How has race and intersectionality impacted your life?
Oh, that is a huge question. I’ve had my own journey with race. And I’ve also had my own journey with other parts of my identity. It's kind of like a bunch of cars are moving on different roads. As I’ve gotten older, the cars have just gotten closer and closer together, to make me more who I am.
I went to a predominantly White private boarding high school. That was an experience. I often felt alienated, like I wasn't good enough to even be there. Especially in the AP classes, I felt like I was like the dumb one in the class. That was like a lot of internalized racism, being perpetuated by teachers and adults and peers at the school.
Prior to that, I was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. I come from a really Black city. And when I went to that private school, I had all this Black culture in me that got ripped away from me. So when I got to college, I was rediscovering my Blackness. Rediscovering who I was. And I am also Borciua, Puerto Rican on my mom’s side; my Latindad, being Latino, was something I only got exposed to in college. It made me think that kids should be able to go to school and have teachers who are going to validate their identity, validate their race and who they are. People should not have to eliminate or cut off or tuck away parts of who they are in order to make it in life. I felt like that was what I ended up having to do. Even now, into my adulthood, I’m reclaiming the culture ripped away from me.
Being a queer person adds a whole ’nother level of messiness to that. I came out in high school. Although no one physically hurt me there—which was different than at home in Newark, where I had been attacked multiple times—I was definitely alienated in a lot of different ways. My queerness and how that relates to my Blackness makes me think that I want kids to experience schools where sex and sexuality are not such a taboo thing. Adolescence is just cognitively and biologically when you're discovering all of that about yourself. We do a disservice to kids to not talk about sexual orientation or sex in ways that are healthy and inappropriate.
I want kids in the hood—in Newark, New Jersey, our Black and brown kids especially—to have an education system which allows them to just come to school and be. To not have to shave off or hide parts of who they are.
All these experiences made me think: I want kids in the hood—in Newark, New Jersey, our Black and brown kids especially—to have an education system which allows them to just come to school and be. To not have to shave off or hide parts of who they are.
What is it like teaching in the same city you grew up in?
It is amazing. There are so many micro-moments I have with kids where it's like, oh, we both grew up in the same apartment complex! Or, all the time I’ll see kids on the street and they’ll drive past and yell out the car, “Mr. Perdue!” They see me walking my dog. I love that. I love that sense of community. That is really just dope, and it has also been nice and healing from me because I'm seeing that though I had such a rough experience of coming up in Newark—and it's not easy for my students at all just based on how systemic oppression works—it’s also this city that has a level of open-mindedness and community which is different than when I was growing up. I feel like I've seen the city grow. I've seen the kids grow; I've had the honor of teaching my kids since the 10th grade, I've moved up with them every year, just by coincidence. So I have just been loving teaching in my city.
Why is talking about race in the subject(s) you teach necessary?
My kids need to know what these systems are and how they operate, both for their safety and to one day make them better. Or knock ’em down.
I teach about the United States government. Our government is so White. Our government is so male. Our government is so straight. Our government so all these things that I am not, and many of my students are not. It’s important that we talk about race and sexual orientation and gender and sex and all these things that make up who people are, because it shows students that they also have a place in our government. They can also be leaders in our government. All content areas need to do that—when kids see themselves in the content, then they're more engaged, and that not only increases achievement, but also opens their eyes to all the possibilities for their lives. Especially in my content area, we're talking about systems, many of which perpetuate oppression. My kids need to know what these systems are and how they operate, both for their safety and to one day make them better. Or knock ’em down.
What was it like teaching this lesson or unit plan?
Many of my students come from communities where they are not expected to make it to positions of power. Getting Black and brown bodies into office is one big way to start making changes, and there’s already a laundry list of challenges. Adding in marginalized identity makes it that much harder. It’s important to be honest with students, and tell them the reality of the world that we live in. Yes, you have the ability to run for office. You have the ability to take a place in the government. It will not be easy. These are the challenges that are going to be before you; these are some of the things that you'll need to think about.
That’s what we talked about in the lesson. I remember discourse being rich. I was happy with it. Students were enthusiastic to talk about it, and even students who were not in the class came in to join the discussion. I kept Tell Me Who You Are on my desk afterward. Throughout the year, students would come and pick it up, just flip through and maybe read a story.
What would you like to tell any educator looking at your work right now?
My lesson is here, but make it your own.
Be creative. If I make a Coke, take it and make Pepsi. My lesson is here, but make it your own.
I would also say to sometimes give your kids processing time. Connect their ideas to one another—a lot of kids have so much on their mind. Especially after reading, they might want to verbally process. If you match what they say together, then it helps build that discourse where they're like, “Oh, I didn't even pay attention to what he said, let me actually listen. Or, Mr. Purdue just told me what she said, because I didn't listen to her the first time.” Just deeply listen.
ANTHONY PERDUE'S Lesson plans:
TYPE: Lesson (full class) TITLE: Incumbent Advantages and Challenges of Challengers CONTENT AREA: U.S. Government and Politics
GRADE LEVEL(S): 12th Grade
DESCRIPTION: Interactions Among the Branches. In a Unit that explores the three branches of government with three subunits: The Legislative Branch, The Executive Branch, and The Executive Branch. This lesson is situated within The Legislative Branch sub-unit, a part of the Unit: Interactions Among the Branches.
Click below to download a PDF of Anthony Perdue's full lesson plan.