Spring and Fall 2004 - Volume II, Issue 4
I was nine years old when I followed my little brother and
his friends into the woods behind my step-grandparents' house. Watching them
swagger down the narrow tree rooted path, I heard them bantering about what they
were going to do when they got to the ditch. The deeper we got into the woods,
the more my fear of snakes arose, so I walked slowly and quietly behind them.
When I heard boys' laughter coming from behind a clump of trees just ahead of
us, I quickened my steps, forgetting about the snakes. In the midst of all the
dense trees was a clearing that led to a ditch. Thick tree branches hung like a
dome over both sides of the ditch. Although the hot summer sun beamed above the
trees, the cold water from the ditch generated a coolness. The floor beneath the
dome was like a well-worn carpet that endured much foot traffic.
When I reached the opening to the clearing, I froze in my tracks as I heard my
brother yell out, “Hey, what y'all doin'?” A young White boy, about my brother's
age, ran toward the Black boys, his friends following along. I saw, beyond the
boys, a tree with two ropes over a thick limb and two tires hanging at one end
of each rope. Watching the White boys, I expected something bad to happen. I
heard the mumbling of excited voices surrounding me as the tires on the rope
swung back and forth. The screaming laughter of the boys broke my trance. The
White boy had called my brother by his full name as he pointed to the ropes. My
brother's shoulders jumped when he laughed inside while he tried to keep a
serious look on his face. He did not like to be called by his full name. But it
was something different about the way he reacted. I could not see his face, but
I could see his shoulders jumping as he stood there listening. They were all
excited and talking over one another. One of the other boys was asking, “How you
do dat?” The White boys explained how they got the ropes tied around the tree
limb. “We tie the rope 'round the tires,” said the White boy who called my
brother by name. My brother was cautious, so he told them to go first. They
watched the White boys run and jump on the tires, swing to the other side of the
ditch, and jump off. Tossing caution to the wind, my brother and his friends
tried it. Before long they were laughing, joking, jumping on each other, and
having a good time.
A few days before that day in the woods, the
little White boy who talked so animatedly to my brother would not so much as
whisper to him when we were with my step-grandmother in the store. You see, my
step-grandmother worked as his family's housekeeper six days a week. Whenever my
brother and I had to meet her at work, she was ready when we arrived. We rarely
entered the house to wait for her, so our interactions with this White boy, in
his own home, were limited and controlled. I cautioned my brother about what
White people would do if they saw “Colored children and White children playing
together.” In spite of my efforts to keep him from playing in the woods, I knew
they continued to play by the ditch for the rest of that summer. I never told
anybody what the boys were doing in the woods.
I had heard whispers
of a relative being hanged, and I was aware of other hangings in North Carolina.
Therefore, upon seeing the ropes, tires, and White boys, I felt danger in the
air. I understood enough to know that boys swinging on a rope across a ditch of
cold water on a hot summer day was fun, not a lynching party. Yet, watching the
boys play with each other in secrecy, I wondered why it was so important to
White adults to keep White children and Black children separated. I was never
told to stay away from White people. I was told to be mindful of what I said and
how I acted around them. Growing up in the South, I knew that something bad
happened to Black people when they said or did something that excited White
I grew up in Virginia, in Southampton County, where Nat
Turner in 1831 led a slave revolt, and signs for “Whites Only” and “Colored
Only” designating points of entrance, remained posted in the early nineteen
sixties. So, I was aware that White people and Black people knew “their place.”
I was five years old when the pharmacist told my mother she could not sit at the
counter to wait for my prescription because it was for “Whites Only.” She had
walked almost a mile carrying me in her arms because I was too sick to walk. She
moved from the counter to a table knowing that it was for “Whites Only.” She was
too tired to go the back. No one said anything. That memory framed how I learned
to think about my place in a racialized world.
I recall deliberately
thinking about what it was about the White boys' pale skin that would not allow
us to openly play together. What was the mystery behind my dark-brown skin
color? Whatever the mystery surrounding our skin colors, it did not set apart
our racial awareness. As Black children and White children, we all understood
enough about racial classification to know that we could not be seen playing
together. Our very first lessons about “race” based on our skin color began at
My step-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and aunt worked in
the homes of White people. I often overheard what happened in their homes and
knew they had very little, if any, knowledge about what took place in our home.
