White Teachers at the CrossRoads

Approximately 90 percent of K-12 teachers in the U.S. are White, while 36 percent of the national school population are students of color. This contrast underscores the critical role of White teachers in challenging racial bias in the curriculum and in school culture. A prerequisite for effectiveness in this effort is a willingness to confront one’s own attitudes and privileges.

A Moral Choice
by Dr. Joyce E. King

As an African American educator, one of my main concerns is that we all need to be liberated from schooling that perpetuates America’s myths. One such myth that constrains our freedom of thought and our ability to pursue social justice concerns our national identity.

Most of the pre-service teachers I taught at Santa Clara University for 12 years were White. Because most of them accepted the myth that America is a White nation that is becoming more diverse, they also believed that their mission as teachers was to help these diverse “others” to be like them. These relatively privileged White future teachers could scarcely imagine that there is anything wrong with America or that multicultural education has anything to do with them — with what is wrong with their education.

When we discussed what schools do, they struggled with the realization that while White supremacy racism denies equitable education to the poor and students of color, miseducation for domination denies White teachers and students opportunities to develop their humanity — including understanding of and real respect for diversity.

The consequences of miseducation were clearly evident when a clash of viewpoints erupted about new history textbooks that were about to be adopted in California in 1992. Declaring that the books were “so much better” than the ones they had, many White teachers were eager to get the California State Board of Education’s Curriculum Commission, on which I served, to approve these books. On the other hand, a diverse array of parents and educators argued that these supposed “multicultural” books perpetuated racism by distorting the history and heritages of people of color and by centering the White American immigrant experience as the normative standard. What were some of the concerns about these books that these White teachers, as well as my pre-service students, failed to see?

American Indians, described in the texts as “the First Immigrants” who “came” to the Americas across the Bering Strait, questioned the presentation of this Western scientific theory as fact. Ignoring the wide range of theories about the origins of indigenous peoples in early America fundamentally denies their humanity.
A Chicana teacher tearfully confided to me her reservations about presenting the chapter on the Aztecs of ancient Mexico to her Mexican American students because the text mentions their religious practice of “human sacrifice” without discussing the Indigenous cultural viewpoint.
Muslim educators and parents were perplexed and distressed that instead of a human being, a camel — intended to symbolize the importance of the trans-Saharan trade in north Africa — was used to illustrate the spread of the religion of Islam.
The textbook version of African enslavement was a story of how “Forced Immigrants came” to America because their greedy local rulers participated in the “trade.” Not examined was the long tradition of slavery among European nations, the very different nature of lineage-based bondage among Indigenous “African” peoples, or the cultural logic that permitted the Catholic Church to approve the so-called “Just Wars” that Europeans instigated among rival rulers to sustain the transatlantic slave trade. In fact, there were no “Africans” then, but diverse ethnic peoples.
The 6th grade narrative of “our early human origins” included blatantly negative stereotypes. The chapter opened with a description of “naked, dark-skinned” proto-humans on the plains of East Africa millions of years ago eating the “marrow oozing from a bloody bone.” Suppressing the boisterous hoots and howls of 11-year-olds in the classroom would be tough enough; how would you help a Black student get through this experience?
The Teacher’s Edition directed the teachers to say that a cave-dwelling European Cro-Magnon Man with a “larger brain” in an illustration “looked just like us.”

Although the textbooks were eventually approved with some minor changes, a parade of diverse voices asked: “Who is included in this textbook’s idea of ‘us’?”

The majority of teachers who supported the books ignored the problems of perspective bias and defended the monocultural (White) viewpoint as multicultural. They reframed the controversy as an ethnic conflict, asking: “Are you saying that a White author cannot write accurately and with sensitivity about the experiences of other groups?” The author’s race was not our concern; the worrisome issue being ignored was the social interests that the author’s perspective represented.

Things haven’t gotten much better over the last eight years. While subsequent revisions included removing the camel, the problem of perspective bias exists not only in textbooks but in the presumably academic scholarship and neutral scientific knowledge the authors of these books draw upon.

Is there a role for White teachers in multicultural education? Yes, indeed. But they must first recognize that the struggle for education as a basic human right, like the Civil Rights Movement, is a moral struggle. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is instructive: “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations … .” To play a significant role, White teachers need to learn specific strategies of curriculum inclusion, culturally sensitive (relevant) pedagogy, and skills for promoting understanding, tolerance, friendship and … “ Read more here

Reblogged from:  Tolerance.org

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