My gym has reopened select locations and I was excited to be back. I had to drive over 30 minutes to get there, but I needed to lift some weights! While warming up on the treadmill, there was a report on TV about a Black Lives Matter march in a neighboring town. The man next to me on the treadmill, sort of scoffed and then stated that it was part of a "radical conspiracy". I had heard that rumor before , so I asked him to say more. He stated that Whites do not have privilege and Black people have as much of a chance in America to make it as anyone else.
He went on to say that Black people use racism as a crutch. That if they would do what he did, they too could get ahead. I told him that I was currently writing a book for teachers that addressed the structuralized racism in schools, and my research had lead me to some startling statistics. I asked him if he were knowledgeable about the statistics that show Black people are pulled over more, suspended from school more, incarcerated at higher rates etc. Additionally, Whites are overrepresented in positions of power, wealth, health, housing and employment. He replied, "Well it is not just a Black and White thing, it is because of people's choices and actions.
He repeatedly began his comments with, "I am not racist, but..." I believe, that he believes, he is not a racist. However, until we begin to believe what Black people say about their experience in this country, we cannot shift the racism.
Dismantling structuralized racism is 400 years overdue, and right now is the moment to begin; this is the tipping point.
Currently, social media is flooded with Black lives matter content. The police shootings, the hangings of Black people, and other harm continuously coming to Black families makes me feel like I can’t breathe. I want to be part of the solution.
As a person who leads educators, I want to help teachers evolve to a place where the whole matters as much as the individual. I want each child in our country to receive an equal opportunity in life and an education that is not only based on the truth, but also one that inspires them to learn and not just regurgitate what was said.
Equal opportunity could be given to each child in our schools through providing all children with excellent teachers, curriculum, resources and buildings. School is the perfect place to change racism, but that’s not reality.
Why? Click here to read more
It is known through the reports from the National Center for Educational Statistics, NCES, students of color are overly referred to the office, suspended, and expelled. Additionally, even when the student is not sent to the office for discipline, many students of color are separated from their peers in “islands” and punished through the loss of recess, assemblies, and other fun activities.
In the book Race by Marc Aronson he states that “fear of others who do not look like us” is part of the human condition and goes back to the days of Moses. But just because it is part of the human condition does not mean we don’t confront or address it.
President Obama began to address the problem while in office; however, the policies that he put in place to address discriminatory discipline are slowly and quietly being dismantled. According to an NPR article, a federal commission led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, recommends rescinding Obama-era guidance intended to reduce racial discrimination regarding school discipline. The commission says those policies made schools reluctant to address unruly students or violent incidents.
But I am not talking about high school students or even middle school, let’s talk about kindergarten, where 19% of students are black but represent 39% of students suspended. These are not suspensions for concealed weapons or other highly violent incidents. These are students that the teacher considers disruptive or disrespectful, in other words, her unconscious bias is showing.
In the book, The Hidden Brain, author Shankan Vedantam, defines unconscious bias as any situations where people’s actions were at odds with their intentions. This definition fits with what is happening in our classrooms today.
For the most part, teachers don’t realize they are disciplining some students differently than others, that is why it is called unconscious. Nevertheless, we are called as teachers to a profession where we need to become aware of our internal bias, make it conscious, and change it. Teachers are so powerful in a child’s life, second only to the parents. What we do, how we behave, especially in the treatment of others, is observed and taken in daily by our students.
This is not only affects students of color; it affects all students. What is the impact for a student, if during the 13 years of education, the student sees that most of the students disciplined are of color? Would you agree that this is shaping how that student sees his peers? What if this young person decides to go into law enforcement, education, law, or social work? Will he bring those beliefs with him?
So what do we do? Obama was on the right track when he wanted us to look at discriminatory discipline practices, but we cannot just look at the data about which students are being expelled and suspended. While many schools did change the discipline practices, bringing in programs such as Restorative Justice, PBIS, PAX, and more, it is not enough. The programs are a great starting point, but that is similar to making anti-discrimination laws, the law is there but you cannot regulate human behavior.
In addition to an effective school wide management system, and changing the way we discipline students, schools need to begin to have the conversations about our unconscious bias. We need to become aware of our unconscious bias, make them conscious, and commit to changing them.
This will be uncomfortable for many teachers, but better to be uncomfortable than to continue harming students. How we do that may vary from school to school and it could start with the data around student discipline, or do a book study on one of the many books that address unconscious bias. click here for a list of books
However, we need to get uncomfortable and we need to have brave conversations because the damage of continually punishing students of color, through the denial of recess, field trips, class celebrations is not tracked, and is still damaging.
Shankan Vedantam states that, “Good people are not those who lack flaws, the brave are not those who do not feel fear, and the generous are not those who never feel selfish, extraordinary people are not extraordinary because they are invulnerable to unconscious biases, they are extraordinary because they choose to do something about it. This is the call to teachers, to become extraordinary teachers who do something about their unconscious bias.
Contact me today to start or continue the work at your school. I can help you transform your school in the areas of effective school wide discipline and unconscious bias.
"That kid is the absolute worst; I can't wait to get rid of him." "Oh he might be bad, but wait till you see this other kid, he's a nightmare. I had the sister last year, have you met his parents?"
We all have you ever heard something like this in the teacher's lounge. While it may feel like venting, it doesn't help us become better educators. It instead keeps us stuck in the blame game.
What happens if we shift the focus to us? What would happen if we took full responsibility for what happened in our classrooms? This is not about blame, but about strength.
Because when we focus on what is wrong with the kids, we lose any power or strength to change anything.
It’s that time of year again when principals and teachers start thinking about the new school year, and how to improve classroom management. “This year will be different!” Is a common refrain.
As educators, we know that if only “certain” teachers would be more successful with management, it would make all of us more effective. Principals could spend more time as
educational leaders, and teachers would not have to spend the first two months of school correcting the behavior of the students that came from “that teacher’s class.”