Reading Between the Lines

Ladson-Billings, G. (1992). Reading between the lines and beyond the pages: A culturally relevant approach to literacy teaching. Theory Into Practice. doi:10.1080/00405849209543558

The journal article, Reading Between the Lines and Beyond the Pages: A Culturally Relevant Approach to Literacy teaching by Ladson-Billings (1992) highlights the importance of how teachers frame culturally relevant approaches to literacy teaching. The author effectively describes the need for this study by sharing that the previous research focused primarily on African American teachers servicing African American students. Ladson-Billings (1992) couples this with explaining that there has not been much research on cultural relevance in education with African American students. (p. 313) I was surprised to learn there had not been much research on this topic with African American students and even more surprised to read one of the possible hypotheses. “One hypothesis for this lack of application is the persistent denial of the existence of a distinct African American culture, one that is not merely linked to poverty and the legacy of slavery” (Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 313).

There were eight teachers involved in the study that took place in North Carolina. The majority of the teachers were of African American descent. The study focused on pedagogical excellence with African American students. The eight teachers were selected because they were deemed exemplary teachers by administrators and parents and because they were especially successful with African American students. Data collection was not a strength of this article. The author collected data through ethnographic interviews, observation and videotaped classroom instruction. The data collection and analysis was rich but it was not detailed enough in the article to duplicate. One of the ways in which data was analyzed was collectively with the teacher participants. Ladson-Billings (1992) described how all of the participants were involved in watching the videotaped lesson segments, discussed their practice and defined dimensions of culturally relevant teaching. As I read this, I was intrigued by the process of having participants reflect, discuss their practice and come to consensus on culturally relevant teaching elements. However, I would have benefited from the author explaining this data collection in more detail. It left me wondering what questions were asked during this collective discussion? What processes and procedures did the author put in place for the participants to respectfully discuss one another’s practice? Finally, what was their collective knowledge level on culturally relevant practice?

Ladson-Billings (1992) is gifted storyteller. In this article, the author delves into two of the eight teachers’ practice. She gives a brief overview of their experience and background and then masterfully describes their teaching practice. A strength of this article is the findings. Ladson-Billings (1992) provides appropriate convincing evidence of elements of culturally relevant teaching practices. She describes one of the findings as teachers’ not “shying” away from issues of race and culture (p. 316) Another finding was that “students are appreciated and celebrated as individuals and as members of a specific culture” (Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 317). I believe that this is an important element that defines culturally relevant teaching practices. One finding I found interesting was, “although teachers speak and instruct in Standard English, students home language is incorporated into the conversations of the classroom without reprimand and correction”(Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 317). I believe this would empower students, knowing their teacher accepts and embraces their language. This was illustrated when the researcher provided examples of the teachers using “Black English.”

Collectively the teachers defined three culturally conscious categories that all teachers in the study showed through the interview process or through their videotaped instruction. The three categories Ladson-Billings defines in the article  are culturally relevant conceptions of self and others, culturally relevant conceptions of classroom social relations and culturally relevant conceptions of knowledge.

Ladson-Billings defines culturally relevant conception of self and others as being proud of you you are and what you do.  I connected this concept of self with having high self-efficacy and the belief of knowing what you are doing is making a difference.  The author describes conception of others as “providing support for students to be themselves” (Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 317). The author defines culturally relevant conceptions of classroom social relations as there is mutual respect between the teacher and student.  She further defines this concept as “the classroom relations are humanely equitable, fostering positive student-to-student and student-to-teacher interactions” (p. 318).  I also noted that she described there is not a power struggle between teachers and students because there is a shared power. The final conception the researcher describes is culturally relevant conceptions of knowledge. Ladson-Billings (1992) defines this concept as being “aware that state and local curriculum mandates may fail to include the experiences of African-American students and, consequently fail to engage the students in meaningful learning, they purposely design curriculum that makes their students (and their heritage) the focus of curriculum inquiry” (p. 318)

As I read the three culturally conscious categories along with the elements that define culturally relevant teaching practices outlined in the article, my initial thought was these are best practices that all teachers should be incorporating in their practice.  I am looking forward to reading more work by Ladson-Billings especially her article entitled, But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.


