Working to Surface the Influence of Race in the Classroom

Race and Culture in the Classroom

The articles referenced in this weeks readings bring us through a small piece of history of race in America and then sheds light on some of the affects that it has, both seen and unseen, in our practices as teachers and as entire school systems.

In one of the articles, The Mismeasure of Man (Gould 1981), we use the overt and oppressive ways American society viewed people of non-white races during previous times in our history.  What is most interesting in this article is that scientists, some of whom were the most profound in the world, made empirical arguments stating that biological persons whom were non-white were inferior to the white race.  The arguments, based in polygenism, simply stated that people of color were naturally inferior because they were descendants of a different ancestor than their white neighbors.  This, of course, in the light of present day science is absurd and laughable however in the world of the 1860’s this was a serious argument and point of contention.  In the present day we would point to this type of science and call it absurd, racist and without merit however socially and politcally, things were not so clear back in the day.

The type of overt racism that is seen in the science from the 1860’s sits in stark contrast to the topic of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection (Howard, 2001).  In the article the art of reflection and culturally responsive pedagogy is espoused and encouraged for all teachers.  I have seen all sorts of educators and “allies” including myself act in ways that actually serve further institutional oppression with nothing but the best of intentions in my heart.  As I started my first year I had my students silently enter and exit class, they would painstakingly take note after note and study and practice relentless lest they suffer the consequences of Mr. Arndt’s classroom.   Little did I know how I was participating in and extending a system of socialization and assimilation that was encouraging my unique, creative and unendingly powerful students to socialize themselves to the dominant cultures norms.  I perceived myself (in the beginning) as savior and hero for my school community while in reality I was operating in a fog and in many ways furthering the systems that had  put my students and families in the position in the first place.

In today’s world we operate with biases and prejudices that are hidden under much deeper layers of consciousness and that are much harder to identify, reflect upon, and change.  As I approach my work this summer and possible my research topic I am thinking about teacher mindsets in relation to cultural deprivation theory as opposed to cultural difference theory.  Far to often we see administrators and teachers set up procedures in the school and classroom that try and make student learning into an assembly line.  The dominant theory is often .”We just need to get them to follow the rules, be quiet, take notes, finish their homework and pass onto the next grade” and then pass them down the factory line again in the next grade.  We see evidence of educators treating our students as empty containers that need to be filled instead of valuable humans with real and lived experiences and knowledge that they bring to the classroom everyday.  Instead of throwing the culture and background out we need to leverage what they enter the classroom with in order to partner with them to reach their goals.  We have seen what happens when we try and change student culture to fit into classroom culture, it does not work and it is oppressive.  We need to focus our efforts in the realm of cultural difference theory and create classrooms that mold and evolve to fit students culture, which in turn will set students up with the skills and mindsets to not only be successful but to begin to tear down the institutions of oppression that existed for them and those that have come before them.

Howard, C. (2011). Culturally Relevant for Critical Teacher Pedagogy : Ingredients Reflection, 42(3), 195–202.York, N. E. W. (n.d.). W . w . norton & company . new york’ london.

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