Reconfiguring Police Education: Lesson Plans for Antiracist Classrooms
In Fall 2020, I spent considerable time pondering the reconfiguration of police education. While researching both how students are educated about the institution of the police in schools and how those lessons differ from their lived experience of interactions with police, I found myself asking one question over and over: what do we, as citizens of a policed society, need to know about the police that is not being taught to us? This project aims to address that same question from the opposite end of instruction, by figuring out how we, as educators, can more effectively educate students about the police.
I developed my template for these lesson plans based on conversations I had with several professional teachers. Most of the educators with whom I spoke were adamant about one thing: that I should work backwards while developing lessons, asking myself first what I want students to take away from the lesson, then explicitly examining my own motivations for getting them there, and only after that beginning to devise an activity that might get them from point A to point B. My favorite analogy, proposed by Ms. Drezner, was the idea of a good lesson plan as a well-planned dinner party; she insisted that the teacher exists to create a structured experience that will leave space to allow students to create meaning of their own. All the teachers to whom I spoke stressed the importance of designing lesson plans that can work for multiple learning styles, and how essential it is to take into account the perspective each student is already bringing to the table.
These themes that arose in my conversations made it clear to me that since I am writing these plans for a generic classroom, I must include lots of possible modifications to my activities, in order for each instructor to be able to personalize the plans for their specific group of students.
Something that really stuck with me from my interviews was a sentiment shared with me by Ms. Landreau, who teaches history. She reported that she and her colleagues often commiserate about the struggle of teaching “the nexus between truth and hope.” This resonated with me because I originally had adopted a destructive attitude towards this project—I wanted to ruin students’ existing perceptions of the police entirely, without considering the possible unsettling effects of that goal. Ms. Landreau’s words reminded me that there is value in teaching the truth, but that teaching truth without offering hope alongside it is not necessarily a noble goal. In revising my lesson plans, I tried to keep this in mind, and reframed my content to be less about ruining students’ perceptions of the police, and more about meeting students halfway and offering imaginative alternatives.