Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a kindergarten classroom at a school on the east side. I was able to see an excellent teacher at work. Just holding the attention of energetic five-year-olds seemed like a tall order. The teacher was engaging and positive as she led the students through a math exercise. Some kids were attentive, others were restless, and most were somewhere in between. What impressed me most was that the teacher worked hard to involve each student.
I witnessed the teacher practicing what educational equity experts call “meeting students where they are.” In other words, the teacher didn’t expect every student to be the same and she made adjustments for each student’s strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, as an education blogger and former school trustee, I’ve heard many other teachers express frustration that students don’t come to school ready to learn.
So what does “ready to learn” mean? Essentially, it describes the model student: conscientious, organized, and prepared to learn every day. This must start at home, the argument goes. With that reasoning, some educators believe that high academic achievement could become a reality because the school system would be able to do what it is designed to do: teach.
Unfortunately, that’s just not real life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone was conscientious, organized, and prepared? That would eliminate most of the world’s problems for sure. The reality is that students, like all people, come in all colors, cultures, sizes, intellectual abilities, and social classes. Despite this diversity, every student can succeed if school systems truly understood and accepted that everyone is different.
In their insightful book about equity in education, Courageous Conversations About Race, Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton use meticulous research to demonstrate that society, school systems, education leaders, and classroom teachers more times than not prejudge students based on race, cultural background, and socio-economic status. This results in practices that marginalize students of color and sets them on a course that discourages a future college education.
All too often the school system and educators dismiss kids of color with the cop-out that “college isn’t for everyone.” In response to my post last week, several readers shared with me their own experiences with this discouraging phrase (click on https://esereport.com/2014/03/17/college-can-change-your-life/ to read last week’s blog). One reader recounted how her son’s high school counselor encouraged him to be a truck driver because he could make good money without a college education.
In his 2009 report on closing the achievement gap, former California State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell recognized this problem and recommended culturally relevant professional development as a solution (click on http://svefoundation.org/svefoundation/files/p16_ctag_report.pdf to read Superintendent O’Connell’s report). Unfortunately, few school districts have attempted to develop a comprehensive and systematic approach to implement this recommendation.
Why is this? To even start thinking about implementing a culturally relevant professional development program, school systems must first acknowledge that racial and cultural bias actually exists. Singleton and Linton write that talking about these biases is “a difficult conversation, one that clearly troubles educators and can make everyone downright uncomfortable.” It’s hard for good people to believe that they hold such biases.
One would think that in a place as diverse as Silicon Valley, having this conversation would be easy. But it’s not. I’ve discussed this issue with several superintendents who have implemented equity and culturally relevant professional development programs in their districts. In those initiatives, teachers, staff, and the school communities were skeptical and resistant to even begin the conversation. Although long-term relationships were tested and challenged, the end results for students were good.
School leaders may be reluctant to venture into the wilderness of starting that difficult conversation. It will take conviction, courage, and commitment. Nevertheless, we need to have these discussions as a community for us to ensure that all students have an opportunity to achieve and succeed.
So, I suggest that we support our education leaders and start a “courageous conversation” right here on East Side Eddie Report.com. I want to hear about your experiences with racial and cultural bias as a student, parent, teacher, school administrator and how it impacted your decision to continue (or not continue) a higher education? If you don’t feel comfortable posting publicly, but want to share your story, please feel free to e-mail me confidentially at email@example.com.
Let’s be bold and start talking!
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