I knew they did not know because I learned from the folks in my family and the
community not to “air our dirty laundry,” and White folks did not work in our
homes. So, as children, we mimicked the language and social behavior of the
adults in our homes and communities who instructed us on how to live in a
The teachers in the elementary school I attended
were also an integral part of my family and community. I learned from them the
importance of education, spirituality, family, friendships, community, and hard
work. Yet, they provided very little insight into the mystery of racial
differences that locked people in a relationship of domination/oppression.
Later, neither my teaching preparation program nor my student teaching
experience allowed me to critically examine racialization as part of my lived
experience and utilize that information as a source of knowledge. I did my
student teaching at South Boston High School in 1978 and was not encouraged by
the teacher educator or the cooperating teachers to talk about racial issues as
they applied to my teaching practices. During the early 1970s, South Boston was
the focus of the nation's attention because the Massachusetts Supreme Court
forced busing to desegregate Boston Public Schools. Black and White teachers and
students were caught in the midst of a very volatile racialized environment. My
teacher education program did not provide me with an understanding of the
correlations between my racial identity and my construct of “race.” Nor did my
education in general broaden my understanding of racial tension between all
people in a society in which we are all racially classified.
Education is liberating. It opens minds, encourages
intellectual curiosity, inspires creativity, contributes knowledge and skills
for informed decision-making. It values risk-taking for learning's sake; it is
living. It transcends racial and gender boundaries. On the other hand, schooling
is oppressive. It discourages open minds, filling them with “'inert ideas–ideas
that are merely received into the mind without being utilized, or tested, or
thrown into fresh combination” (Whitehead, 1929, p.1). Schooling is harmful
because it limits students' cognitive abilities and ways of being in the world
within the context of their racial identity and language. The most profound pain
I endured from schooling was because of my “skin color” and language. The
mismatches between my language and the language of school, between my lived
experiences and the kind of lived experience presupposed by most of my teachers,
sent the message that I was less than and not equal to those with white skin
color. This manifested itself in the curriculum, which was not meant to
represent me and those who looked like me. So, I wondered in my childhood why
White people forbade children of different skin colors from playing together.
During my student teaching experience, I wondered why White students' skin color
limited my access to teaching them. After teaching for nine years in middle and
high schools and working for nine years as an administrator in higher education,
I finally gave in to my curiosity and entered a doctoral program, thus beginning
my career as a teacher educator.
This paper describes the memories
of my first awareness of racial differences during my childhood and how that
awareness impacted my student teaching experience, which eventually led me on a
search for the connection between teachers' racial identity and their teaching
practices. The paper focuses specifically on racial identity, as one thread in
identity development, as a means to provide a place for teacher educators to
enter the racial dialogue within the context of their teaching practices. Racial
differences are complex, powerful, and emotional issues in the United States and
deeply ingrained in the inequalities experienced in schools.
interaction between teacher educators and their students is racialized in spite
of teacher educators' acknowledgment of the connection between their racial
identity and teaching practices. Teacher educators' racialized ways of knowing
are influenced “by virtue of legislative, social, scientific, and media
practices of” racially classifying people (Webster, 1992, p.3). Racialization
describes and explains the interactions between and reactions to people and
situations grounded in a racial context. It is deeply rooted in the history of
education, as well as in the beliefs and values of teacher educators. Whether
teacher educators racially classify themselves or not, their racial beliefs are
learned attitudes and behaviors shaped by their education and lived experiences.
Racialized beliefs and behaviors become embedded in the history and memory of
teacher educators and are manifested in their teaching practices. Therefore,
they communicate to prospective teachers what they know and believe to be true
about teaching and learning in a racially classified society.
Racialization is not amenable to current solutions in education as long as
teacher educators avoid racial dialogue and actions that demystify the process
of racial classification. Racial discourse between teacher educators and
prospective teachers is a powerful and emotional exchange, more so, when the
dialogue is across racial and ethnic boundaries. The emotions tap into people's
fears of the unknown “other” and diminish the lived experiences of all people.
Also, racial dialogues tend to focus on the problems of Black people rather than
on “the flaws of American society – flaws rooted in historic inequalities and
longstanding cultural stereotypes” (West, 1993, p.3).
policies and practices further enhance those flaws because they mask power in
myths that rationalize inequality, often reinforcing injustices for some while
at the same time offering opportunities to others (Tyacks, 1974). Teacher
educators often perpetuate the myth of racial equality when they teach
prospective teachers how to teach to the norm rather than how to think about
teaching to the whole child. Teaching to the norm is coded language to mean
White middle-class male children. Developmental theorists such as Jean Piaget
and Edward Thorndike studied the developing behavior mostly of White children;
their work then became the norm by which all other children were measured. Their
research was racially contextualized because the construction of “Whiteness” is
itself a racial matter.
