Wednesday, April 22, 2009

You Subtle Racists

Our recent professional development informed our staff that we hold to some "negative" views towards our Latino/a students. A staff survey question asked: Why do you think so many Latino/a students struggle to complete high school in four years?
The presenter then listed 77 "negatively" coded responses, or "Deficit thinking"--whatever those mean. He never defined what constituted a "negative" response, but that's okay. Here are few of the "negative" responses:
  • not enough good role models outside of school
  • need more support at home
  • no culture of learning at home--students won't value education if parents don't
  • education level of parents

We were informed that none of the responses put blame on the teachers--a valid point--though the question seems constructed in a way that would create student centered answers.

I remember answering the question, and remember including a few thoughts about the challenge in answering that question in such a limited time frame. Latino/a failure rates deserve much more attention than such a survey could provide.

A few thougths:

1. The absence of teacher or system centered responses does cause me to pause. We certainly have an obligation to question our pedagogy and relationships. I do think that there are those of us who too quickly blame the family structure or the poverty for student failure. I do think that we allow ourselves to coddle too much and lower our expectations because we focus on the potential roadblocks facing our students.

2. In the presentation, the speaker said we should have more culturally relevant content. Yet, I can't help but wonder if we constantly need to address culture in our teaching of a college preparedness curriculum. Shouldn't we first ensure that our students have the Core Knowledge first? I mean, does it really benefit my students to study rap as poetry instead of studying Byron, Whitman, Hughes? I don't know the answer, I just wonder.

3. We never received any concrete pedagogy for teaching Puerto Rican students. We heard a lot of his thoughts about how we are messing up, how we shouldn't be so "white"--which wasn't explicitly said other than his mention of a study by someone who found that teacher race plays a role in student success, or how we shouldn't eliminate bilingual education. What he wasn't too concerned with were truly concrete, classroom examples. This is obnoxious to me.

In the end, I enjoyed the creating of thought and dialogue. However, it shouldn't be an outsider with a personal agenda (research to further his own career) to infer we are incompetent, rascist teachers. Instead, we should have self-identified our need for improvement in teaching Latino/a students and then searched out the solutions. Because awareness without an action plan doesn't eliminate the problem.


At 3:30 PM , Anonymous Little Bear said...

Well said....the speaker should have talked more about specific strategies, programs, etc. that have worked in other places to help Latino students be more successful in school.

At 6:34 PM , Blogger Rebecca M. Solomon said...

I have done some reading on this topic. I disctincly recall Christine Sleeter (Un-Standardizing the Curriculum, 2005) referring to testing that was skewed so that minority students would be at a disadvantage. That led me to wonder how a test might be created so that white students would be at a disadvantage. I have yet to see that addressed in the literature.


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