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White Female Teachers + Black Students = Mis-Education

An entire qualitative study is warranted on the inescapable, yet subtle ways that mis-education is propagated at the hands of seemingly benevolent White, female teachers whose disdain for Black students is glaringly apparent in microaggressions. Black students, the world over, have long been subjected to pedagogical racism in the various forms of: lowered expectations, assignment as pet projects/mascots, target practice for linguistic “speak standard English only” oppressive zones, poster children for the disproportionately tested, used as behavior referral and prison pipeline guinea pigs and as unethical study subjects in Tuskegee experiment styled, Common Core curriculum infused trials. Black students bemoan the recurrent disservice of being forced to act as ‘unofficial’ spokespersons #ForTheCulture and being shamelessly misused as fodder for slavery re-enactment displays (reeking of racism, yet poorly disguised as hands-on “history” lessons). For Black students, the K-12 years are akin to a torturous  journey of re-enslavement in which abject tokenism, tyranny and exploitation informs nearly every interaction with the vast majority of their White, female teachers. Too strong a statement? No. An over exaggerated assessment of Black students’ reality? I think not. But of course, this ideology is entirely dependent upon one’s perspective.  Consider that it is White Women who overwhelmingly elected Trump and that this is the same demographic who aggressively persists in reporting an incredulous litany of  non-crimes of law-abiding Black people to police on an almost weekly basis across the country. Clearly this troubling behavior exposes a pattern of behavior which does not lie dormant during the course of a typical school year. Informed analysis reveals that the same racism, classism and oppressive power dynamics which are manifest in society have disastrous implications upon all students of color and particularly on the psyche of Black students. Essentially, Black students are merely surviving the K-12 trajectory, but are not thriving and this is merely a testament to our well-honed survival skills in preparation for suffering a dreaded lifetime of institutionalized oppression. Acknowledge that any post secondary pursuit of academic excellence beyond the initial baptism by fire of the first 12 years of school, comprises the sum total of Black people’s remarkable ability to withstand hostility filled classroom environments, in which White women wield the only degree of power this patriarchal society allows them to exercise.

In terms of recognizing the telltale signs of modern-day mis-education in the covert form of microaggressions, the insidious hatred takes on many forms. From the common scenario in which a Black student (insert any student of color), innocently requests to go to the restroom with the question “Can I go to the bathroom, please?”, to which the White, female teacher (insert any holier than thou, privileged person in authority) snarkily replies “I don’t know? Can you go to the restroom?!”, in an apparent reference to the improper use of grammar. For the mortified student, they have just been publicly maligned and sarcastically corrected by a respected person of authority who casually assumes the role of the grammar police, thereby rendering the classroom as not a place of learning where everyone is welcome – and grammar lessons are delivered at appropriate times – but as a protected, White space in which no student of color dare exercise agency or free expression. Of course, the indignant power dynamic of centering whiteness as the norm is not new, on the contrary, racists publicly correct the language use of all people of color and regard all spaces as their personal domain to police as they deem fit – please reference pertinent examples.  Clearly, for the unsuspecting student in the aforementioned scenario, there are no valued lessons learned. They will retain only the harmful memory of having been embarrassed for innocently expressing a legitimate need, and become adept at internalizing oppression and ceasing to be themselves in a hostile environment. Whereas, the clueless teacher (even if confronted by a parent), fails to see the harm in utilizing what they deem to be a #TeachableMoment and ponders, in vain, as to how to better infuse music, slang and/or any host of other manipulative stereotypes as a means to effectively reach their Black students who don’t seem receptive to their loving, standards-based and welcoming classroom. Ha! Therein lies the rub, indeed a problem for the ages. The disproportionate diversity demographics of 80% predominantly White, female teachers to an almost equal number of students of color is an indictment upon an American educational system which has its historic foundation upon institutionalized racism and separate, unequal practices which essentially informs the ever-widening achievement gap. How will authentic education ever be accomplished in the midst of such divergent perspectives? It is my contention that no real learning can take place at all given this oppressive model (sigh), only gross mis-education.