Thinking of ways to teach the whole child
demands acknowledgment of the social, political, and economic realities of
his/her family's lived racialized experiences. This means that teacher educators
need to know the history of education and how “schooling“ became a process of
indoctrination and assimilation as a means to create a unified society. The
process included teaching the child to abandon the family's cultural values and
beliefs and to assume another set of values and beliefs, distancing the child
from his or her family. Therefore, teacher educators will have to be cognizant
that their curriculum reflects their cultural values and beliefs. Prospective
teachers' teaching practices will model not only what they have heard, but also,
what they have seen.
Teacher educators must analytically and
experientially examine their racial identity within the context of their
teaching practices to understand how these impact each other. In other words,
teacher educators and prospective teachers must be able to identify educational
policies and practices in schools that privilege some groups of teachers and
students and marginalize others through patterns of communication,
decision-making, curriculum, and pedagogy. This opens an avenue for racial
dialogue between teacher educators and teachers to challenge racial attitudes
and behaviors that perpetuate feelings of discomfort, disempowerment, and fear
As a twenty something,
undergraduate student teacher I experienced feelings of discomfort,
powerlessness, and fear as I tried to feel my way through racial and gender
issues. I wondered about my feelings toward White male students, feelings that
were different from my feelings toward Black males and Black and White females
students. I did my student-teaching at South Boston High's
school-with-in-a-school program at an off-site location in Boston, MA. bordering
Roxbury. The Black students lived in Roxbury and the White students lived in
South Boston. The program provided students, defined as “high risk,” an
opportunity to learn in a less racially intense environment. The seventy-five
students were mainly Black and White. There were about an equal number of Black
and White females but fewer White males than Black males. The teaching staff
consisted of one White male administrator, two White female teachers, one White
male teacher, and one Black female teacher. Although they were very supportive,
encouraging, and open to talking about whatever concerns I had, I remained
silent. I never discussed with them how I was feeling about the White male
students. Those feelings shaped my behavior and limited my interaction with the
students, thus impacting their learning. As the only Black student in my seminar
I did not always want to be the one to bring racial issues into the class
discussion. So, I recorded my feelings and thoughts in my student teaching
journal, hoping that I would get some feedback from the college supervisor that
would help me understand my racial behavior and become an effective teacher.
What follows are entries from my reflective journal written in 1978. The
analysis of my behavior is a result of my seeking the connections between my
racial identity and teaching practices as a teacher educator. The college
supervisor's comments are included in the bold print in parentheses.
I noticed something about my behavior in that class which I'm not sure about.
When I am talking to certain male students I tend to be more standoffish. In
other words I am hesitant in asking them to do things. There are a few that I
will not bother to deal with no matter what. (interesting - would be good to
talk to other teachers who know those students about these feelings) I wonder do
all teachers or some teachers feel that way. There are some females I feel that
way toward but I will approach them in a very gentle manner. I am not sure if
this is apparent to others or not but I am aware of it. I don't know what
physical appearance have to do with it. Two extreme examples are N who is a
black male and tall. He looks more like 24 than 16. The other student is J. who
is a white male, stands about 5' and appears somewhat quiet and shy. N. appears
just the opposite. Of the two I have never said anything to N. even when I had
him in a class once and he was disturbing others by using unnecessary
descriptive adjectives. I just stared at him and he stared back.
have J. in my 5th period class and had to speak to him. I felt very
uncomfortable about it. The other day he and another student were horsing
around. I had to put a stop to it. I asked him nicely to cut it out. He did
while I was looking at him and resumed when I looked away. The other students
insisted he quit, but he kept it up. I noticed a little later the other student
left the group to join the class. I felt helpless because I didn't know how to
deal with him or my feelings (some kinds of vibes are producing some kind of
fear in you - important to explore further). J. returned to the class and worked
on something else.
