While browsing for educational articles online, I was not surprised to find plenty information on the web about racism in public schools. Therefore, I decided to write about racism, not because I want to focus on my personal school experiences, but because I feel this is one of the most sensitive topics and a never-ending issue we still face in the education system. As I typed, one question crossed my mind: When and how can racism stop in public schools?
Last year on April 17th, Huffpost.com published an article about a white teacher calling a black student “monkey.” The 12 year-old daughter called her mother to describe her teacher’s attempt to stop her while the publication was taking place. The kid said “She told me; my teacher called me and asked me if I was a monkey.” She was humiliated in front of other students. Previously, another post from January 16th stated that a ‘White Privilege” lesson in Delavan-Darien High School was developed to teach “white-guilt” for the way in which it was defined in the student’s handouts.
The furious parent informed that it was defined as “A set of advantages that are believed to be enjoyed by white people beyond those commonly experienced by non-white people in the same social, political, and economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). Theorists differentiate it from racism or prejudice because, they say, a person who may benefit from white privilege is not necessarily racist or prejudiced and may be unaware of having any privileges reserved only for whites” The parent defined the student’s assignment as “indoctrination” or that teachers were implanting a doctrine into students to make them more likely to act in accordance with it.
Moreover, we all know that for a very long time, public schools had been segregated by race and socio-economics. A lot has been written about Latinos and African-Americans were mostly getting a poorer education driven by low expectations. According to the article “Confronting the Racism of Low Expectations” by Julie Landsman, having low expectations from students can be considered one form of racism in public schools. Teacher’s expectations from minorities may not be as high as what they would expect from white students, probably because they assume white students are not only fluent in the English language but they are smarter. In addition, some teachers might argue that the education system is facing many gaps such as achievement gaps or school readiness gaps; however, I believe that the main gap faced today in education is the cultural gap. In my opinion, states such as New York City and California must emphasize on cultural diversity when thinking about new inclusion strategies in the classroom.
The hopeful thing about these situations is that since school systems are man-made, we can still change it and make it work. Racism in general, not only affects public schools, but it affects society. These solutions can start in education, and eventually, we can see a change in the world. If minorities don’t speak the language correctly, does not mean they don’t understand the lesson or that they have a learning disability. What if the lesson was explained in their own language? I think that would make a huge difference.
Ten years passed after I decided to go back to school, do my associates, and with it, algebra. I was unable to understand equations when explained by the professor, maybe because last time I saw algebra was in high school back in my home country. I couldn’t understand it, and decided to study equations in Spanish with a friend. Not only I remembered how to do it, but I passed the class with A. I was able to use a different learning style and succeeded in class.
I also think teacher’s perception of racism is important. When and how can teachers tell if racism exists? And if they do, will they speak about it? Megan Boler stated in her article The Ethnics of Affirmative Action Pedagogy that all speech is not free. Social classes, power, race, and power inequity ensure that all voices do not carry the same weight. I understand there is no easy solution for this, and that teachers have a lot on their plate, but the more we promote culture in the classroom, the more confident students will feel. Students see teachers as role models, and if they sense they are being stereotyped, or that teachers are not making them feel capable, they will fail. From a candidate teacher’s perspective, I think in order to control racism in public schools we must understand culture. By understanding culture we can understand students, and once we understand students we can create, individualize, and enhance their lessons to get positive outcomes.