how learners come to fight back. Leverage our interdisciplinarity to learn from one another, and define our constructs empirically through asset-based scholarship. Ground our theories of learning in framings beyond community practices into socio-political histories of violence and oppression, of joy and pride, of collective action. Humble ourselves in our collaborations with Black and other non-dominant communities so that our research may transform the field, and not be extractive of those we work with.
  • Racism is institutional, structural, and pervasive, bolstered by long, interconnected and inhumane global histories of colonialism, settler colonialism, and slavery. However we choose to take up this work, we must be continually reflective and critical—good, justice-oriented intentions are in danger of causing more harm than good.

For many of us recent events have surfaced profound grief, anger, horror, despair, fear, exhaustion, and helplessness, paired with an urgency to act. These emotions are not necessarily new, particularly for those who face anti-Black racism on a daily basis. Among all of us, they are distributed unevenly, depending on our diverse histories and positionalities. Even the outrage experienced by some (i.e., those who are not Black) is shaped by the privileges afforded by anti-Black racist policies and practices. No matter our positionality, however, these problems are all of ours to share, and we must confront them collectively.

To our Black members, family, friends, colleagues, and students, we express our solidarity with and commitment to you. We care about you and we stand with you. We have hard work ahead of us, and we are eager to begin. Our challenge, and our opportunity, is to question if and how our work actively seeks to disrupt and dismantle institutional structures that support racism in general, and anti-Black racism in particular; how it might lift up Black bodies, Black lives, Black brilliance. Within the learning sciences over recent years, some scholarship has centered the idea of organizing possible futures: this work starts (and continues) here, and it starts with us.

With care,

Executive Committee of the International Society of the Learning Sciences:

  • Heisawn Jeong, ISLS President
  • Victor Lee, President-Elect
  • Joseph L. Polman, Past-President
  • Susan R. Goldman, Executive Officer
  • Jasmine Y. Ma, Secretary
  • Joshua Danish, Financial Officer

Statement Contributors:

  • A. Susan Jurow, ISLS Board Member and incoming co-editor of JLS
  • Joshua Radinsky, past co-editor of JLS
  • Kris Gutiérrez, ISLS Board Member
  • Ilana Horn, ICLS 2020 co-chair
  • ISLS members Joe Curnow, Déana Scipio, Hui-Ling S. Malone, Rishi Krishnamoorthy, Sarah C. Radke, Noor Jones-Bey

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