As shared in my own qualitative, narrative dissertation of the prevalent (yet oft-ignored), phenomena of mis-education, the study concluded that the narrative voice of Black educators must be afforded a prominent platform as a pertinent means for ‘resident experts’ to willingly share of their own degree of mis-education and to similarly propose the best, evidence-based practices to successfully counter the debilitating effects of suffering a daily onslaught of microaggressions within the classroom setting. Among the all too common themes which frequently emerge in the empirical data of Black students suffering mis-education, there are incidents of being told that “You speak/read/learn/ compute very well” as if African genius is an anomaly or that “You are a credit to your race” as a supposed compliment by an authority figure who actually believes that they have their innate bias in check. Despite record levels of creative innovation and educational advancements, Black people are still being acknowledged as “the firsts” in so many diverse arenas and in the presence of equally (or even lesser) educated peers. We are generally regarded as “the help” or as having earned a position through affirmative action, while being unfairly compensated for performing the same professional capacities. In fact, among the academic community and in society in general, White women and men so often leverage their Whiteness to game the system, that it limits  their capacity to ascribe natural genius to Black people at all. There’s such a wealth of insidious, persistent stereotypes governing  educational policy in the key areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment and scholarly research that it is fairly common to still be the only person of color to be published in elite journals, sought as featured presenters, or to occupy the seats on policy boards which empower us to wield significant power in schools to effect the change needed to turn the tide of mis-education. Until Black scholars (and all people of conscience who support our revolutionary efforts to decolonize education) collaborate in exposing these issues throughout districts and via targeted government appointments – students of color will continue to comprise the ranks of the oppressed. Far too many Black, Asian, Latinx and Indigenous students have been undervalued for their (or their family’s) immigrant status and asked to clarify where they are born, or to say words in their native language on command. In terms of the microaggression of color blindness – in what alternate reality has it ever been appropriate to foolishly proclaim that you “Don’t even see color” or that “I have Black friends”?  Please be crystal clear in recognizing that all claims of color-blindness are as offensive as the day is long, yet such statements are repeatedly uttered by folks who would rather pretend that they don’t acknowledge another’s ethnicity as preferable to being mindfully conscious of and ultimately working everyday not to weaponize their normative whiteness and privilege through self-education and concerted effort. 

It is clear that for White, female teachers and Black students . . . nearly all interactions are problematic, particularly given the power dynamics of an outdated, yet all-too-common classroom construct, whereby the teacher is the sole authority figure and students’ are regarded as merely empty vessels waiting to be filled. For White, privileged education policy makers, there is no apparent urgency to increase the diversity of America’s teaching force or to level the playing field of potential success for Black students because the intentional design of the system holds that some students will inevitably fail.  There is no authentic crisis in the myopic view of policy makers, as long as the student failures reside squarely within the demographic of Black students, and other students of color.  An analysis of multiple studies devoted to the Black-White student achievement gap conclude that systemic discrimination and generational poverty are at fault for the massive disparity in student achievement and this is indeed a sound conclusion, supported by data. However, little attention is paid to the direct correlation between the overwhelmingly White teaching force and the increasingly diverse student populace, as a primary contributing factor to the ever-present achievement gap. From a purely statistical perspective, it is absolutely unacceptable for there to be such a dearth of quality, educators of color (in general) and Black educators (in particular), to teach our increasingly Black and Brown student majority.  Honestly, how can you teach me, if you don’t know me, respect my worldview (often antithetical to your own), or love me? It’s arguably impossible to learn, think critically or prosper when subjected to the same level of purse clutching fear and abject hostility in play elsewhere. Although studies have shown that there is no effect upon White students when they have Black teachers, the exact opposite is true for Black students who are irreparably damaged and otherwise mis-educated from a lifetime of exposure to the White, female homogeneity of the schools. Still, there’s been little to no national recruitment efforts sponsored by educational policy makers to significantly and permanently increase teacher diversity, at a rate which honors, values and is commensurate with the overwhelming ranks of students of color. Even the New York Times cited diversity and bias training as only a temporary remedy to addressing an age-old problem. Yet, many schools fail to even undertake this preventative measure, thus ushering in an entire era of tone deaf, misguided, out of touch White teachers who could care less that their repeated, failed attempts to “teach” students of color, only reinforces their innate bias, privilege and normalizing the tendency to project a superiority complex over our children. Sigh . . . and so a vicious cycle proliferates.