Returning to this class. There were two [White]
guys that I felt uncomfortable with. It wasn't so much them as it was me. We
talked about current events after we finished the articles. I felt like I had to
have all the right answers or agree with them. Why? I really think it is me. It
could be that in this case it is the first time I had ever talked to them in a
student-teacher situation. Here is just one more reason - my guilty conscience.
Ever since last Thursday I realized that I did not know all the names of the
White males who attended school regularly. I had to ask at least 5 what were
their names on Thursday. Some I know, but the majority I don't. I know all the
black males and all the black & white females. Since the program is small I
don't see any reason why I shouldn't know all their names . . . I blame myself
for not making that extra effort to learn them (April 11, 1978).
noticed the coded language - “certain male students,” “them,” “physical
appearance” that I used to talk about the White teenage males. Second, I noticed
that my actions - “standoffish“- were dictated by my fears and feeling
“uncomfortable” and “helpless.” I avoided the White boys because I had learned
to be suspicious of White men. Regardless of their powerless status, their “skin
color” represented “the white male power structure.”
Nobody can take away
from you this whiteness that made your way of life “superior.” They could take
away your house, your job, your fun; they could steal your wages, keep you from
acquiring knowledge; they could tax your vote or cheat you out of it; they could
by arousing your anxieties make you impotent; but they could not strip your
white skin off of you. It became the poor white's most precious possession, a
“charm“ starving off utter dissolution (Smith, 1949, p.164-165).
racial behavior and attitude influenced how I interacted with my White students.
I knew it was racially motivated because I was conscious of a deeply held belief
regarding the “alleged“ power assigned to White skin color. I felt the White
male students would be defiant and force me into a power struggle that, as a
Black teacher, I could not win. I also believed I did not know enough to teach
White male students. I just had no way of relating to them. My own internalized
racism caused me to doubt my knowledge.
I was concerned about my
behavior toward the White boys. My belief about what made a teacher exceptional
motivated me to find a way to transcend racial issues in order to build a
teacher/student relationship with them. When the opportunity was presented, I
attempted to establish a student/teacher relationship with the White male
Monday, I mentioned I felt kind of standoffish toward some
students, especially the White males. Today, instead of just sitting and talking
to them, I intentionally sat with them and did the same work. The one student
who I mentioned Monday was sitting there and decided he wasn't going to do much
work. I had been sitting on the far side of the room trying to do the worksheets
she handed out. I got up and went over to Deanna (the teacher, not real name)
who was with the student and said, “Deanna, I hate to admit I do not know this,
but I was never good in English. What is the present participle?” As she
explained it to me, I could feel that student staring at me. So I sat down in
the seat next to him and he looked at my paper. . . He then asked Deanna for a
sheet. Took one look at it and said that was easy. He finished the worksheet
before I did. He got another and then I got one. It became a kind of game
between us. Finally a few more [white] males joined in. The four of us worked on
the sheets and talked. . . Toward the end of the class I found myself feeling
better about him. We had not talked about anything special but laughed together
at jokes . . . later that morning he told me he wanted to take the pen I had
around my neck because of my attachment to it. Twice during the day he tried to
take it. When he left at the end of the day he even said to me, “have a nice
afternoon”. (It will be interesting to look back through this and note all the
“breakthroughs” you have made – think there is a pattern of better communication
when you do things with them.) (Journal entry, April 13, 1978).
an effective teacher, I knew that I had to find a way to break through my own
racial fears and gender bias. My student teacher journal reflected conversations
with students about “feminism, racism, sexism, cultural differences and language
barriers” during the same time frame. However, it was the racial dynamics which
impacted teaching and learning that propelled me to reflect-in-action the
connections between my racial identity and teaching practices.
not recall studying any behavioral or learning theories that helped me as a
student teacher understand what I was experiencing within a racial context.
Although I took a course on the nature of prejudice, I was never encouraged to
explore the cause and effect of racial differences on teaching and learning
practices. As a result, I drew upon what I learned from observing the women in
my family and community when they struggled against racism and sexism. They
believed 'you have to do what you have to do to get the job done, but do it with
integrity.' I observed them doing what they had to do to overcome obstacles, and
they did not allow their fears to immobilize them. So, I did what I had to do to
teach to the humanity of all my students. I wanted my teaching to make a
difference to students as they made decisions about the quality of life they
wanted for themselves, and the world in which they lived. I knew enough about
racial prejudices and oppression to know that I had to remain vigilant over my
behavior to avoid becoming a part of the oppression in education.
