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It’s 2019! Time To Get Rid Of Racism In Our Schools!

After a year of a Texas superintendent’s remark about not being able to “count on” black quarterbacks, a Louisiana teacher’s post insinuating that people of color should “quit acting like animals,” and Idaho teachers dressing up as ‘Mexicans’ and a Make America Great Again (MAGA) wall; 2019 needs to be decidedly different. This new year, let’s begin the process of becoming more culturally competent teachers and schools.

While teacher populations remain 80 percent White, student populations continue to grow increasingly more diverse. When research tells us that many White teachers come into the classroom having little to no social interaction with people of color throughout their lives; this lack of exposure leads many teachers to be ineffective with culturally diverse students. As teachers and administrators continuously demonstrate their lack of racial competence, those in charge of educating all students need to begin to hold these teachers accountable for this lack of knowledge. Yes, many teachers claim to disavow racism, yet many of their actions are speaking louder than their words.

A promising solution to end the racism in our schools is to engage teachers in the hard work of recognizing their racial biases through culturally responsive education. If we want our teachers to be effective in educating culturally diverse students, they must be trained to recognize their racial bias and implement steps to reduce its impact on their students.

Eliminating the unchecked racist assumptions many teachers hold about their diverse students is not another attempt at political correctness. The racism that students of color experience at the hands of culturally clueless educators, harms their academic achievement. Research has shown that teachers do lower their expectations for students who are poor, students of color, and who have special needs. Teachers who hold negative views about their poor and students of color, expect less of them, give them less challenging work, and often discipline them more often and more harshly, than White students who act in similar ways. Students exposed to this kind of treatment from educators often experience the phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophesy and often fall in line with the negative assumption’s teachers project onto their abilities.

The portrayal of these incidents as racist is not an overreaction, they’re evidence that the racism that permeates throughout society is also present within the walls of our schools. However, it’s not impossible to shield our students from the snares of societal ills. There are plenty of schools and programs such as Bob Moses’ Algebra Project that have managed to increase student success without society’s blessing. As an experienced educator and facilitator, I understand we are in an uphill battle towards equity in schools, however I believe a solid investment in culturally responsive education for teachers is the first step. Will it be easy? Absolutely, not. Nevertheless, any time and effort put forth in the process is well worth the results of more culturally competent teachers and schools in the future.

Firing every teacher that perpetuates racist or stereotypical views about diverse students is not a feasible task. A more preventative approach would allow teacher education to consist of increasing the knowledge of educators about the histories, cultures, and perspectives of diverse peoples. It should include the reflection, empathy, and understanding necessary to transform mindsets that perpetuate bias to ones able to interrupt it and reduce it. If those mindsets are too set in their ways, then just like any teacher who is ineffective in their efforts to educate, they should be put on a growth plan or removed.

It can be troubling work to reevaluate deeply held beliefs about race in education. However historically, reexamining our deeply held views about race has often propelled our society forward towards its espoused ideas of justice and equality. Let’s keep the momentum going and continue to reevaluate what we thought was “not racist” and begin to become truly culturally responsive educators and schools.
In 2019, I no longer want to read news stories about superintendent’s posting racist remarks, teachers putting out racist posts, or dressing up in stereotypical costumes. Instead, I want to help educators begin the journey to put an end to this phenomenon, by shining a light on the blind spots in our views about race. I resolve to continue the hard work to rid our schools of the racist mindsets that currently reside within and replace them with ones that no longer have to apologize for racially insensitive missteps because the roots of their racism will have been destroyed.

3 Myths About Multicultural Education That Must Be Dispelled


Want to know one of the fastest ways to clear a room full of educators? Mention the words diversity, inclusion, urban, culture, race, or multicultural. Want to clear a room even faster? Mention all of these words at once when talking about how to improve the learning experiences of our nation’s students and you may be the last one standing in many educational settings.

All of the above-mentioned words are not ugly, vile, or demeaning in nature. Yet, the amount of disdain and discomfort that can be summoned when these well-meaning words are brought up lead me to believe there is much misinformation surrounding these words that need to be addressed. For the sake of brevity, I cannot delve into the myths surrounding each of the above words. However, common and persistent myths surrounding what multicultural education is, who it is for, and how it should be used, will be addressed and dispelled below.

