One Educator’s Journey to Personal and Collective Liberation

At the end of last year, I published an article in the journal Transcontinental Human Trajectories, my first “official” publication. It is mostly a personal narrative — and I do mean personal —  but it also lays out much of my educational philosophy, and sketches my initial trajectory from a school teacher to more of an activist. Although I didn’t use the term “school abolitionist” at the time, you can see the first inklings of that identity starting to crystallize. The abstract is below, and you can click here to read the full article.

In this personal essay, I discuss how shifts in my positionality as an educator changed the dynamics of power between me and my students, how the threshold between informal education and the School marked a clear delineation of power that placed us on opposite sides. My journey as an educator paralleled my personal journey as a Black man in the United States, during which I had to navigate the troubled intersection between race and disability. Along the way I became aware of a “potential-realization gap” — internalized as a hovering sense of inadequacy, and externalized as a deep disillusionment with people and the world.

Where once race had operated on my consciousness from the margins, certain experiences forced me to contend with my identity in ways I had been able to avoid before, in part due to a stark divide between mind and body. With racial consciousness came indignation, manifest in my orientation as a teacher activist, and which I imposed upon my students as the imperative for their — but not my own — liberation. Wading through toxic environments, spaces of collective trauma and bureaucratic rot, any attempts to make change were usually met with fierce resistance.

This disconnect, between mind and body, theory and praxis, school and community, reality and my ideals — exacerbated by racial trauma and ADHD — tore a jagged fissure through my career. Lost in all of this were the young people I was ostensibly fighting for, yet for so long failed to recognize as agents in their own liberation. I had sought in vain the pedagogical method, the repositioning, the creative freedom — something — that would allow me to reconcile the disparities.

But it wasn’t until I approached the decision to leave schools in favor of community education, that I discovered participatory action research (PAR), and with it the need to ground my own work, and that of my charges, in identity, history, shared struggle, and building community. In PAR, I discovered the possibility for collective liberation — a means for bridging the gap within myself, and between myself and the communities I serve.

By Kermit O

Former teacher turned school abolitionist. Working at the intersection of land, food, and climate justice. Light brown. Unapologetically Black. Punches up.