Tim Wise encourages teachers to be liberators

National anti-racist advocate and lecturer Tim Wise visited Prince George’s Community College during Welcome Week last month. He delivered two lectures on campus and spent the afternoon at a reception with college administrators. Wise spoke about racism, inherent privilege, and the importance of educators being agents of change.

“We all have some privilege,” Wise said. “The biggest privilege of all is being oblivious to other people’s reality.”

 Wise reminded the audience of the role Black educators played during segregation and explained how education became an act of liberation not only for Black people as individuals but the community at large. His discussion centered on how leveraging education values to accomplish communal justice became a permeating dominant culture paradigm during segregation.

“The purpose of school was revolutionary,” Wise said. “It was about uplifting the entire community. It was this mentality about all of us or none of us. It was about everyone moving forward. It created this sense of communal purpose.”

Education as a sense of communal purpose for Black people has become a lost value according to Wise. He believes that white people, historically, had a different philosophy and motivation for attending school—a philosophy that was much more pragmatic and less social.

“The philosophy of schooling became the dominant, white, upper-middle class philosophy which said you go to school to better yourself and to make a lot of money and support your family,” Wise said. “The social purpose of schooling, never really existed for white folks because why would it need to? White people didn’t need to be collectively liberated from anything.”

 Wise asserts that although school integration took place, the contrasting philosophies about the purpose of school were never integrated and, consequently, the white philosophy prevailed.

“The bodies were mixed,” Wise said. “The rooms were integrated, but the philosophies were not integrated.”

Wise spoke about his childhood upbringing, being educated in Black communities and years spent training as a community organizer. He said teachers should also see themselves as community organizers helping students to develop their sense of power because self-awareness and agency are empowering.

“Your job is to go in and make sure they know their power,” Wise said. “The worst thing about being marginalized in a society is you assume you are powerless.”

Throughout history, although marginalized people may not have had institutional power, they organized through collective people power to create a sense of righteousness, justice, and change systems.

In his presentation, Wise emphasized the need for teachers to do more than teach. Wise advised that through personal connection and personal stake in the fight against racism, teachers should lead Black and brown students towards a transformation mindset that inspires them to improve their communities.

“The purpose of schooling is to change the environment,” Wise said. “This is what people knew and said in the 1960s and even during the height of segregation. Now, here we are in 2023, and folks are looking at education as this hyper-individualistic thing and that’s not a Black paradigm of schooling. That’s not a paradigm that marginalized communities historically have had.”

Wise empowered and charged PGCC faculty and staff to see their career in education as a call to greater social responsibility. He spoke candidly about moving past the trudges of racism by teaching the critical life skills necessary to accomplish a 21st-century multiracial democracy. He noted that all schools and all educators have the opportunity to bring this vision to life.

“It’s time to start thinking about state institutions, community colleges, and the so-called second and third tier institutions and make them first tier institutions by the way that we operate and the way that we act.”