Black educators are not immune from implicit bias
When I thought to write this blogpost, I was preparing to bombard the reader with a host of studies, research and data to prove my point. There is so much information on implicit bias that it was becoming overwhelming; so, I thought, why not allow the reader to employ simple common sense. Oh…I know we have been told that common sense is not common, but, what the heck…let’s give it a try.
This past month, I sent over 100 messages to various elementary and secondary schools in Indiana to invite them to take part in a professional development workshop series entitled When Race Enters the Room: The role of race in the classroom. These schools have a student population that is predominantly African American and some also have their fair share of Latino students. Certainly, I was concerned with the demographics of the teaching staff and the leadership, but, nonetheless, I believed all schools needed the workshop based on my studies.
Imagine my surprise when I received messages from the schools with a staff that matched their student population. They said the workshop series was not necessary because their teachers were Black or Latino. Really? ‘You believe you have it all under control, do you?’ was my thought. This type of thinking is unfortunate because implicit bias and warped perceptions do not discriminate.
So, common sense should now prevail. Implicit bias and prejudices are a fact of life and virtually impossible to escape; but, this is how it works. We believe that White people and others are affected by the negative images that are seen in the media and the history books. Do we really believe that Black people are immune to these negative images?
I have come in contact with a host of Black and Latino teachers who have low expectations in the classroom or who are reluctant to implement a culturally competent curriculum. Their belief is that the African American dialect is not proper. To say that it is not proper is to degrade the culture of the student. Certainly, the dialect is proper in the appropriate context. It may not be universally accepted, but it fulfills its purpose. According to Britannica, communication serves five major purposes: (1) to inform, (2) to express feelings, (3) to imagine, (4) to influence, and (5) to meet social expectations. In certain settings, the African American dialect satisfies these conditions; whereas, Standard American English (SAE) does not.
Let’s take this a step further and examine history. If you are a history teacher, regardless of your race, that used the term “worker” I place of “slave,” you need to sign up for this workshop. If you have plastered your classroom walls with the usual African American suspects…you know the ones…Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Frederick Douglas, etc. etc. …please enroll in the class that offers cultural competent strategies and culturally correct information. You see, Jackie Robinson was not the first African American to play in the Majors and Rosa Parks was certainly not the first African American to refuse to give up her seat. If you are teaching this information, it is critical that you learn the truth so you can spread the truth.
We all have implicit biases and prejudices and to acknowledge them is the beginning of transforming your perceptions. In the classroom, this transformation is crucial when accessing these young impressionable minds. I recall my first assignment as a principal and we had to conduct a perception survey. Eighty-five percent of the teachers believed the students were incapable of learning. This survey took place at a school with a predominately African American population with a fairly diverse staff. It stands to reason that it was not just the White teachers who had come to this unfortunate conclusion.
As an educator, I consider it a privilege to be allowed to access and mold the minds of our future leaders. I take nothing for granted and I seek to improve not only my skill set and content knowledge, but also to evaluate my behavior in the classroom and how it affects the students. I have acknowledged my own biases and will continue to work with others to do the same for the sake of our young people.
Do a self-check at this point. In your math class, you have a White student, a Latino student, a Black student and an Asian student. Which student do you expect to excel over the others? Do not run to your politically correct response. Be honest with yourself. If you are the type of teacher who is genuinely interested in the academic success and positive social and emotional development of all students, you will answer honestly (the Asian student) and you will commit to acknowledging your biases and adjusting your behaviors in the classroom.
Tamiko Jordan has worked in the field of education as a K-12 Spanish teacher, a principal and an educational consultant for the past 20 years. She has also served as an executive in youth development and is the founder of Beyond the Gap.