Myth #1: Multicultural Education is Only for Black or Latino Students
If that were true, it would need to be changed to bi-cultural education as it would leave out the majority of our culturally, linguistically, ethnically, socioeconomically, religiously diverse and differently abled students. Thankfully, multicultural education seeks to equip all students to live and interact positively in our increasingly diverse world. Some individuals fear that a focus on multiculturalism will leave out the experiences of White students. This is not the case as even students from the dominate culture are diverse in ways such as gender, class, and language; all of which a multicultural approach to education seeks to include.

Multicultural education is for every student, every day. It seeks to include the histories, perspectives, values, languages, and beliefs of diverse peoples. It aims to help all students have the opportunity to learn in an educational setting that embraces, values, and affirms all parts of their cultures and identities. Having a multicultural approach to teaching takes those important parts into account to create more meaningful and relevant learning experiences for all students.

Myth #2: Multicultural Education is Divisive
Talking about our differences or bringing attention to them is not what divides us. It is the assumptions and misinformed fears that are projected onto those differences that has kept this nation divided since its inception. Due to the lasting impact of historical oppression and discrimination, we are already profoundly divided among racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious, and class lines. The recent turbulent political atmosphere has made some conclude that America has not been this divided since the Civil War. However, multicultural education provides a remedy for all the bias and hate running rampant in our society by resting firmly in the values of equity and justice. The proper implementation of a multicultural approach will elevate the value of all peoples and work towards the common good of everyone. It seeks to bridge the gap in understanding of diverse peoples and provide a proactive approach in addressing societal ills by teaching students how to have empathy and respect for all humanity, not fear and disregard.

Myth #3: Multicultural Education Will Replace American Culture with an Ethnic Culture
Last time I checked, many of the deeply held convictions of what America stands for revolve around the notion of e pluribus unum, one out of many. This “many” includes the Indigenous Native Americans who resided on this continent for thousands of years before European contact. It includes the influence of their government structure, studied by Benjamin Franklin, to be used in the creation of the U.S. Constitution. It includes the European endured servants and Pilgrims seeking “freedom” from British rule. It includes the captured and enslaved Africans whose forced labor was needed to till the land of these newly acquired homes. It includes their reimagined culture which heavily influenced American music, food, dress, and language. It includes the Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Cuban, Mexican, Jewish, Puerto Rican, and numerous other groups of people whose blood, sweat and tears were spilled to help prosper this nation. Yet, many of these groups are usually only given credit for the fun, foods, and holidays they represent. U.S. culture has always been influenced by the contributions of many diverse peoples. Multicultural education only seeks to normalize and accurately include the recognition of it.

And Yet It Remains on the Fringes of Many Educational Circles                                                    Many well-meaning teachers and administrators may believe multicultural education is not needed on their campus due to the physical diversity of their faculty and student body. Thankfully, multicultural education is more than just allowing students and teachers of color to reside in the building. It is more than a once a year festival, celebration, or mention of a famous person of color. It is precisely how well teachers and schools are actively ensuring that the effective practices needed to increase academic achievement for all students are embraced and implemented. True multicultural education takes an active approach to reduce the inequalities in education and provide more equity in access to quality school environments, teachers, and curriculum. Unfortunately, any examination of many of our public schools’ racial achievement gaps, discipline rates, and drop-out rates paints the hard picture that much of the school experiences for many students are in need of revision.

Dispelling the myths surrounding multicultural education practices are essential to the universal acceptance of it by mainstream educational institutions. Yes, many schools have begun to open their doors to more diverse ways of knowing and believing, however there is still so much further we need to go. We need to prepare students early with the skills to positively interact cross-culturally. We need to provide them with accurate and complete histories and perspectives of diverse groups. When we do this, we will spend much less time combating the hate, racial violence, and bigotry we are currently dealing with as adolescents and adults. The diversity of America is what makes America what it is. We only need to continue down the path to increasing the recognition and affirmation of this value so that America can truly be great, for once, and for ALL.

