During the past decades, there has been an on-going debate on how to deal with discrimination, which has been a part of American culture ever since its early history. The controversy over what to do in a situation where someone has been discriminated against is present in many aspects of our society, and should be scrutinized. The issue of discrimination in the United States is not limited to the topic of race.
White people in the United States are mostly middle class, educated, and white. The U.S. is considered a white supremacist nation with many of its cultural institutions and ideologies (such as the public school system, media, and government) geared towards supporting this system of power.
Last month, the Department of Education released a report detailing the impact of institutional racism on the African American student population in America’s schools. While the report’s findings are sound, they don’t provide much practical insight into the ways schools can begin dismantling white supremacist attitudes in their midst.. Read more about systemic racism and education system and let us know what you think.All children deserve a good education, but too many are not getting it. Not surprisingly, the students who most often attend underdeveloped and uneducated schools are poor, black and brown. This situation has stagnated for decades, but the United States is now at a critical point where the number of black and brown school-age children exceeds the number of white school-age children in the country.
However, the demographics of the teaching workforce are not changing at the same rate. If we believe that all children deserve quality education, then we must make a sincere effort to recruit and train more black and brown teachers to serve and represent these chronically disadvantaged populations.
Research shows that black and brown students not only perform better academically when they have teachers of the same race or cultural background, but they also feel seen, heard, and represented at the institutional level. As school leaders and teachers of color, we understand the meaningful connections that are made when we can talk to students about the best woven living room, or what it meant to see Amanda Gorman recite her poem at President Biden’s inauguration, or talk to their families about the difficulties of raising their children in a white-dominated world.
Last year, heated discussions about race broke out in classrooms across the country as Black Lives Matter protests escalated in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. It involved black and white students, and conversations about race came up almost daily. This is extremely rare.
Usually, the conversation in school about racism is limited to Black History Month or the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. This shared experience was the moment when the scales fell from the eyes of many white students and teachers, a moment that would become the foundation and codification of the curriculum against racism for 12 months of the year. But if we are to succeed, we need more black and brown teachers, not to mention administrators and superintendents.
Teachers of color typically provide more culturally sensitive instruction and have a better understanding of the situations in which students of color may find themselves. When students open their textbooks, they often see white faces staring ahead. The authors they are expected to read are also predominantly white. A teacher of color might be more likely to adjust the reading list and have students read Toni Morrison, for example. And a broader perspective benefits all students. White students note that teachers of color made them feel challenged and cared for, and they believe they learned to better appreciate people of different races and backgrounds.
If we want to diversify our teacher corps, we need to include more black and brown people in our programs and schools. We both went to Charles Sposato’s Graduate School of Education, a school that constantly told us not to lower our expectations of our students. This is especially important if the teacher ever ends up in a school district with predominantly black and dark-skinned students. Schools, especially those dominated by white teachers and administrators, can easily fall into the trap of thinking paternalistically about saving students or knowing what is best for them. This is classic code language for teaching students to assimilate into a white supremacist culture.
Working at Sposato has also taught us to have difficult conversations and accept feedback about our work without becoming defensive. Protective behavior is also one of the principles of white supremacy, so the ability to accept feedback is paramount. After last year’s BLM protests, many schools made declarations of solidarity, but we will need to continue to have difficult conversations if we are to maintain an anti-racist culture in our educational space.
So let’s talk about how we can respond right now:
- Hire more people of color. Don’t expect black or brown employees and leaders to solve structural or systemic white supremacist problems. Let them do the work they were hired to do and let their voices and perspectives come to the fore.
- Develop the entire teaching staff. Regular training for teachers, especially white teachers, on eliminating bias in themselves, their classrooms, and the curriculum. Hire a consultant to help you examine systems, practices, and curricula for biases.
- Go for a walk. You shouldn’t post statements on social media or memorize words from the latest anti-racist book and then claim to support equality. What are you really doing to improve the lives of your black and brown students?
- Make an extra effort. Create safe spaces in schools where white teachers can talk about their problems, black teachers can talk about their problems, and then all have an honest conversation about their problems. Schools that create such spaces without a mandate continue to operate.
- Make teacher education accessible and affordable. Find ways to make teacher education programs and schools more accessible to traditionally underserved groups of future teachers by keeping tuition costs low. Consider offering scholarships or philanthropy to future teachers of color.
Ending white supremacy is a great achievement for all institutions and a life’s work. Ultimately, it is the teacher’s responsibility to meet the needs of all students and give them the education they deserve. If schools created more opportunities for reflection and ensured that every student was represented, it would be a huge step forward on this long road to equality.
Photos reproduced with the kind permission of the authors.Schools are an institution that’s supposed to prepare kids to understand the world, learn how to be productive members of it, and ultimately get them ready to learn the real world. But, there’s a problem. And you’ll never see this problem if you only look at one single school. It’s called “white supremacy.”. Read more about systemic racism in schools examples and let us know what you think.