Undoubtedly, there are countless exceptions to the rule, in the form of admirable, White women educators who are staunch professionals, conscious of their White privilege and who are instrumental in sounding the alarm re: the need for change. However for others, the sincere message is this – listen up clueless colonizers: no más, no more, no ma’am! Keep your ‘Angelina Jolie wanting to adopt us’ energy; coupled with your ‘Sandra Bullock I’m only married to racists and star in Hollywood savior films for fun’ energy; and especially your ‘Alyssa Milano #FakeWoke, wannabe anti-racist, Twitter fingers-activist screaming “I see you, I feel you, I AM YOU” toxic, empath energy back to the ‘unsolicited, denounce Min. Farrakhan or else soapbox, which you hastily handcrafted to showcase your poorly disguised allegiance, while inadvertently outing your own unchecked superiority complex’. By all means, keep your ‘detached suburban living, my own children attend private school and my conservative political preferences are private’ energy waaayyy over there. Because trust me, Black students/parents and the community in general are already accustomed to carrying the heaviest load in terms of our own freedom from oppression, so you are either helping or harming the cause – there is no middle ground. It helps tremendously to be mindful of never engaging in widespread posturing, placating or complete ignorance to the power imbalance that the average classroom environment cultivates and governing yourselves accordingly.  As a viable starting point towards a solution for what ails the system of mis-education engendered by White, female teachers and Black students is to engage:

  • Nationwide Recruitment/Retention of Black Teachers – It is pivotal to honor and attune the entire education community to the empowered voices and opinions of Black educators who are as commonly tokenized and disrespected as valued professionals as are Black students in the classroom. Black educators have long been vocal about the need for increased support in both entering and sustaining a viable future in the education profession. Thus, nationwide recruitment and retention strategies are key.
  • Diversity & Inclusion Training – Racism, elitism and White privilege are so firmly rooted in education as to render diversity training one of many mandated curriculum strands required for the well-rounded, rigorous and relevant professional development offerings of all educators and pedagogical leaders. Every school needs rigorous, relevant and competent diversity training, ideally at the hands of an experienced Black scholar educator well-versed in institutionalized oppression in schools, in order for each institution to attempt to rid itself of its own unique form of the universal scourge of racism.
  • Scholarly Research (both Qualitative and Quantitative) – Without question, the demographic impact of the prominent number of White women in leadership of diverse classrooms and schools must be thoroughly researched and analyzed in terms of their reinforcement of the ‘survival of the fittest’ culture, which supports the status quo and sustains institutionalized oppression. Any and all attempts to contribute to the virtually non-existent, 21st Century knowledge base of mis-education in the field of educational policy are welcomed.
  • Policy Change & Legislative Action – It’s not enough to support ongoing mass opposition to DeVos’ racist policies, targeted commercialization and the widespread privatization of schools. Teachers nationwide engaged in protesting and fighting for better pay and legislative change while opposing future cuts to education must similarly advocate for increased federal/state investment in anti-racist teacher education and all other complementary efforts to decolonize pedagogy through anti-racist curriculum, instructional and disciplinary protocols rooted in equity and justice. Educators have a collective obligation to actively work towards leveling the playing field in the areas of: recruitment, hiring and teacher retention strategies while simultaneously tackling the increasing incidents of racism and xenophobia in all of our K-12 schools and college campuses across the country. 

Educational institutions and teachers which continue to operate in a vacuum, business as usual, despite the presence of the significant injustices buoyed by the overwhelming number of White, female teachers and Black students will only serve to exacerbate the problem of  mis-education. 

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Why Every School Needs Diversity Training . . . NOW

Racism in America is vile, all-consuming, repugnant, pervasive, intertwined into the very foundation, and so systemic that it permeates every institution, historical document, law, tradition, value, community, geographic location, organization, corporation/business, socioeconomic and political structure and is seamlessly embedded into the very psyche of every, single American, without exception. Insofar as America is synonymous with racism and is the modern progenitor of a capitalist infused, globally exerted brand of institutionalized racism, the two are inextricably tied by historical fact and as unaltered over time. Now that the epistemology of America’s racism has been prefaced, we can begin to examine the intersection between racism and education and interrogate the value of diversity training from a common knowledge base.