Welcome to Amerikkka

After numerous bombs were sent to political opponents, then an unsuccessful attempt to attack a predominantly Black church was thwarted only to find two victims at a local Kroger, and 11 worshippers at a Jewish synagogue were gunned down; I must pause to address the prevalent (but false) notion that “this is not who America is.” I know that history is not the class that many of us remember fondly, however, some history will do some good right now to help us demystify the idea that there has been a supposed resurgence of hate-filled crimes in America. History will tell us that these recent acts of hate are not random aberrations committed by deranged outsiders. No, history will tell us that not only are these recent acts of hate just par for the course, they are the underlying symptoms of the hatred that has ALWAYS been in America.

This was Amerikkka when Columbus set foot in Hispaniola and declared that the land, people, and all it had to offer were his for the taking.

This was Amerikkka when Native and Indigenous peoples were murdered, enslaved, and pushed off their land in the pursuit of Manifest Destiny.

This was Amerikkka when the European slave trade stole close to 10 million Africans from their homes, ripped apart their families, languages, cultures, and ultimate humanity. Then, using their forced and free labor, built the financial foundations that has cemented the economic strength of this country.

This was Amerikkka when after Emancipation, the Ku Klux Klan emerged as the self-proclaimed enforcers of racial inequality thorough racial violence and intimidation.

This was Amerikkka when lynch mobs of thousands of White men, women, and children would gather around and watch Black bodies be beaten, mutilated, dismembered, and burned, before being strung up on trees for display. To commemorate the event, souvenirs in the form of dismembered body parts were taken home and post cards sent out to loved ones.

This was Amerikkka when prosperous and thriving Black communities were destroyed and burned to the ground for being too prosperous; in Tulsa, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Florida, and in St. Louis.

This was Amerikkka when Japanese Americans were forced out of their homes and into internment camps for simply being of Japanese decent.

This was Amerikkka when young Mexican Americans were beaten in the streets of L.A. while police stood by and watched.

This was Amerikkka when four little girls were killed in their church basement after bombs were set off on a Sunday morning.

This was Amerikkka when countless Black churches were burned during a rash of racial violence in Black communities.

This was Amerikkka when Timothy McVeigh set off bombs that killed over 150 men, women, and children in Oklahoma City.

This was Amerikkka when Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead on a cold winter night in Wyoming.

This was Amerikkka when a mosque in Wisconsin was ambushed by a man mistaking Sikh worshippers for Muslim worshippers and killed 6 people.

This was Amerikkka when Dylann Roof walked into a Bible study at an all Black church and opened fire killing 9 members.

This was Amerikkka when 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed, when 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed, when Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Freddy Gray, Eric Garner and countless others shared the same fate.

This was Amerikkka during the school shootings at elementary, middle, high school, and college campuses across the country.

THIS IS AMERIKKKA.

These acts of violence and domestic terrorism have always been a part of Amerikkka. The notion that “this is not who America is” is an empty fantasy with no basis in reality. Instead of lamenting that “this is not who America is” let’s confront our ugliness and all the damage it has done to its own and once and for all admit: This may be who America is, but this is something that America can no longer be.

Culture Shocks

The complex realties of culture and the role it plays in the way we think, act, and what we value are critical understandings for teachers to be effective educators of culturally diverse students. Teachers must be well-versed in not only the most visible manifestations of their student’s cultures such as foods, holidays, and language; but also in the implicit forms such as interactional patterns, values and beliefs. When taking a critical look at how our schools reflect the various cultures of the students in its charge, it is painfully clear that many of our K-12 schools are stuck at the basic (and smallest) level of understanding of culture. Many schools tout their superficial references to student’s food, clothing, holidays and customs as sufficient in including the diverse cultures of their students. This is a great start, but only a start. Schools can often neglect the deeper levels of interactional patterns and shared beliefs which are essential in creating more positive cross-cultural interactions between students, parents and their teachers. When these deeper levels of culture are misunderstood or ignored, cultural conflict can ensue. Misunderstandings, assumptions, and stereotypes about what students and their parents value in regards to education can result in negative teacher expectations towards students they do not understand. 

