More Thoughts about Race

Two thoughtful articles have come across my computer about race and education.

The first is from the blog, The Becoming Radical written by P.L. Thomas, a professor at Furman University.  Professor Thomas' blog subtitle is "A Place for a Pedagogy of Kindness and the article that caught my eye is entitled "Are We (Finally) Ready to Face Teacher Education’s Race Problem?"  

I find this issue has coming up frequently because of the continuing push from TFA.  Despite all of TFA's claims, they have a largely white teaching corps and, in places like, New Orleans, have pushed out many teachers of color. 

The teacher quality and teacher education debates have been absent a fundamental acknowledgement of race in the same way that school quality and education reform have mostly ignored race.

While the mainstream press and education reform agenda remain distracted by the whitewashed “achievement gap”—a metric not only identified by but created by standardized testing—many critical researchers and educators have called for examining the wider systemic inequities grounded in racism, classism, and sexism that create gaps reflected in and perpetuated by schools.

Thomas references yet another article by Lewis W. Diuguid where the issue is framed like this:

Gloria Ladson-Billings, a University of Wisconsin-Madison urban education professor, referred to the gap as “an education debt.” She defines it in historical, economic, social, political and moral inequities affecting communities of color. The debt includes it being illegal to teach slaves followed by 100 years of unequal education for black children.

The number of black teachers has dropped from 10 percent about 30 years ago to 5 percent today in public schools, Ladson-Billings said. This means the majority of kids will never have teachers of color.

On this last point, I would submit that it has not been made easier for college students of color to become teachers. It's not like the last five+ years have been easy on public school teachers.  In fact, I think it must be fairly demoralizing to have your profession examined under a microscope and declared - en masse - a failure.  College costs are rising and really, with the salary levels for teachers, that might be a factor why more students of color don't go into teaching.  But within communities, this idea that teaching is a good profession needs to be pushed if we are to see more teachers of color in our schools.

Ladson-Billings also says this:

Our teacher education programs are filled with White, middle-class, monolingual female students who will have the responsibility of teaching in school communities serving students who are culturally, linguistically, ethnically, racially, and economically different from them.

I have frequently heard this from several quarters in this city particularly at a Facebook page that decries this pattern as harming African-American students.  

At a recent Work Session, where the issue of professional development for teachers around cultural competency came up, Director Martin-Morris dryly said he thought there were some white teachers who had learned those lessons more than teachers of color.  (Please note; he was NOT saying white teachers are more culturally competent, he said he had seen some he perceived to be that way.) 

The other recent reading of mine was from the NY Times, Students See Many Slights as Racial 'Microaggressions.'" 

A tone-deaf inquiry into an Asian-American’s ethnic origin. Cringe-inducing praise for how articulate a black student is. An unwanted conversation about a Latino’s ability to speak English without an accent.

This is not exactly the language of traditional racism, but in an avalanche of blogs, student discourse, campus theater and academic papers, they all reflect the murky terrain of the social justice word du jour — microaggressions — used to describe the subtle ways that racial, ethnic, gender and other stereotypes can play out painfully in an increasingly diverse culture.

The National Review also took on this issue.  This article included quotes from Dr. Derald Sue at Columbia University who has studied microaggression since 2007.  

“When you try to bring the issue of microaggressions to the attention of people who are completely unaware that they have delivered a microaggression, they get defensive and deny it and tend to say that you’re being paranoid or you’re being oversensitive,” Sue tells me. “Many microaggressions are so subtle that neither target nor perpetrator may entirely understand what is going on.”

I find that last sentence interesting because it seems to make the claim that it's almost unconscious behavior. 

 This was the most important paragraph in the NY Times for me: how are we to think of these "microaggressions?" 

What is less clear is how much is truly aggressive and how much is pretty micro — whether the issues raised are a useful way of bringing to light often elusive slights in a world where overt prejudice is seldom tolerated, or a new form of divisive hypersensitivity, in which casual remarks are blown out of proportion.

 In the National Review article, Dr. Sue says this about K-12 public education:

More fundamentally, Sue argues for preventive education: “If we had a pre-K–through–twelve educational system that was truly multicultural, that would nip these unconscious biases in the bud before they develop.”

Wait, what?  I think it would help BUT most of what a child goes out into the world with - especially how they treat other people - is learned at home.  I think a multi-cultural curriculum is important but it is NOT going to solve our societal problems with race.  

But the Review ends on a doubting, sour note:

So, without a “multicultural” education for the young and a thorough reeducation for the rest, all in the “empowered” class may be interminably consigned to unknowingly making racist remarks or unintentionally engaging in sexist and homophobic behaviors. For all they know, they already are.

Here are examples from a blog, the Microaggressions Project.


Read more here:

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Anonymous said…
You illustrated how easy it is to micro aggress with your statement about racism being a product of the home environment. You're saying racists create little racists and school can't fix it. Your saying there's no hope for kids with racist parents or upbringing. You're saying racists can't change or help themselves. You're insinuating ignorance on others.
It brings to mind when you defended the teacher who threw a book at a female student who wouldn't leave his classroom. Would he have thrown it at a large boy?
Would you say science can't be taught in schools to kids who have a non science home life?
Micro aggression is indeed subtle and pervasive.
Jolly Rancher
mirmac1 said…
Yes Jolly Rancher. You demonstrate that.

I'm more of a macro aggressor myself, so lay off Melissa.

There's merit to your argument. Some men learn their misogynistic attitudes at school from their buds or from the media. Women learn self-hate from the media. It's not all from home.

racism being a product of the home environment.

Where did I say that? I said that a multicultural curriculum could not change what happens at home. That's not blaming, that's explaining.

I have never said there is "no hope."

You are extrapolating a lot here.
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