RSS

The Importance of Black Teachers

10 Aug

And this isn’t just because HBCUs generated nearly 10 percent of all Black STEM doctoral degree recipients. Black kids do better in school with the presence of black teachers...

But… White kids need them too!

Why Schools Need More Teachers of Color—for White Students

Noah Caruso, 17, calls South Philadelphia home. Known for cheesesteaks, pizza, and bakeries, South Philly is a close-knit, largely Italian American neighborhood where much of the population has traditionally shared the same background, culture, and race. Though an influx of immigrants has made the area more diverse in recent decades, South Philly, like the rest of the city, remains highly segregated. Caruso’s predominantly white community was echoed at his middle school, Christopher Columbus Charter School, where he says all of his teachers were white like him, as were virtually all of his classmates. It was against this backdrop that Caruso enrolled in Science Leadership Academy (SLA)—a public magnet high school in the city—and landed in the freshman English class of Matthew Kay, his first black teacher.

Now a rising senior, Caruso looks back with appreciation on his ninth-grade year in Kay’s class. “He’s the most inspiring teacher I ever had by far,” Caruso said, recalling Kay’s emphasis and commentary on fraught topics such as present-day racism. “He definitely pushed us to really think about these social issues [that] weren’t talked about before in my life because everyone grew up in the same area,” he continued. “We were all white … and everyone had the same opinion.” Caruso recalled a class in which Kay had students watch a scene from American History X, a graphic 1998 film about neo-Nazis and white supremacy in America. The teacher, Caruso noted, didn’t hold back in expressing his perspective on the persistence of prejudice in the country. It was one of many discussions with Kay that Caruso said opened his eyes “to all of these things I never even thought about before … It inspired me to want to do something about it.”

The importance of recruiting and retaining more teachers of color for students of color is well-reported and deeply researched. Most teachers—over 80 percent—are white, and surveys suggest that won’t change anytime soon. Among the ACT-tested graduates in 2014 who said they planned on pursuing an education major,72 percent were white, compared to 56 percent of all tested students. Yet nonwhite children are now believed to make up a majority of the country’s public-school population. Studies show that, academically, nonwhite teachers produce more favorable outcomes for students of similar backgrounds; emotionally and socially, these educators serve as role models who share students’ racial and ethnic identity. What hasn’t gotten much attention, however, are the potential gains for white students.

The call for more teachers of color has grown more urgent in recent years because of America’s changing demographics. In an increasingly multiracial, multicultural society, some education experts question the impact on white students’ world views when the face of teaching almost always mirrors their own. Gloria Ladson-Billings, an African American professor of urban education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, broached this subject in a recent essay forEducation Week responding to the apparent decline in nonwhite teachers—what some observers have described as a “disappearance crisis.” “I want to suggest that there is something that may be even more important than black students having black teachers and that is white students having black teachers! It is important for white students to encounter black people who are knowledgeable,” she wrote. “What opportunities do white students have to see and experience black competence?”

In public schools, where roughly 90 percent of the country’s children are enrolled, the lessons students learn are often skewed because of who is delivering the instruction and what kind of curricula and learning materials that instruction entails. Not only is the vast majority of the country’s teaching force white, but Eurocentric attitudes also tend to filter into classrooms. Some scholars, including the Temple University African American studies professor Ama Mazama, even attribute the notable rise in homeschooling among black families in part to the predominance of Eurocentric school curricula and teacher perspectives. American children’s literature is also often limited to white characters and narratives

The societal advantages of more teachers of color become clearer when considering the racial socialization—or the processes by which people develop their ethnic identities—of white adults, including the parents who may stumble in communicating racial understanding to their children. A Public Religion Research Institute study on “American Values” circulated last summer, following the shooting in Ferguson, showed that 75 percent of white Americans have all-white social networks. This self-segregation could help explain the racial divide over Michael Brown’s death and why it was seemingly so hard for many whites to understand what transpired in Ferguson: Their worldview was restricted to mostly white friends and family. And in a 2014 study researchers found that “the messages that white teens received [from parents regarding race] were contradictory and incomplete,” concluding that schools are a crucial link in building “productive and genuine relationships” between whites and people of color…

Of course, integrated and diverse student bodies are just as important as interracial student-teacher pairings when it comes to building a more racially literate generation. Greta Haskell, another student at SLA, where thedemographics closely reflect those of Philadelphia, said learning alongside students of color helps actualize the new perspectives she gains from nonwhite teachers. Last December, Haskell participated in a “die-in” at SLA to protest the non-indictment in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. “If I went off to college [as a white student] and didn’t know how to interact with [people not like me] I wouldn’t feel prepared,” Haskell said.

 The racial composition makes the school a place where students “listen to each other and absorb what the other students are saying and make sense of it,” said Larissa Pahomov, an SLA teacher of color who serves on the school’s diversity committee. And according to the education professor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley,white students are “more likely to have a concrete understanding of racial and social injustices” and less likely to be prejudiced when they’re immersed in racially diverse schools. Still, the push for diverse schools—which in part because of housing segregation are uncommon nationwide—typically highlights an array of benefits for students of color, rather than that for their white counterparts….(The entire article here)
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 10, 2015 in The Post-Racial Life

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: