By Alex Storm @alexstormtmt
The importance of teaching about race in schools has become ever more apparent as we look back at the news of the past few years in American History. When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, it was widely stated that we now live in a post racial society, a society where race no longer affects people’s lives and judgements. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as we look at the ongoing nationwide debate about how to police the police and how to fix a justice and an education system that are both deeply rooted in racially discriminatory practices.
Unfortunately, the election of an African American president was not enough to turn the tide on hundreds of years of systematic oppression. This lack of significant progress is one of the many reasons that we must teach about race in schools, and that teaching must begin with the faculty. It is our moral obligation if we wish to live in a society that is just and equitable. Race is an essential part of the conversation that must be had in order to provide students with a quality education and with the compassion and knowledge to create a better world.
The conversation about race needs to start in every faculty lounge, board meeting, and staff retreat. Administrators and teachers must first come to terms with their own racial bias. They must explore what experiences they have had with conscious racism and unconscious racism, as well as institutionalized racism and the effects of internalized racism. Teachers need to learn how to have hard conversations with each other, to feel safe acknowledging their differences, and be open to listening attentively to the experiences of others so that they can learn more about how race affects a person’s perspective.
The only way that teachers will gain the skills and finesse necessary for hard conversations with their students is to have them amongst themselves. No one is born with biases, and no one makes it through life without developing some biases. What is important is to be aware of how these biases shape all of our interactions with people, whether they look like us or not. Once teachers have a heightened awareness of their own experience and the experiences of their colleagues, they can then begin the long process of self-reflection to see how their biases shape their teaching practice.
Teachers and administrators must examine how unconscious biases about race, gender, and socioeconomic status impact their expectations of their students. They must see if there are patterns in how they discipline students. Is one group disproportionately suspended or ‘pushed-out’ of school? If so, what are the expectations that are placed on this group that could be leading to this pattern? Every time teachers and administrators are able to take a hard look at themselves, they gain a little more insight into factors that shape their world and the education of our future. As teachers become more adept at identifying and correcting their own biases, they will also become more comfortable with helping their students to acknowledge their own.
Discussing race, being open about how race shapes who we are, no matter what race we are, is absolutely necessary. We live in a system that has flaws and those flaws tend to disadvantage people of color and people of lower socioeconomic status. While systematic changes are essential and slow to come, every teacher can make a difference if they become more comfortable with discussing their own experiences, and equally importantly, listening to the experiences of others. For resources to begin these conversations today consult the National Equity Project and Teaching Tolerance websites. Next week The Modern Truth will focus on specific tools and advice for teachers and administrators regarding hard equity conversations.