Schools must also be able to reflect on its own culture and critically examine the cultural messages students are receiving from them and rectify any conflicting messages about the value of their diverse student’s lives. If left unexamined, cultural conflicts between teachers, schools, and students can be detrimental to the achievement of students whose cultural norms do not match that of the teacher or the school. When students do not feel connected to their learning environments or the educators in front of them, disinterest and disengagement are inevitable. 


So what can schools do to ease any cultural disconnects diverse students experience and begin to bridge those gaps for more culturally congruent learning environments? Check out the tips below!

To assess the dominant cultural norms and expectations exhibited throughout the school, ask yourself the following questions:


1. Whose cultural norms are valued in terms of language, speaking, dress, style of hair, foods, holidays, interactional patterns, and beliefs?


2. Whose history is taught throughout the curriculum (not just on holidays) and from whose perspective is it from?


3. What are the demographics of the teachers? Do they match that of the students? Is there a good male to female teacher ratio?


4. What attitudes do teachers hold regarding students who are poor, homeless, students of color, differently abled, LGBTQ, and religiously different? 

5. What do the achievement gaps look like? Do certain demographics consistently perform below others? If so, how has your school attempted to address those gaps? Are students, their parents, their home life, or their socioeconomic statues blamed; or has your school sought ways to increase the learning opportunities for their struggling students?

If the answer to many of these questions related to White, English-speaking, female, middle-class, heterosexual, cis-gender, and Christian cultural norms, your school, like many others across the nation is still in the beginning stages of becoming culturally responsive to ALL students. Am I suggesting that we throw away the baby with the bath water? No. Do we have to make sure every single aspect of our schools match that of every single student? No, that ‘s not realistic nor logical. What I am suggesting is that schools be knowledgeable of the diverse cultures of their students. Don’t punish students whose culturally relevant ways of speaking, dressing, interacting, perspectives and learning are outside of those dominant cultural norms. I am saying, let’s be knowledgeable enough to mediate between the two. And even within the knowledge of cultural diversity, know that not all students from the same cultural backgrounds will act, think, or believe in the same ways. People are not a monolith! Like I said, this is complex stuff. In short, differences are not deficits, only opportunities to learn about something new.

Think about it: What if the school you went to was immersed in a culture that thought, spoke, interacted, valued, perceived, and learned in different ways than you? How well do you think you would do if you had to constantly put aside who you were in order to become who someone else thought you should be?


Culture is something we all posses and carry with us in our interactions with others. Because educators must interact with many different kinds of people and engage them in learning, it is essential that teachers understand how to communicate, inspire, and relate cross-culturally to be effective teachers for a variety of students. Let’s get to learnin’ ya’ll!


I’d love to hear how your school is creating more culturally inclusive environments for your students! Drop me a line in the comments section below! Happy teaching! 

Unlearn Racism

 

Many educators avoid topics surrounding race and racism in their classrooms. Topics as these can be seen as scary, controversial, or inappropriate for the educational environment. Many teachers may feel it is “not my job” to bring up or discuss issues of race in their classrooms. But why? When research indicates that children as young as 3 years old “begin to show signs of being influenced by societal norms and biases and may exhibit “pre-prejudice” toward others on the basis of gender or race or being differently abled” (Derman-Sparks, 1989, p. 2), and teachers begin to display their own implicit bias towards students of color beginning in preschool (Young, 2016); it seems imperative that teachers must address issues of race and racism in their classrooms because, like it or not, it’s already there.

As a kindergarten teacher I have been witness to many issues that revolve around race and racism in my own classroom and my school and district. I have witnessed students telling another that they can’t play because they are “black;” making fun or teasing because someone’s skin is a different color; even refusing to use dark skin color paper (even when it applies) because they think it’s “too dark.” I have witnessed conversations between teachers about the reasons their students of color are struggling in their classes. With reasons that range from a perceived lack of parental involvement, lack of ability, lack of motivation, or cultural deficit, how did these students and teachers come to these conclusions about race? The constant negative messaging from media, news, and television is the number one culprit (we’ll address that in more depth later). Combine that exposure with the lack of preparation from our teacher prep programs in cultural responsiveness and the persistent lingering of the false perception of “colorblindness;” it’s no wonder we can’t “see” the negative effects these elements are having in our classrooms. We are ill-equipped! Instead of being “blind” or pretending we don’t see the issues presented in our schools, let’s tackle them head on. Instead of the usual silence and avoidance surrounding race and racism in our classrooms, let’s give ourselves and our students space to safely and productively address misconceptions and replace them with authentic, more accurate, and positive understandings of race and the racial differences we see. Here are a few tips to do just that.