Among scholars, historians, and even some scientists the permanence of racism in the fabric of American society is an inarguable fact – and the emboldened degrees of hatred and xenophobia we have experienced under the inane presidency of such a virulent racist like Donald Trump has reached new heights. As such, the sheer frequency of newsworthy, racism-fueled actions across the nation have re-ignited the narrative on anti-bias and diversity training in corporations, small businesses and institutions alike. This awareness-filled instruction is neither proactive nor commendable when adopted merely as a “politically correct” facade to salvage the credibility, public image and financial coffers of an institution after having fallen prey to public shame and scandal (think Starbucks). Yet, the overwhelmingly successful and ongoing “unconscious bias” training at Google has established the Internet search engine giant as one of the most successful organizations in the U.S. for attracting younger and more culturally diverse applicants. With a sizable majority of 40.28% of young people preferring to work at Google, citing people/culture fit (and not compensation), as the primary impetus for their employment decisions; Google has the pick of the litter when it comes to recruiting young and diverse Millennials (Agrawal, 2014, Harvard Business Review). Essentially, diversity and inclusion programs have re-emerged, rightfully so, as a viable counter to the universality of racism in Trump’s America, thus it is now time for ALL schools to follow suit.

The popular trend of soliciting police enforcement to assuage White people’s fears, unfounded hatred and racist ideologies is now so commonplace that it is not limited to: driving while Black, waiting in Starbucks while Black, golfing while Black, grilling in public parks while Black, checking out of Airbnb’s while Black and/or simply breathing while Black in countless public spaces – but has permeated our schools as well. In May, 2018 Shanna Swearingen, a school principal in Houston, Texas made a racist, offhand remark to her staff about a disabled, Black student who had run out of class, that she should “call the police and tell them the student had a gun so they would come quicker”. Although she was unavailable for public comment following the justified public uproar her comment elicited, the unfit administrator later released a statement juxtaposing her wholly thoughtless remark with the “hard year” the community had experienced from the damage of Hurricane Harvey (imagine the Caucasity?!). From the ranks of the teaching staff, racism-fueled transgressions run the gamut from teachers like Dayanna Volitich, 25, who taught social studies at Crystal River Middle School in Florida and secretly hosted a White supremacist podcast espousing anti-Black, and anti-muslim views. Prior to resigning in shame after being outed by the Huffington Post, Volitich publicly admitted to lying to her school principal in response to parents’ complaints that she had injected her toxic political bias in classroom instruction. She feigned alignment with the school’s curriculum during classroom observations and evaluations. She even used social media to promote her belief that her White nationalist peers needed to infiltrate public schools as teachers. Across the country, other teachers have increasingly come under fire for assigning racist, insensitive and subjective class projects on enslavement to uttering racial epithets during the course of instruction or while disciplining students. Adding insult to injury, on June 5, 2018 an elementary teacher was reprimanded by her school’s board for posting a photo of the back of one of her student’s braided heads beside a stereotypical image of a pickaninny on her Instagram account. Such reprehensible examples of racism are not limited to administrators and staff however, but manifest among the students as well. As recently as May, 2018 four Maryland teens faced misdemeanor hate crimes and multiple counts of destruction of property for spray-painting their collective sentiments of hatred on topics ranging from race, color, religious belief, and sexual orientation all across their high school exterior. Their offensive display of swastikas and slurs were documented by school cameras and reported to have been targeted to the Howard County high school’s Black principal, in particular. Alas, this is America(n) education.

Needless to say, racism is no less apparent beyond the scope of K-12 education. Following a highly publicized incident of racism-fueled police intervention on the campus of Yale University at the behest of a known racist, undergraduate student, (when a Black student fell asleep in the dorm room lounge, where she is an authorized resident no less), Yale’s president Peter Salovey released a statement positing “personally, recent events have led me to reflect in new ways on the ordinary daily actions each of us can take to show empathy, to see and understand what others are experiencing, and to combat hate and exclusion”. His woefully insufficient personal sentiment for morality and goodwill paled in comparison to the candor and brevity in the response of Kimberly Goff-Crews, the university’s vice president for student life, who sent an email to students, unapologetically documenting that the predominantly White Ivy League school still has “so much more to do” to address discrimination (Gontcharova, 2018). The administrative response of the latter is resoundingly more appropriate and instructive to us all, in that racism and its insidious by-products cannot be wished or empathized into submission but must be combatted through targeted, conscious action on the part of pedagogical leaders who are empowered to either counter or proliferate the existence of America’s immense structure of institutionalized racism. We must also permanently retire the common misperception among White teachers that because they chose the teaching profession (and work in urban or high-needs schools), they can’t be racist. Historically, the teaching profession is not unlike others in that it was tasked with the expressed purpose of perpetuating Whiteness/White supremacy via curriculum and policies.