Ladson-billings, G. (1995). But that’s just good teaching: The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into Practice, 34(3), 159-165.

The Foundation of Mindset

Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit Theories and Their Role in Judgments and Reactions: A World From Two Perspectives. Psychological Inquiry, 6(4), 267–285.
The Article

This week I am reviewing one of the references listed in last week’s research article blog.  Dweck, Chiu, & Hong’s 1995 article in Psychological Inquiry is seminal in the mindset literature.   The authors explore the concepts of what has come to be known as “mindset” – whether one believes that certain aspects of self are fixed or whether growth is possible (Yeager & Dweck, 2012).  In the 1995 article being reviewed in this blog entry those binary descriptions are labeled (respectively) “entity” and “incremental” implicit theories.  This research comes from the field of psychology and has worthwhile implications for educational practice.

Though this article is a couple degrees removed from any of our assigned readings for class, the authors sing what has become a familiar tune by now:  Be aware of bias.  Just as bias is naturally found in a scientist’s interpretation of data based on implicit assumptions, the authors suggest that biases or implicit assumptions also guide an individual’s view of life – in this case of “the way information about the self and other people is processed and understood” (Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995, p. 267).  Each individual is a “theorist” relying on implicit assumptions that influence their judgment and behavior.  In essence, bias plays a part on the macro level in interpretation of data as well as on the micro level in an individual’s narrative.

The article is very well organized with useful headings and subheadings and a well-written abstract that allows the reader to anticipate what’s to come in the article.  A thorough groundwork is laid, beginning with reference to psychological theories from the 1950’s, to help readers clearly see the authors’ path.  The meat of the study is examining biases or orientations toward two particular attributes – morality and intelligence. To establish the reliability and validity of the entity and incremental orientations toward morality and intelligence, the authors include the three uni-directional statements from the assessment used to determine entity or incremental orientation.  Both internal and external reliability are high as evidenced by the review of six validation studies.  The validation studies also show that a person’s bias or implicit theory is not a function of age, gender, political or religious affiliation.  Nor is orientation, or bias, necessarily the same across all attributes.  The biases for morality and intelligence are statistically independent.  For example, a person can have an entity (or fixed) theory on intelligence, yet an incremental (or growth) theory on morality.

Dweck, Chiu, & Hong (1995) propose that the two different implicit theories lead to different psychological stances.  For one who holds an entity orientation, for example, any encounter will be a measure of their (fixed) attribute, making every encounter a potential threat and encouraging defensiveness.   For the person with an incremental theory, every encounter is an opportunity to grow and learn (Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995).  As an educator, I want students to experience their encounters with life (including school) as an opportunity for learning and growth.  And the good news is that one’s orientation toward an entity or incremental bias is not fixed; it can be influenced by external stimuli (Sriram, 2014).

I have only a few minor editorial comments.  I was surprised to notice a couple of typos in the text.  They popped up without my intentional search for them – leaving out a word, repeating a word and forgetting a marker for one item in a list of three.  They were only slight hiccoughs in the reading and did not distract from the meaning of the text.  In keeping with the theory being studied in this article, I noticed that my explanation to self about the errors fall on the incremental side of things.  I believe the errors may exist because this article was published nearly 20 years ago before we had as much technological support to catch errors.  If the same article were published today, I’d be surprised to find more than one error.

One other weakness of the research analysis offered in this article is that the demographic variables of the study participants were not addressed except in the validation studies.  The authors were at Columbia University, an exclusive private institution, at the time of this publication.  They refer to studies taking place in their lab.  If their participants mirror the demographics of the school and are mostly White and privileged, will that impact the generalizability of the theory?  Might there be nuances in the theory with a more nuanced population set?

My Line of Inquiry

The theory of mindset provides a great foundation for the kind of impact I want to have as I develop my line of inquiry.  Research is supporting that if students have a growth mindset they are more likely to engage in goal-directed behaviors and to believe in their own self-efficacy and in the ability of others to change (Yeager & Dweck, 2012).  At the community college, many of our students have been marginalized and are skeptical about the system and how accommodating it will be for them.  If students believe the system is not on their side and they have a fixed mindset they are more likely to give up.  If I can encourage the students I work with towards a growth mindset, then their belief in themselves and corresponding goal-directed behaviors may increase.  At the same time, we will be cultivating the belief that the system can change and become a better partner for students as they pursue their personal, career, and academic goals.

Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit Theories and Their Role in Judgments and Reactions: A World From Two Perspectives. Psychological Inquiry, 6(4), 267–285.

Sriram, R. (2014). Rethinking Intelligence: The role of mindset in promoting success for academically high-risk students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory, and Practice, 15(4), 515–536.

Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314. doi:10.1080/00461520.2012.722805

Ethnographic Bias

“After Objectivism” is chapter 2 in Renato Rosaldo’s (1994) book entitled, “Culture & Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis.”  Rosaldo (1994) provides a thought-provoking look at the challenges associated with ethnography (i.e., the systematic study of peoples and cultures).  In particular, Rosaldo (1994) criticizes “classic” ethnography that describes events as if they were programmed cultural routines and places the observer at a distance (at least figuratively) from those being observed.  For some, classic ethnography, which was in vogue from about 1920-1970, became the one and only legitimate form for telling the literal truth about other cultures.

In the chapter, numerous examples of descriptions of people and cultures through the “objective” lens of classic ethnography are provided.  The examples have a sterile detached quality that may be perceived as credible and objective because they were written by well-educated western scholars.  Rosalado (1994) posits, however, that the examples are only one perspective.  Others might be less collegial and consider the classic ethnographic view myopic.  The author provides an interesting way to assess the adequacy of social descriptions with the question, “How valid would we find ethnographic discourse about others if it were used to describe ourselves (Rosaldo, 1994)?”  To illustrate this approach the author describes a typical Canadian breakfast scene using classic ethnographic terms.  In the description, the father is the “reigning patriarch, as if just in from the hunt” and “the women talk among themselves and designate one among them as toast maker.”  Throughout the meal, “the women and children, including the designated toast maker, perform the obligatory ritual praise song, saying, ‘These sure are great eggs, Dad.’”  As absurd as this sounds, would the people about whom classic ethnographers wrote have had a similar reaction to the description of their culture and them?  Because the description is written in English and includes sophisticated vocabulary is it more accurate or credible than others?

The broad effects of classic modes of composition typically were not explored at the time because they were assumed to be objective.  Rosaldo (1994) does not believe these perspectives should be rejected outright.  Instead, he recommends they be displaced and become one among a number of viable forms of social descriptions.  Specifically, the classic accounts should be recovered but no longer viewed as the sole truth about other cultures. Instead, classic descriptions should become one perspective among others (Rosaldo, 1994).  How social descriptions are read and understood depends not only on their linguistics but also their content and context.  Who is speaking to whom and about what?  Why are these people speaking and what are the circumstances (Rosaldo, 1994)?

In addition to his criticism of classic ethnography, Rosaldo (1994) provides a number of perspectives and suggestions for reducing individual bias when describing different cultures and peoples.  Personal narratives can add balance to impersonal descriptions to better represent other forms of life.  Another practical idea is to give the same consideration to criticisms from the individuals and groups studied as to criticisms of peers.  This is easier said than done but a noble goal, nonetheless.  Finally, the author takes one step further and suggests that, “we ethnographers should be open to asking not only how our descriptions of others would read if applied to ourselves but how we can learn from other people’s descriptions of ourselves (Rosaldo, 1994).”

The idea of learning from others, particularly in relationships where learning is understood to be one-way, is a powerful and important concept.  Transformational learning can happen when the one-way learning reverses direction.  This occurs when teachers learn from students, when masters learn from apprentices, when ethnographers learn about their own culture and themselves from those they are studying, and so on.

As participant observers in action research, we have a unique opportunity to learn from our community and develop personally and professionally.

Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture & Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis (pp. 46–67, 168–195). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

The Role of Emotions

“We were, we told ourselves, too close to the work” (Paris & Winn, 2014). I have told myself this many times in relation to my job. In my opinion, it is a hazard of being a teacher. It is difficult to find the balance between work and home. This probably has a great deal to do with why so many teachers burn out within the first five years. I don’t envision a researcher as having such problems. In the past I have typically thought of a researcher as one who is serious, precise, objective and disconnected. Prior to starting this program, I was trying to determine what I wanted to research. I had a difficult time because I felt I was overly passionate about the things I wanted to research, but on the other hand I did not want to research a subject that I was dispassionate about; I imagine that would become tedious. “We have not paid significant attention to these feelings, yet they persist and continue to shape our work” (Paris & Winn, 2014). When reading through research articles, it appears that the common approach to research is to be detached, in order to be objective.

In Renato Rosaldo’s book, Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis, he discusses the difference “between the technical idiom of ethnography and the language of everyday life” (1994). Rosaldo gives multiple examples in his book of daily life being described in Ethnographic terms. Each time I feel as though the researcher in the example has no idea what they are talking about because all emotion has been taken out of play. It leaves the description sounding idiotic. One example Rosaldo gives is Horace Mann’s paper, “Nacirema”. I had read it in elementary school and I remember being a little disturbed and thinking Nacirema people were barbaric. When I found out it was actually about Americans I was shocked and thought it was the funniest thing I had ever heard. It became a joke to speak in such a manner.

People are emotional; they have joy, grief, anger…etc. When emotion is taken out of the equation daily actions seem a little crazy. I understand that the purpose is to stay distanced, but people research with purpose. “I want to emphasis…research carried out by anyone is a political-historical process.(Lave, 2012) Regardless of whether one expects their research to have an impact, it does, in some aspect have an influence on society. As quoted by Lave, research is political. It goes back to knowing the community and how the research will impact them. Paris and Winn discuss how emotions are used to modify policies. “The fear of terrorist violence of ‘illegal aliens’ taking U.S. jobs, of prisoners using tax dollars…all help to justify expanding the punitive arm of the state” (Paris & Winn, 2014). My purpose in researching is to initiate change within my community. The keyword throughout these readings seems to be balance. One must be aware how their emotions, passions and desires affect them in order to keep bias from impacting the results of their research. However, it is our passions that drive us.  Additionally, remembering that the community you are studying is made up of people and that the purpose of the research is to create a better world for them. Once we lose sight of that, there is no point in continuing to research.


Lave, J. (2012). Changing practice. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19(2), 156–171. doi:10.1080/10749039.2012.666317

Paris, D., & Winn, M. T. (2014). Humanizing Research (p. 277). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.

Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture and truth: The remaking of social analysis (pp. 1–52). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Is Culture the New Dumping Ground?

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). It’s not the culture of poverty, it’s the poverty of culture: The problem with  teacher education. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 37(2), 104-109. Retrieved from

Howard, T. C. (2010). Why race and culture matter in schools: Closing the achievemen gap in America’s classrooms. New York, N.Y: Teachers College Press

Losen, Daniel J (2011). Discipline policies, successful schools, and racial justice. Boulder, Col: National   Education Policy Center.

The journal article, It’s not the Culture of Poverty, It’s the Poverty of Culture: The Problem with Teacher Education by Ladson-Billings (2006) asserts that anthropology should be a part of the teacher preparation program. The author describes how pre-service teachers take courses on philosophy, sociology, history and psychology but anthropology is typically absent from teacher programs. Ladson-Billings (2006) argues, “The problem of culture in teaching is not merely one of exclusion. It is also one of overdetermination.” (p.104) She describes overdetermination as “culture is randomly and regularly used to explain everything.” In her research the author describes how she collected data on pre-service and new to the profession teachers on their understanding of culture.