1.       Create a racially affirming and positive atmosphere in the classroom.

a.       Provide a variety of positive images of all types of people from different races, cultures, abilities, age groups, socioeconomic statuses and families. Make it easy with these Multicultural Alphabet Posters

b.       Read multicultural literature that reflects the authentic realities of the diverse students in your class throughout the entire year (not just on holidays).

2.       Review your curriculum and resources for racial bias by asking a few questions.

a.       Are people of color represented in this resource?

b.       Are people of color represented in stereotypical or authentic ways?

c.       Whose perspective is this resource from?

d.       What messages does this resource send about the value of my diverse student’s histories, cultures, and perspectives? (the same can be done for gender and abilities)

3.    Help students address, understand, and evaluate any negative racial assumptions and help them replace them with more accurate and positive information.

a.       Correct students when they use racially insensitive words to describe people of color: Native American and Indigenous peoples are not “Indians.” Asian and Pacific Islanders are not “Orientals.”

b.       Provide them with positive language to describe the differences they see in skin color. This book is a great way to encourage this.

c.       When students make negative remarks about differences in people engage them in reflection to find out why they have those views. When a student says “Black people are bad,” ask them “Why do you think that?” You may find that students don’t really believe these things, they only repeat what they have heard.

  4.  Teachers must check their own biases about racial differences.

a.       Reflect on how you view the histories, cultures, and perspectives of those different from yourself.

b.       Reflect on how you treat students who may not act, think, or speak in ways that fall within your own cultural norms.

c.       Be open to growing your own cultural competencies regarding people that are different from yourself. No one knows it all, there is always something new to learn!

As educators, we are entrusted with the task of educating our students so they will be prepared to live and work in our society. Not only must we teach the foundations of all things academic, but we are also responsible for their social and emotional development as well. As our world becomes increasingly more diverse, teachers need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to help students not only navigate that world, but be able to communicate and interact positively across cultures. Discussing differences with student’s should be a natural part of our classroom environment. Not only does it open them up to embracing the differences in each other, but it will lead to them being more open to the differences they see in the world. 

 

Resource

Derman-Sparks, L. (1989). Anti-bias curriculum: Tools for empowering young children. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Rethinking Columbus

One of the most important aspects in multicultural education is the curriculum. I cannot stress this enough. In today’s standards-based (or obsessed) curriculum it is crucial to implement multiple perspectives across ALL disciplines. One of the main goals in choosing curriculum for a multicultural approach is to make sure what you are teaching is ACCURATE and COMPLETE. We are doing our students a great disservice by not presenting curriculum in this manner. Our student’s ability to develop critical thinking skills is severely diminished when these components are over looked. Too often we settle for the “safe” approach and truth loses out. One example of this is how we (still) teach Christopher Columbus (among many others). Many of the views surrounding the history of Columbus come from a very Eurocentric and one-sided perspective. In multicultural education we must examine events from multiple perspectives in order to get a clearer picture of what took place. We should not only use the perspective of Columbus, but the perspectives of the Taino people that succumbed to this “discovery.” When we ask questions like: How did their people view this “discovery?” How did it affect them? What was the result of this discovery? Why do people say Columbus “discovered” America when there were already people living there? When we ask these kinds of questions we are engaging our students in critical thinking. When students are given multiple lenses in which to view information (instead of told what to think) they can then begin to use critical thinking, problem-solving, and other higher order thinking skills in order to make sense of the world around them.

Challenge: How can you begin to make your teachings about Columbus more accurate and complete? 

Check out this helpful teacher resource! Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow