Educator Joel I. Plummer
How do we define success for Black students and the adults that they become?
“Black children are too often robbed of the innocence provided to youth of other backgrounds.”
Sumo Wrestlers & Supermodels is the title of Joel Plummer’s most recent book. What 20 years of Teaching has Taught Me About Saving Black Children From American Schools is the subtitle.
Plummer, a legendary history teacher in Plainfield, New Jersey, presents a revolutionary reimagining of Black American schools in his 109 page book, which reads as a history lesson, a how-to manual for teachers, as well as a political demand.
He recognizes that Black students have a unique historical perspective as well as a contemporary world view that is directly at odds with the heavily propagandized image that the United States projects of itself and of its history. This unique pupil cannot be well served by a one-size-fits-all approach to education and curriculum. It would be like providing supermodel training to sumo wrestlers - or vice versa.
“Black students’ schools train them to find their place in the White power structure as it currently exists,” writes Plummer, while describing an academic world view that casts benevolent White Europeans as humanity’s main story to which everyone else is just a tangent or footnote to these central figures. “Because schools condition Black students to see much of what White people do as normal, Black youth are rarely critical of America’s White power structure and will never seek to change it.”
Plummer passionately claims that a white supremacist education is unable to equip students to fight white supremacy. “Black Youth want to feel connected to something powerful,” argues Plummer, “yet they do not realize that their own history automatically connects them to some of the greatest and most powerful people to have ever walked the planet.”
“White supremacist education is unable to equip students to fight white supremacy.”
Black students also have the undue burden of proving their humanity and morality to teachers, argues Plummer. This includes Black teachers who often - as anyone who has attended a Black school knows - look down upon lower income students. Black children are too often robbed of the innocence provided to youth of other backgrounds. School uniforms, zero tolerance policies, and higher rates of school punishment and suspension prove to Black students that their moral inferiority is assumed.
After diagnosing the problem, Plummer brilliantly describes an ideal learning environment for Black students - one that does not come at the expense of non-Black peers. A magical place where teachers truly understand the students they teach. Where every child’s opinions and perspectives are valued, and teachers look past their flaws - both real and imagined. Where Black schools no longer resemble prisons, and the late Dr. Joe Clark is not celebrated. Where Black kids are prepared not only to excel in the world, but to shake it from its very foundation.
David Marcus Rutherford is a writer living in Plainfield, New Jersey, where he has served on the board of education.
Joel I. Plummer is an award-winning educator and photojournalist whose work has focused on amplifying people's voices that too often go unheard. He graduated from Rutgers University, where he earned a B.A. in African and African American Studies and an M.A. in history. Subsequently, he completed the Rutgers Graduate School of Education's Supervisor's Endorsement program. For more than twenty years, he has taught African American and U.S. History at the secondary level. For more than a decade, he has also taught in the Africana Studies department at Rutgers University. As a photojournalist, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast, Newsweek, NBC, CBS, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and numerous international media outlets have published his work. He is a product of the Plainfield Public School District in New Jersey and still lives in Plainfield with his wife, Danielle, and their children, Alexis, Morgan, and Mason. His website is located at https://www.joelplummer.com/ .