Data collection was not a strength of this article. Although, I was entirely engaged in the data the author collected through interviews, electronic portfolios and student journals the explanation of the data analysis was not detailed enough to duplicate. Ladson-Billings (2006) reflects on “critical incidents” captured through the data collected. She conducted the interviews at the end of the pre-service teachers’ field experience. She asked the pre-service teachers to tell her about a child that was difficult to handle in class. I was saddened to learn that most pre-service teachers described the difficult student as one that was not like them in race, gender or ethnicity. The majority of teachers chose African American boys as the student that was most difficult to handle in their interview responses. This reminded me of Losen’s (2011) work on Discipline Policies, Successful Schools and Racial Justice, where he refers to a speech by Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who suggests, “students with disabilities and Black students, especially males were suspended far more often than their white counterparts.” (p. 3)

One incident that the author reflects on is a conversation she had with one of the pre-service teachers. She describes how the pre-service teacher said, “The black kids just talk so loud and don’t listen.” Ladson-Billings asked the pre-service teacher why they thought that and the teacher responded, “I don’t know; I guess it’s cultural.” (Ladson-Billings, 2006, p. 106) As I read this, I flashed back to conversations I have overheard at schools when teachers are talking about the reasons why students are not successful, why parents are not involved or why students are not making good choices and the answer I often hear is culture. Ladson-Billings asserts that “culture has become the answer to every problem.” (2006, p. 106)

Through the data collection, the researcher invited pre-service teachers to consider their own culture. The majority of her pre-service teachers are white, middle-class, monolingual Mid-Westerners. I was astonished by their responses detailed  in the article. “They describe themselves as having ‘no culture’ or being ‘just regular’ or just normal.” (Ladson-Billings, 2006, p.107) I believe in order for teachers to understand and value their students’ culture, they have to know, understand and value their own culture.  I connected their responses to what Howard (2010)  refers to as the demographic divide where the majority of the teachers she interviewed are white and the majority of the student population are African American.  Howard (2010) explains how “cross-racial teaching and learning arrangements have the potential for varying degrees of misunderstandings between students and teachers, especially where teachers lack the training and competence necessary to effectively teach students from diverse groups.” (p .43)

Organization is a strength in the article It’s not the Culture of Poverty, It’s the Poverty of Culture: The Problem with Teacher Education. Ladson-Billings is masterful in weaving in and out of data analysis and conclusions. Although this article was not organized with typical headings found in empirical research, it was written in a way that was easy to navigate. The author was also succinct in the development of her argument. I was drawn in by the examples, stories and clarity of her writing.

Another strength of this article is the conclusions the author draws. Ladson-Billings draws three major conclusions throughout the article. One of the conclusions that Ladson-Billings draws is that pre-service teachers need to interact with students outside of the school setting. She reminds us of the importance of celebrating students’ success outside of academics. The author argues that this will support pre-service teachers in becoming “careful observers of cultures” for their students and themselves. (Ladson-Billings, 2006, p. 109) Another conclusion she draws is that the pre-service teachers need to experience schooling in other parts of the world. The last conclusion she draws is that pre-service teachers need to see identify their own culture and own it.

I believe researching pre-service teachers and new to the profession teachers’ understanding of culture is a meaningful contribution to the field of education. I think it is important for teachers to understand their own culture and the students that they interact with. I also believe the author raises an issue that I have seen and heard on many school campuses and that is blaming student failure on culture.  Culture should not be “the answer” or the dumping ground for failures that happen within the educational system.

Subtle Behaviors, Large Impact


Solorzaro, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical race theory, microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college students. Journal of Negro Education, 69(1/2), 60-73. Retrieved from

In my quest to begin compiling information on micro-inequities in higher education, I thought it would be great to find some historical literature on the topic. While there is a great deal of information pertaining to the corporate sector, there is menial information on micro-inequities as it relates to higher education and student retention.  Colleges and universities, nationwide, seemed to be continuously in the hunt to “fix” access and retention issues for minority students. From my personal and professional experience, the fix isn’t necessarily the access, but, rather the campus environment (campus climate) that makes retention such a challenging issue.

This article, by Solorzano, Ceja, and Yosso uses critical race theory as a framework to discussing microaggressions and campus climate as it relates to African American college students.  The authors studied a group of thirty-four African American students at three Research 1, predominantly white institutions to discover the types of racial discrimination experienced, and how students responded to those experiences. None surprising, they conclude that the effects of covert, subtle microaggressions can be more harmful to the student than the blatant racism that is so often discussed.

