Monday, July 17, 2017

A Tale of Bridging Divides in Trust: New Literary Perspectives

Hi all!

        So far, this class really has my head spinning with new ideas and new perspectives that build on what I have already learned.  I am really happy that I took this course because it feels like somewhat of a continuation of what I started learning about in Dr. Adrienne Dixson's Course at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, EPS 536: Race, Gender, and Sexuality Issues. During her class, we learned about incredibly important and somewhat ignored principles such as Cheryl Harris's notion of race as property (as found in Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, and Thomas,1995), colorblindness (Anderson, 2007), and critical race theory, defined by Delgado and Stefancic (2006) as, "[a] movement [which] is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power." This week's readings in particular had me thinking differently about teacher/student/community responsibility in the classroom in particular, and how that relates to the element of trust.
        One book I found particularly illuminating in that class was by Ann Arnett Ferguson, a professor of Afro-American and Women's Studies at Smith College. It is entitled "Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity" (2001), and details Arnett Ferguson's fieldwork in an intervention program for "at-risk" kids at a public elementary school in Los Angeles, of course, largely Black and Hispanic. The book deals a lot with the subject of cultural miscommunication, and the fact that white teachers don't get to know the kids in their community context fully and assume they are being disrespectful, which creates many more problems. Reflecting on this, I feel that Rita Tenorio's (as found in Bigelow, c1994-c2001) sentiments about trust are very appropriate here. She says, "Throughout the 20 years I've worked with children and their families, I've always felt that trust was a key component to success." (p.131).
        For me, the most important factors that I feel have been addressed in both classes and in most of the works that I have read so far is this theme of the need to gain the trust of your students, and to go beyond learning the surface features of your students. However, it seems to be assumed that teachers automatically trust students, even if they don't know much about them. In my three years of experience as a substitute teacher and a third-party observer of classrooms in multiple states here in America, I also feel that teachers need to trust the students, their parents, and the students' communities. This sentiment seems to be largely missing from pretty much all of the books or articles I have read throughout these two courses.  Many works mention teachers who are uncomfortable talking about race, but none address the fact that many white teachers are simply afraid in some ways of their students of color.  
        John Ogbu (1992) talks about helping involuntary minority communities to "learn to separate attitudes and behaviors enhancing school success from those that lead to linear acculturation or "acting white" (p.12), but how can, for example, Black students, learn to trust white people and "play the classroom game" (p.12) if they don't feel safe or protected? Boutte, LaPoint, and Davis (1993) talk about parents, students, and teachers condoning ethnic jokes (p.11). Tenorio (c1994-c2001) talks about how early on in her classroom teaching she tried to soothe racial issues with the balm of colorblindness and 'we are all an equal part of humankind' talk (p.32). Many teachers I have interacted with in this current class (Curriculum and Instruction 446) have expressed to me how they feel that race is an open discussion factor in their schools; however, in the many, many public schools I have taught at in Florida, Oregon, and Connecticut, race is still a very taboo subject in the classroom and even in the teachers lounge.  What I have found is schools who claim in some way or another to be 'multiculturally responsive', but as soon as the topic is broached among white teachers, it is met with either uncomfortable silence or, even worse, ignorant teachers' own assumptive views of what is wrong with a student or students, their families, etc. usually based on race and correlated often with socioeconomic status. Or, race is even ignored altogether in favor of blaming socioeconomic status. I'm not sure which is worse or more detrimental to these teacher/student/school relationships.
        I could so relate to Picca and Feagin's research (2007) as detailed in the 8th edition of James Banks and Cherry McGee Banks' work, Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives (2012). In Chapter 11 they discuss the "Frontstage" and "Backstage" (pp 204-205) of everyday racism among white college students and students of color.  In the context of being a substitute teacher where the teachers are largely white females, I have constantly been in the backstage and witnessed assumptive racist dialogues. They are only okay when it's hush hush and between white teachers, and it is clear to me that teachers do not trust their students, their parents, or the communities of color from which the students come. Moreover, I recognize that there seems to be a buzzword among white teachers for schools where students of color are majorities: "challenging".  I wrote very clearly about this concept and the aforementioned issues in a paper for my other class (Griffiths, 2015). I said, "after substitute teaching for about three months within this district, I have come to know that this term is a code word white teachers here seem to use to denote schools who have lots of students with perceived disciplinary or emotional “problems”, often schools with high populations of students of color." (2015).
        In Cristina Igoa's work, The Inner World of the Immigrant Child (1995), Igoa talks about her own experience as an immigrant coming to the school system in America (p.5). One would assume that, because Igoa is an immigrant and can relate in many ways to the experience of being uprooted and going to a brand new country, that she perhaps relates to her students a bit more from the outset. I have not read any pieces throughout the two courses that really discuss the relationship between teachers of color and students of color, or involuntary minority (Ogbu, 1992) teachers and whether or not involuntary minority students are more successful in these contexts; however, I would imagine that if social acceptance is a factor for involuntary minority communities, seeing a teacher of color model academic success while at the same time staying true to his or her racial roots may help lead to student success. 
        Igoa (1995) and Ogbu (1992) both seem to agree on the idea that ultimately, students are responsible for their own empowerment.  I love that Ogbu delves deeper into an alternative explanation for why certain minority communities simply aren't, for the most part, having success in the white power structure of public education. For me, this knowledge can be powerful in that it can possibly help to combat the backstage racism in offering another alternative to the popular white teacher dialogues of "black people just don't value education", or "students of color are just disrespectful for no reason", etc. If white people understand that they are working in an institution that pushes white values in a society that pushes white empowerment, they can perhaps understand why students are acting this way. 
        Unfortunately, where Ogbu's theory in my mind fails is that it does seem to place a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the students in terms of reconciling them to the white education structure. I don't agree with him 100% that it is black students that need to be "counseled" to "play the game" so they can get ahead. I am still of the opinion that white teachers not only need to be educated about racial issues, but white power structures need to change to be more responsive. Understanding Ogbu's theory is provocative in a positive way; if teachers understand it, it will make them think--but what can they do to help empower students who feel so disenfranchised? Certainly, they need to adjust themselves and white power structure need to change. Furthermore, I think there is some danger in Ogbu's lumping of the races into "involuntary minorities" akin to the "weak" race theories detailed in the PBS video series we watched, "Race: The Power of an Illusion" (2003). I could see Ogbu's theories simply becoming a part of the racist white dialogue: "Oh, you know (whispering), I heard that black people don't do as well in school because they are set on being different from white people. That's why they are so disrespectful." 
        In my mind, the responsibility first lies with the white power structures. There needs to be change. However, I return full circle to the element of trust: there absolutely, positively need to be more programs in the community to bring people of color and the school teachers, administrators, etc. together to discuss these important issues and to learn more about each other. We need to be nosy; we need to be uncomfortable in order to become comfortable and to learn, first and foremost, to trust our students so that they can trust us.