The most important lesson I have learned living
in a racialized society with a long and violent history of racial discrimination
and segregation is that schools are not the great equalizers. They can provide
the knowledge, but they cannot guarantee an education. Teacher educators and
prospective teachers live in the same racialized society but experience it from
their own unique perspectives. Those perspectives inform their learning and
teaching practices. As a doctoral student and teacher educator I acted on what I
had learned at home. I wondered what lessons other teachers had learned at home
that defined their teaching practices. My first lessons were taught at home in a
segregated community with family, friends, and teachers who knew me, as well the
social/political issues that shaped my life experiences. After reflecting upon
my own racial identity development, I searched for the connection between racial
identity and teaching practices of kindergarten, first grade, and eighth grade
classroom teachers. My research was a phenomenological investigation of what
three Black and three White women who are elementary and middle school teachers
in the Boston Public Schools thought about their racial identities in the
context of their teaching practices. They were asked to: (1) racially identity
themselves, (2) recall stories of their first awareness of racial differences,
racial incidents within their families, their communities, and the schools where
they teach, and (3) discuss how well they thought they were prepared to teach in
a racialized society. The intent of the study was to establish the connections
between their racial identities and teaching practices. The features they all
had in common were the same as those that were perceived as differences in a
Starr Bright: “Know what you need to do. Do it.” Starr's family were
community activists who taught her organizational skills that gave her
confidence to do what she needed to do when she found herself in difficult
situations. They taught her how to take a stand against injustices by modeling
the behavior they expected from her. Starr learned to ask questions to help her
understand what incidents counted as racial issues and what issues did not. She
wanted to be an effective teacher for all children. She took teaching positions
in suburban, rural, and urban schools to broaden her teaching experience. She
reached out to other educators to strengthen her teaching strategies in areas
she felt her teacher education program missed.
Starr understood the
social issues in the community (i.e., housing and community violence) that
impacted her students' everyday lives and learning. For example, the Big Dig, a
construction project in Boston in which buildings and expressways were torn down
to build a new tunnel, had created a serious rat problem in the community where
most of her students lived. The relocation of families during extermination of
the rodents created an attendance problem. Starr used this information to keep
the lines of communications open with parents while she sought alternative ways
of educating her students.
Starr had a matter of fact way of talking
about teaching and racial issues because she lived with the knowledge that
racial policies and practices were designed to limit her place in the world. Her
parents' actions and words helped her understand that there were no limits to
what she could accomplish if she knew what she needed to do and did it. Starr's
teaching style and messages to her kindergarten students mirrored the lessons
learned at home.
Gloria Scott: “Stand up for what you believe. Just
do it! Just do it.” Gloria started teaching arts and crafts at eight years old
to children in her church. She believed she had the call to teach. Since her
parents were telling her to stand up for what she believed, she gathered her
little school bag and went off to teach. Gloria understood the meaning of her
parents' message because she observed them advocating for her and her friends
not to be placed in remedial reading programs in elementary school. Her parents
were community activists and taught her to stand up and fight in the name of
righteousness. Gloria used those lessons learned at home to teach her students
how not to let labels assigned to them define who they are and what they are
capable of accomplishing. As an eighth grade teacher of students with special
needs, she developed teaching strategies to strengthen the academic skills they
needed to stand up and fight for themselves. She knew they needed to believe
first in themselves, so she spent class time teaching decision-making skills
that would inform their lives. She knew her students and what they needed to
fight the good fight.
Gloria used her life experiences as a community
activist to teach her students to overcome limits imposed on them by racial
policies and practices in schools. For example, Gloria subverted a school's
polices that she felt limited access to a good education. She told her students
she was supposed to put key questions on the board every day for them to answer.
She explained to them that she was not going to do it because she felt it is was
not the best way to teach students. She held high expectations for her students
and insisted they come up with their own key questions. However, she pointed out
to them that she would put the key question on the board when she knew she was
going to be observed by the school's leaders. Gloria believed she was teaching
her students how to strategically survive in an environment that did not value
them and their knowledge. She strived to give her students what her parents had
given her: a “good education.” Gloria's teacher education program strengthened
her teaching skills, but her parents prepared her to stand and deliver.