Racism, elitism and White privilege are so firmly rooted in education as to render diversity training one of many mandated curriculum strands required for the well-rounded, rigorous and relevant professional development offerings of all educators and pedagogical leaders. In America, schools suffer the unchecked, rampant presence of institutionalized racism in the various forms of: the re-emerging presence of segregated schools, the DeVos inspired growth of for-profit charter schools, the inherently biased per-pupil-funding allotment formula (tied to generational wealth, housing discrimination, zip codes, and property values), an outdated Eurocentric curriculum, the marked absence of diversity in teacher education, school disciplinary practices tied to the intentional expansion of the prison industrial complex (I.E. the school-to-prison pipeline), and the widening of the achievement gap – largely fueled by the legendary and still pervasive mis-eduction of Black students. Educational institutions that continue to operate in a vacuum, business as usual, despite the presence of these significant injustices will only serve to exacerbate the problem of racism in education, given that from a societal standpoint – our differences are widening and the presence of racism is more, not less pronounced. A seismic shift in America’s demographics is presently underway and by 2050 the Census Bureau has long predicted that Blacks, Latinos and all other cultural ethnicities will comprise the majority population in the U.S. According to a study on the impact of America’s imminent minority-majority shift based upon Census data, scientists Richeson and Craig found that exposure to the census report nudged study participants to be more conservative on a variety of policies. The findings published in Psychological Science, further surmise that the reality of America’s increasing cultural plurality provokes White people of all political backgrounds to become more conservative and is deemed as a status threat to the existing social order of White supremacy. Ultimately, Richeson and Craig conclude that the lightning speed of increasing diversity might indeed render America an even more hostile, and less compassionate place (as if!). These findings, coupled with the alarming absence of diversity in teacher education, which according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Education reflects a diversity growth rate of only 0.2% since 1988, means that as soon as 2024, while students of diverse ethnicities will make up more than half of U.S. classrooms, minority teachers (if hiring continues at its current pace), will only comprise 20.5 percent of the educator workforce. This statistic alone signals that education is ground zero as the nucleus of disproportionate rates of institutionalized racism and gross inequalities.

The evils of racism are ever-present and observable in each of the aforementioned contexts, despite well-meaning arguments to the contrary. Although there are certainly periods of dormancy, some which have even sparked the incredulous theory (myth), of a post-racial society – all signs point to the impact of racism getting much worse, long before things get better. Targeted education c/o the universal inclusion of diversity training in all schools, is warranted. “It’s a myth that our country will somehow become more progressive. And it’s equally a myth to think that our children will save us”, according to Yale University social psychologist Jennifer Richeson. “Yes, there have been gains in policy like allowing interracial marriage and discrimination laws, but when it comes to our interpersonal biases, it’s simply not true that we just need to wait for the few old racist men left in the South to die off and then we’ll be fine. The rhetoric for racism is still in place. The environment for racism is still there. Unless we change that, we can’t lessen racism” (Kaplan & Wan, 2017). The deeply embedded, structural nature of the institution of racism in America and in particular within education, is fixed and manifests through traditional policies and practices. Therefore, as long as we do the same things, we will engender the same results. Diversity and anti-bias training initiatives are but one salient remedy to treat the scourge of the terminal cancer of racism that has permeated this diseased American society. Every school needs rigorous, relevant and competent diversity training now, in order to attempt to rid itself of its own unique form of the universal illness of racism. Even then, this remedy should not be administered in isolation, but rather must be strategically coupled with other liberating efforts like: the ongoing mass opposition to DeVos’ targeted commercialization and privatization of schools; teachers nationwide protesting and fighting for better pay and legislative change; all Americans opposing future cuts to education and advocating for increased federal and state investment in our schools; decolonizing the curriculum, instruction and disciplinary protocols; leveling the playing field in recruitment, hiring and teacher retention strategies while tackling the increasing incidents of racism and xenophobia in all of our K-12 schools and college campuses. This is a powerful call to action to #EducateToLiberate and impact the real crises in education . . . of which institutionalized racism is at the very, rotten core.