A Conversation with Roy Wise on Teaching about Social Justice

Roy Wise

Roy Wise is a big reason we chose Synergy. Our daughter Evelyn is African American, and had never had a teacher who looked like her. When Evelyn got off her zoom interview with Roy and Rita, she said “I have to go there!”

Roy, who teaches the 4/5 combo Eastenders, joined Synergy 20 years ago. He is proud to be at a school where valuing diversity and social justice is in the DNA. When he recalls growing up in the Bay Area, he says “The things we teach today we never even heard about when we were children.” The inequities of our society were glossed over or ignored in the history books. He has helped create a curriculum that teaches students about the racist laws, treatment and experiences that people of color have endured, and continue to face in this country.

“When we teach the history of the Gold Rush, we include the inequities Chinese and Mexican workers experienced, like the foreign miner tax that white European miners didn’t have to pay. But we also teach stories of triumph, like Mary Pleasant, an African American entrepreneur/human rights advocate who helped expand the underground railroad, or Charley Parkhurst, a transgender stagecoach driver.” Highlighting these real world examples of people who overcame enormous odds is inspirational.

Roy recalls a guest speaker, Nelson Kabayashi, who was especially inspiring. Nelson was an American of Japanese descent who was interned in a California POW camp during World War II. It’s one thing to read about it in a history book, but his accounts made a lasting impression, not only on students but also on the staff. He is grateful to be part of a community where teachers still learn alongside the students.

Although many of these stories are in our past, they are not ancient history.

Acknowledging these hard truths about where we were as a country helps students understand where we are now. Synergy teachers want students to celebrate the people who have persevered and triumphed, and the gains we have made, but also understand that we have a long way to go.

When asked how he feels about diversity and inclusion at Synergy, Roy shares the school’s goal of having more socioeconomic diversity, but sees that becoming more challenging as lower income families are pushed out of the Bay Area. He would also still like to see more students of color, including more African American students.

As with our country, there is still a lot of work to be done.

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