Peace, Anna


Anderson, J. (2007).  Race-Conscious Educational Policies Versus a “Color-Blind Constitution”: A Historical Perspective. Educational Researcher, 36(5), 249-257. doi: 10.3102/0013189X07306534

Bigelow, Bill. (Eds.) (1994-c2001) Rethinking our classrooms :teaching for equity and justice / [editors ... Bill Bigelow ... et al.]. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.

Cheng, J. (Writer), Shim, I. (Writer). (April 2003). RACE - The Power of an Illusion [Television series]. In L. Adelman (Producer). San Francisco, CA: California Newsreel.

Delgado, Richard, Stefancic, Jean. (2001) Critical race theory: an introduction. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Ferguson, Ann Arnett. (2000). Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Griffiths, A. (2015). Is Asking Racist? Examining The "Challenging" School In An Attempt To Understand And Create Better Social Justice For Colored Students. Unpublished manuscript. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL. 

Harris, C. as found in Crenshaw, K., Gotanda, N., Peller, G., Thomas, K. (1995). Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement. New York, NY: New Press (pp. 276-291).

Igoa, Cristina. (1995) The Inner World of the Immigrant Child. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Ogbu, J. (1992). Understanding Cultural Diversity and Learning. Educational Researcher, 21(8), 5-14 + 24.

Boutte, G.S, LaPoint, S., & Davis, B. (1993). Racial Issues in Education: Real or Imagined? Young Children, 49(1), 11-15.

Picca, L.H., & Feagin, J.R. (2007). Backstage Racism: Implications for Teaching. In J.A. Banks & C.A. Banks (Eds.), Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives (201-215). Bloomberg, IN: Courier Kendalville, Inc.