This article was simply fantastic in that it clearly defined the difference between race, racism, and microaggressions. For the sake of the article, race is defended as the socially constructed “colorized” category created to show differences between ethnicities which is further used to show superiority of one race, namely White’s, over other races. The author’s use Audre Lorde’s definition of racism as the basis of the study: “the belief in the inherent superiority of one race of the all others and thereby the right to dominance” (p. 61). While this is a solid definition of racism, I prefer Manning Marable’s view on racism as a “system of ignorance, exploitation, and power to oppress African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Pacific Americans, American Indians and other people on the basis of ethnicity, culture, mannerisms, and color”. Manning’s’ definition is appealing because it puts a multi-ethnic face on the issue of racism, which is usually centered on the relationship between Black and White (Solorzaro, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000).

As mentioned earlier, the study was conducted through a series of focus-groups with thirty-four African American college students at three predominately white institutions (two public institutions, and one private institution). I was most intrigued by the fact that the researchers selected participants based on pre-determined criteria, although that specific criteria was not made available. With permission, the conversations were tape recorded, transcribed, and coded for data analysis. Using a qualitative approach with both open and closed-ended questions allows for liberal answers from participants which shows the intersectionality of several themes about race, gender, class, age, and disability.

The article was organized so that the connections between campus climate, academic microaggressions, and social microaggressions impact both the academic and social counter spaces. The information on microaggressions in the classroom is really impactful, as it serves as a segway into why Black students choose certain majors, why they are noticeable absent from STEM degrees, and why Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) still serve a purpose in higher education. Participants in this study reported that they are often the only student of color within the classroom, which leads to feelings of being ignored, and isolated. What I found particularly interesting was the intersection between the faculty perception and the student’s perception of themselves. One student who scored well on a math examination, was called into the professor’s office to be questioned about how he achieved the score, and was asked to re-take the examination a second time.

Additionally, the authors made a solid connection to the effects of microaggressions to counter spaces, which can be likened to the idea of “high stakes information networks as a source of community cultural wealth” (p. 542). as stated by Liou, Antrop-Gonzalez, and Cooper (2009) in their article on Community Cultural Wealth. Counter spaces include social networks, and organizations that minority students depend on for academic, moral, and spiritual support (i.e. Black student organizations, fraternities and sororities, church groups). This is important to my research because this shows not only the effects of the behavior, but, the alternative ways in which students cope with these small, yet, damaging form of racism.

One critique I have on this article, is that there could have been more statistical information provided in the method and findings section. The interviews were informative and gave life to the study, yet, it would have been better to understand the number of students who share the same feelings discovered in the interviews, and solid proof of their findings could be better understood through hard numbers. Also, the interview questions should have been in included in the article so that the nature and angle of the questions, and thus, the answers would be better analyzed by readers to see if there could be follow-up questions, or further areas of examination that were not included in the interview questions. The literature review was noticeably absent from the article, so I am not quite sure what other theories or previous studies have been conducted on the topic. However, the study’s conclusion was reasonable and coherent based on the examples and survey answers given by the participants.

While the study of microaggressions (microinequities) is not new, how we apply them to the educational environment greatly enhances the view from minority students and how they perform in in their respective programs. Personally, I have experienced microaggressions in my everyday life. They have been more apparent since I began working in higher education in a mid-level position, where there are few people of color in mid and senior-level positions. I see the relevance of this research as a practice-based issue in higher education as many practitioners are trained to apply student development theory to the educational process, but are not required to undergo any microaggression training to aid practitioners and faculty in identifying, and repudiate this form of bias.


Liou, D. D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the promise of community cultural wealth to sustaining latina/o students’ college going information networks. American Educational Studies Association, 534-555.

Solorzaro, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical race theory, microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college students. Journal of Negro Education, 69(1/2), 60-73.

Researcher Beware

First year teachers are like brand new pennies, they have been untouched by the issues in education, all shiny and new. They start out with their excited smiles and the “I’m going to change the world,” attitude. This is not to say that veteran teachers are not passionate about their role, but it is easy to see that veteran teachers have a weight on their shoulders. As teachers, we fight for what is right for our students and work without the resources we need, but we give our students the best education we can offer.

