Discussion of schools and teachers, primarily K-12 public schools; whether or how they should re-open in light of COVID-19; and their proper role—academic instruction, returning the country normalcy, or food distribution centers— has been in the news a lot lately But I have also noticed a growing emphasis on the concept that institutionalized racism and inequality, explains the poor performance and disproportionately low graduation rates and poor academic performance of black and Hispanic students; who are over represented among the least successful academically.
I became a teacher because I enjoy working with young people and have always liked instructing and explaining things; be it proper MLA format, the context of historical events, or appropriate dress for a job interview. Of course, I want to make a difference. But In light of recent events, and a series of articles in major new outlets, I am becoming afraid to try.
This summer, The Atlantic, published an article by a self-described “30 year anti-racist educator” called “What Anti-Racist Teachers Do Differently.” (I wasn’t aware that “anti-racist educating” was a particularly expert field. I thought there was a common definition of racism, or at least I used to.) Suggestions ranged from “creating curriculum with black students in mind, to “disaggregat(ing data like grades and attendance by ethnicity.” According to the author, “the only measure of our anti-racist teaching will be the academic success of all of our students, including our black students.” Of course, teachers should be conscientious, and take an interest in their students. The idea that teachers should seek to establish rapport with their charges is hardly novel. However, a teacher cannot drag a student, kicking and screaming to success, against her will. And not all students are motivated to succeed, and that truth transcends race, class, and gender. Under this view, if a minority student chooses not to attend school, or chooses not to learn anything while they are there; it is my fault, because I am white and the U.S. has a troubled racial history. I am not willing to work in a school, which sees “anti-racist teaching” courses necessary, or believes I should assume some guilt for historical events, I wasn’t even alive for; just by virtue of being white. That may be an unintended impact of so called “anti-racist” teaching seminars. Driving out conscientious teachers, who don’t want to be immediately eyed with suspicion.
There are many factors that affect a student’s likelihood to succeed; long before kindergarten roundup. Teachers are not a substitute for a family, which is where success in school begins. Students come to school with the best parents they are going to have. You can’t fire parents. It should be unnecessary to point out that some parents value education more than others, and their beliefs and attitudes affect their children. Additionally, certain family structures, and cultures do a better job of preparing their children to succeed, not only in K-12 education; but assuming their role as responsible, contributing members of society. Which should be the ultimate goal and role of parenting and schooling in the first place.
I am not willing to work in a school, which sees “anti-racist teaching” courses necessary, or believes I should assume some guilt for historical events, I wasn’t even alive for; just by virtue of being white. That may be an unintended effect of so called “anti-racist” teaching seminars. Driving out conscientious teachers, who don’t want to be immediately eyed with suspicion.
I went into special education, where I have remained for ten years, because I wanted to work with young people with special needs. I chose this path, and I will continue teaching in this area. However, I would caution new teachers that the troubled young people may not want to work with you. Assuming white teachers aren’t equipped to work with minority students without anti-racist education seminars, is insulting and unnecessary. Teaching is challenging enough, without telling teachers to take responsibility for history (which should be history), and “check their privilege”. Asking teachers to assume responsibility for all student failure and historical events for which they weren’t even born; will serve only to lower morale and help no one.