Diane Wilder: “Be comfortable with yourself, and you will be comfortable with
your environments.” Diane grew up in an all Black community that provided her
security, protection, and a good education. Her father told her there would be
other people in the world who would have a problem with her skin color, but she
was not to let their problems limit her potential. She learned not to let racial
differences define who she was and her place in the world. She learned to get
along with other people and used that knowledge to keep her students excited
about learning. The close-knit community she grew up in taught her how to reach
out to students and network with other educators. She was comfortable with
herself, and this helped her to create comfortable and secure learning
environments in order for all her students to be independent learners.
Diane believed that going to an all Black school nurtured and challenged her
socially and academically, so she saw nothing wrong with an all Black school for
children in Boston. She knew that children learned best in a safe and
comfortable environment as long as they were given a quality education that made
them independent learners. It is what her parents provided for her, and she was
compelled to provide the same to her students.
In summary, the Black
teachers wanted the children to learn skills and content to improve their
chances for academic success. They wanted to help the children become active
participants in the social, economic, and political development of their
communities. Their life experiences helped teach them they had to do what they
had to do to provide a good education for their students.
Candy Swift: “I always want to please and do the right things.”
Candy had learned that racial classification was assigned to Black people. She
came from a close-knit family who were supportive in every aspect of her life
and taught her to treat everyone the same and do the right thing. She noticed
that people were different, but her parents never made any “real negative
connotations,” so she learned not to question what she saw, especially, if she
felt it did not please people and would cause conflict. Candy's beliefs about
pleasing others and doing the right thing informed her teaching practices. As a
child, she had learned to please her teachers and the teachers in turn nurtured
and supported her. This allowed her to avoid conflicts in school. Candy also
worked at pleasing her students to avoids conflicts.
Candy could not
draw any wisdom from her life experience to share with her students when they
encountered problems in their daily lives that affected their learning. Instead,
she talked about her students having emotional problems and coming from
dysfunctional homes. When Candy tried to draw on her past work experiences with
other children who she believed had emotional problems, she linked them to
racial and social class issues. She stated that the children who came from
financially affluent families had less emotional support than the “other”
children with less wealth, who had more emotional support.
watched how she worded things and what she said to her kindergartners who were
mostly labeled as special needs. Her teaching practices included lessons on
self-esteem and “a lot of positive reinforcements” because she believed it was
important to “build the child emotionally and socially” before you could teach
him or her. She taught her students how to do the right things in order to be
Dorothy Reed: “Live and Let Live.” Dorothy grew up
believing in God, family, and country. Her family taught her to value family,
religion, and education. She believed commitment to family and God and an
“excellent“ education makes one a good citizen. She reinforced this message in
her teaching practices and brought her family members into the classroom to help
deliver this message to her students.
Dorothy identified herself as
an American. She believed that Americans are color-blind. Dorothy denied the
presence of racial issues in her school, which she reported was ninety-eight
percent “minority” population. Even when her students acknowledged racial
problems, she attempted to convince them that she was not a race-conscious
person because the racial identity of a person does not matter. If they lived
and let live, they could all get along.
Dorothy's teacher education
program helped her to hold on to her color-blind beliefs as well as reinforced
her culturally stereotypical beliefs. She said she was taught about the cultural
differences of immigrant students and how to use that information as “building
blocks” to meet their needs. Dorothy attempted to employ the same teaching
strategies with everyone by strictly following the school district's guidelines
and policies. However, she offered more learning opportunities to those students
who conformed to her standards of citizenship. Dorothy's eighth- grade classroom
wall had a poster of a little White boy saluting the flag saying “God Bless
Rebecca Century: “Getting along.” Rebecca's family taught
her that race does not matter because everyone is the same, and it was more
important to get along with everyone. She wanted to help people and decided to
work in an urban school so she could help children get along. Rebecca also
believed that it was important for teachers to be aware of their cultural
beliefs, but she thought it was a better idea to try to be neutral when cultural
conflict occurred. These beliefs informed her teaching practices.
Rebecca graduated from a teacher education program that she believed prepared
her to teach in an urban school. Rebecca learned teaching strategies from
watching her mother, a para-professional, working with children. She also relied
on her parents' child-rearing practices to help her handle discipline issues.
Rebecca remembered learning in her urban teaching program one thing that was not
consistent with what she had learned at home. Her multicultural course taught
her not to demand Black children look her in the eye when talking to them.