I remember the moment I realized that my students were not given the same opportunities. I was a first or second year teacher and I was at a music conference, still shiny and new. I was in awe, watching a middle school band; they were amazing! When the band finished playing, the director had the kids stand and take a bow. I was struck with the realization that, with the exception of four students, the entire ensemble was Caucasian. I instantly found this odd, as this was not the case at my school.

Then the director started talking about what he did to get the students to produce such incredible music. He was adamant that the teachers in the room needed to make sure the students were playing on matched instruments. Matched instruments! I was lucky if my students had instruments at all. Not only were these students all playing on school instruments, but they were all matched and brand new. It was at this point that I became a little tarnished. I was astonished that he had the budget for that. I had to fight for every piece of music I had and instruments were not an option. At that moment I realized that my students were disadvantaged and that the director and I were not playing on the same field.

While I read the article by Garcia and Ortiz (2013), I kept coming back to the same thoughts of my students. What could they have achieved had they been given the same access to resources? Garcia stated, educational equity remains an elusive goal for students from non-dominant racial, ethnic, linguistic and socio-cultural communities…” (Garcia & Ortiz, 2013) Our schools are not equitable. The students do not have the same classes, services, resources or diversity.

As I contemplate my research along with the articles, I was struck by the fact that my research could have a lasting effect on education. It is doubtful that teachers and researchers enter their field with thoughts of holding people back, yet the unconscious bias one has, can do just that. Gould discusses this very problem.

Morton made no attempt to cover his tracks and I must presume that he was unaware he had left them. He explained all his procedures and published all his raw data. All I can discern is an a priori conviction about racial ranking so powerful that it directed his tabulations along preestablished lines. Yet Morton was widely hailed as the objectivist of his age, the man who would rescue American science from the mire of unsupported speculation. (Gould, 1996)

The research presented by Morton was, in his eyes, objective. However, his research held bias towards minorities and had an impact on education and society. (Gould, 1996) If one looks at the demographics of our schools, specifically race, and the access they have to resources, it is easy to see that the bias Morton held, still affect us today. “Education equity remains an elusive goal for students from non-dominant racial, ethnic, linguistic, and socio-cultural communities; the research conducted to-date has not been successful in altering this trajectory.” (Garcia & Ortiz, 2013)

I find myself wary of my own possible bias as I approach the start of my research. As previously stated, it is doubtful that any researcher has the intent of causing harm to another person or culture; however, it is clearly possible. How does one avoid such a disaster? If I were required to list my bias at this very moment, I don’t know that I would be able to write anything down. In order to know what one’s bias is critical reflection must be utilized. As discussed by Howard, “Critical reflection is the type of processing that is crucial to the concept of culturally relevant pedagogy.”(Howard, 2003) He goes on to state that “Critical reflection should include an examination of how race, culture, and social class shape students’ thinking learning, and various understandings of the world.” (Howard, 2003) This could also be applied to researchers and educators. If educators have a clear understanding of how race, culture and social class shape their own thinking, we would have a better idea of our bias and how we are unconsciously communicating these ideas to our students. What becomes plainly obvious is that researchers in general need to spend time in critical reflection in order to keep the bias from affecting their work, as it did with Melton. By using Melton (Gould, 1996) as an example, one can find the following guidance:

  1. Look at the whole picture, be aware of the sub-samples and be consistent in the collection of the data.
  2. Set bias aside and confirm that the results can be reproduced
  3. Keep an open mind. If the data leads to alternate hypotheses, follow it.
  4. Check the math and leave nothing out.

As I set out to tackle my own research, critical reflection will play a role in my awareness of how I fit into the culture I will be studying. By being aware of my preconceived notions of culture, race and social class prior to my research I may be able to keep my ideas of such from hindering my research. The idea that I could impact others’ lives is both exciting and intimidating, as there is a fear there that research can hinder as much as help.

Garcia, S. B., & Ortiz, A. A. (2013). Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Lerners, 13(2), 32–47.

Gould, S. (1996). The Mismeasure of Man: American Polygeny and Craniometry Before Darwin. The “racial” economy of science (pp. 30–72). New York: WW Norton & Company. Retrieved from

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195–202. Retrieved from