For black lives to matter, so must the education of black students


(Pictured above: Jesse Hagopian at the S.O.S rally in Washington, D.C.)

Educator, author, and activist Jesse Hagopian, a guest contributor to Education Votes, was one of the featured speakers at the Save Our Schools (SOS) rally, also known as the People’s March for Public Education and Social Justice. It took place Friday, July 8th, in Washington, D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial. Hagopian, a staunch advocate for students and educators, led a boycott at his Seattle high school against high-stakes testing that sparked a national movement. At the S.O.S. rally, in a powerful speech, he highlighted the critical link between the Black Lives Matter movement and the education of African-American students. 


Philando Castile knew every name of the 500 children he served breakfast and lunch to every day. He knew their food preferences and food allergies. Parents and coworkers described him as kind to and patient with the kids he provided for every day at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in Minnesota.

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But the police didn’t see an educator or a mentor when they pulled him over on that Wednesday evening and shot him to death. So let the bullet that pierced Philando’s heart also pierce through the mirage that somehow institutional racism is a thing of the past.

But when we say, “Black Lives Matter,” we don’t just mean we don’t want to get shot down by unaccountable police with impunity. We know that for black lives to matter, black education has to matter too.

We see that the same system that so callously discards black bodies is also bent on killing black minds–from the McGraw-Hill textbook that was exposed this year for having replaced the word “slave” with “worker” to the mass closure of schools in black communities and the disproportionate suspensions of black students.

Perhaps none of the education reforms have been as destructive to education overall and to black lives, in particular, as the high-stakes, test-and-punish regime. A recent study from Boston University shows that the only outcome of using exit exams to determine high-school graduation is increased incarceration rates. They have used these test scores to label and shame black students, to track them into lower tier classes, to close hundreds of schools, to fire teachers–all while making billions of dollars off the sale of these exams.

I am proud to say that teachers in Seattle decided they wouldn’t sell away our children’s future to the “testocracy.” The educators at Garfield High School, where I teach, voted unanimously to refuse to administer the MAP test.

Teachers in tested subjects were threatened with a 10-day suspension without pay. But many people came to our aid against the testocracy, including the Black Student Union and the Seattle King County NAACP. By the end of the school year, not only were none of the teachers reprimanded, but the MAP test was scrapped all together for Seattle’s high schools…Today our society is in deep social crisis. We face record wealth inequality, endless war, mass incarceration, and police violence. Those are the real high-stakes and none of those problems can be solved by bubbling A, B, C, (or) D on a standardized test.

We have to teach critical thinking, collaboration, civic courage, and black and ethnic studies. Not only because students will be more engaged in class, but because we desperately need young people who use these skills to transform our world and create a society where black lives truly matter.

Jesse Hagopian is a teacher and advisor to the Black Student Union at Seattle’s Garfield High School. Jesse is the editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing and an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. He blogs at:


Reader Comments

  1. Teaching to the test via MAPS or similar approaches does nothing to help students learn. As Mr. Hagopian states, critical thinking, collaboration, civic courage as well as black and ethnic studies are crucial for the development of not only black minds but all minds as people of every color become aware of a more complete past, present and future.

  2. After reading that article Michelle and Bob comment on the apostrophe on a poster. Not about teaching to take standardized test or the mis-education of black youths or all youth? I’m sure they will point out my grammatical issues as well.

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