Rebecca could not provide a rationale for this, other than that Black children
were taught at home not to look White people in the eye when engaged in
conversation. She had no way of knowing where this stereotypical thinking came
from and could think of no way to check for accuracy among her friends. Rebecca
stated that all she wanted from professional development opportunities were
strategies for teaching children how to get along. Her social construct of race
In summary, the White teachers spent more
time socializing children. They believed if children demonstrated the
appropriate behaviors they would acquire the academic skills needed to achieve
success. Their life experiences taught them how to behave and accept what they
saw without question. They schooled children before they educated them.
During a recent course on schooling in the United States
with all White prospective female teachers, I introduced them to Septima Clark,
a teacher in South Carolina and a social activist. I told them she directed
programs at Highlander Center, a school for social change that Rosa Parks
attended before she refused to give up her seat on the bus. The students and I
engaged in a very thoughtful, meaningful, and critical dialogue addressing
racial and gender power struggles in education. Tension grew in the room as the
women became aware of new knowledge that had not been a part of their education.
They expressed their frustration on realizing that their education had presented
them with historical facts from only one perspective. One student mentioned that
the more knowledge she acquired, the more questions she had. Some of the
interesting questions they asked were: “Who's teaching the teacher educators?
Why didn't they teach me this?” I acknowledged their questions and reminded them
that we are all hurt by racially defined barriers that keep us from knowing each
other. They were learning that they could not teach what they did not know. I
stressed that once you have been exposed to the knowledge that challenges your
notion of “reality”, you have a moral responsibility to all students and their
families to facilitate their learning as they acquire the knowledge to help them
make informed life decisions. Their questions and my reactions helped some of
them to let go of the guilt and shame that kept them locked in silence.
The questions caused me to reflect on my own education. As a Christian
woman who self-identifies racially as Black, ethnically as African-American,
with a southern working-class background, living in the North, I am mindful of
how racial differences, ethnicity, religion, gender, region, social class and
language shape my view of the world and education. My critical pedagogical
approach to teaching and learning are racially contextualized because of who I
am. My student teaching experiences helped me to realize that I could not leave
any parts of myself outside the classroom if I was to be an effective teacher.
All my life experiences helped me solve problems, create interesting and
engaging lessons. The effects of racialization in schools make it necessary for
me to be an independent learner.
I offer my story as a starting
point to enter the dialogue on connecting teachers' racial identity and their
teaching practices. Who is teaching the teacher educator? The answers lie within
each teacher educator who strives to prepare prospective teachers to address
racial identity and contextualize social identity in a racialized society.
Barnes, S. (2001) Bridging the connections between
teachers' racial identity and their teaching practices. Doctoral dissertation.
Lesley University (UMI No.3037978).
Barnes, S. (1978). Student
Teacher Journal (unpublished).
Delpit, L. (1995). Other people's
children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York:New Press.
Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to transgress. New York: Routledge.
Howard, G. (1999). We can't teach what we don't know: White teachers,
multicultural schools. New York: Teacher College Press.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African
American children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Smith, L. (1949,
1961). Killers of the dream. New York: Norton.
Spring, J. (2001).
Deculturalization and the struggles for equality: A brief history of the
education of dominated cultures in the United States. (3rd ed.). New York:
Tyack, D. B. (1974). The one best system: A history of
American urban education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Webster, Y. O. (1992). The racialization of America. New York: St. Martin
West, C. (1993). Race matters. Boston: Beacon Press.
Whitehead, A.N. (1929). The aims of education and other essays. New York: Free
Press.Return to the Journal of Pedagogy,
Pluralism and Practice Main Page
Journal of Pedagogy, Pluralism and Practice Main Page
Spring and Fall 2004 Issue Main Page
Sylvia Sensiper - Let's Make a Better Picture
Tony Talbert - Give Peace a Chance in Our Social Education Classrooms
Sandras Barnes - Who is Teaching the Educators?
Caroline Brown - Nick's Careless Laughter
Multiple Authors - Multiculturally Transforming Teaching & Learning
2014 Fall (Special Issue)
2004 Spring and Fall
2000 Fall/2001 Spring
The Journal of Pedagogy, Pluralism and Practice
For submissions, general queries, or for more information contact the Executive Editor at email@example.com
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A Professor in Vanderbilt University's Department of Human and Organizational Development, Dr. Sandras Barnes has focused her studies on gender dynamics, class structure and race relations. Dr. Barnes received her PhD in Sociology from Georgia State University.
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