University of Georgia College of Education professor Bettina Love founded the Abolitionist Teaching Network to advocate at the intersection of racism, education and abolition.
The movement aims to abolish an outdated education system that doesn’t support children of color — “abolition” refers to getting rid of systemic racism in educational systems, Love said.
The project’s mission is to develop and support educators to fight injustice within institutions and communities. The network brings together abolitionists, community organizers, educators, parents, social workers, counselors, lawyers and health care providers to take direct action for educational freedom.
The goal is to interrupt racism through multiple measures such as choosing Black authors, selecting resources that are authentic and multifaceted, and advocating for the election of Black people to school boards, said Brandelyn Tosolt, an associate professor in the College of Education at Northern Kentucky University and a co-founder of the ATN.
Other possible measures are changing dress and behavior policies to “eradicate anti-Blackness in these codes,” and removing police forces from schools, Tosolt said.
“When people hear the word abolition, they hear something that is so radical, and in a way, it is, but what they don’t understand is that we are advocating to be treated as humans,” Love said. “We are advocating for a school system that works for all children, not just Black or Brown children. But what we are going to do first and foremost is start with those kids who have been marginalized and neglected for centuries.”
Abolition as a process
Tosolt describes abolition as “a process as much as it’s an outcome.” She said the teachers in the ATN work toward abolishing an unjust education system every day.
Tosolt works with a doctoral program for educators where she prepares them on how to be anti-racist and to create environments that center the experiences of Black, brown and queer people in educational institutions.
In order to help teachers become abolitionists, Love hopes to teach and support educators through webinars, conferences and direct action. After the COVID-19 era, board members hope their organization allows for Black liberation to take place.
“Our work is to help teachers dream. We want them to dream about what it would look like to create a classroom that centers Black joy and love for students. We will help these teachers ask questions, have conversations and brainstorm together,” Tosolt said.
“We are not interested in reform or small measures that do not target the root of the problem, which is racism and ‘whiteness’ that is deeply embedded within education.”
– Bettina Love, UGA professor and founder of the Abolitionist Teaching Network
The project’s activist and residency program is where activists work with a community and individuals. Love said they are going to put a person on the ground who “understands the implications and is going to do the grunt work.”
“We want to be in solidarity with one another and direct action is the main aspect of the project,” Love said. “We are not fighting for a solution that is just putting a bandaid on the problem.”
The project has multiple online workshops. Tosolt plans to lead a workshop called “Cultivating Co-Conspirators, Workshop for White people,” which will help people develop a practice of co-conspiratorship — being allies for marginalized communities.
Tosolt said she hopes to aid white members to “unlearn their whiteness” by “recognizing the whiteness embedded in their institutions and teaching them to use their privilege to get rid of their privilege.”
“We are planning an entire year of programming around supporting teachers doing this work in local context,” Tosolt said.”Our big focus is to create teachers and educational activists and help them adjust these ideals to their own classrooms because every state has their own systems.”
As a UGA professor, Love said she hopes the ATN will help teachers in Athens start to reckon with racism.
“My concern is that this project will be a network and hub where teachers throughout Clarke County organize and understand that they can use us as a resource to disrupt the current oppressive educational system thoughtfully,” Love said.
The project will be a resource that helps train and educate faculty and staff. The ATN board is currently taking a year to recruit and fundraise. Love and her team raised $54,000 since July 6, the day they began the project.
Love also hopes ATN becomes a national and local model of how to destroy current systems that do not serve children of color. Starting in 2022, ATN will hold a yearly conference in Atlanta to “gather radical minds around the issues that impact schools and communities.”
“We are not interested in reform or small measures that do not target the root of the problem, which is racism and ‘whiteness’ that is deeply embedded within education,” Love said.