Segregation in the Classroom

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Introduction

This essay debates the segregation in the classroom and discusses the inequalities in the modern education. I recognize and discuss my own experience in teaching as a profession and as an ideology, giving my views and arguments about how some teaching practice should be carry out in the classroom, taking in consideration the complicated issues about segregation.

My first contact with the school was at a job interview, the headteacher expressed that I would be great to make part of the school because of my cultural background and for the reason that the school needed it someone with a multicultural ‘experience’ because at this school the students with a different background were in minority. I accepted the music teaching post without hesitation. After been introduce to every staff member, I met the students in the classroom and notice from the first moment that they were divided into small groups, based on the cultural background that they are coming, black and Asians students in the back, a few of eastern Europeans students filling the middle seats and English students in the front seats. Ironically the multiculturalism represented in the classroom was based on the division between cultures. Segregation in the classroom brings many negative consequences in the learning process, the students become isolated and this can increase the school drop-out; and as a process of diminishing the individual attributes is interfering with the construction of these students’ identity.

The school consists of a large concentration of children belonging to different ethnicities and cultures, and the positive outcome of a multicultural classroom is that students will be able to see pass the negative stereotypes, by creating an environment where students can come together and discuss all aspects of their cultural heritage, this will support the development of social skills for the students to leave within divers society.

To understand segregation in the classroom, it is necessary to see its origins in society, is to have an observation outside and inside the education institutions to better comprehend the phenomenal.

Ethnocentrism is an act of judging an individual cultural patterns, it is related to the concept of stereotype, which in the majority of cases is a negative generalization of subjective judgments, made in relation to a certain group, and imposing labels as inferior and incapable. Stereotypes and colorblindness can be disguised as irony, joke, antipathy, humiliation, verbal or gesture insults. Stereotypes are common in the first instance and if not managed with communication practices, anti-segregation practices, and eventually the avoidance of contact between students will lead to a negative social interaction experience in the classroom, perpetuating stigma and marginalizing a certain individuals and groups.

The housing and school market and their selective actions, result in segregation outside and inside the schools. It is not a matter of eliminating school market but it is one of clarifying the concept and setting the limits and possibilities for all pupils, including BAME students. To make a better school selection it is a very difficult challenge but a very important one, when looking for new directions for quality and ethnical diversity in schools, it is important that students can be aware of their talents. Students and parents need to learn how to compete and understand the School market; therefore, the teacher responsibility is to create strategies and supply information that enables students and parents to be aware of their options.

Neo-liberalism has a great influence on the formulation of social policies and education has been one of its main targets. Such ideology is present in all aspects of schooling; one of the characteristics of Neo-liberalism is to advocate political neutrality, however, the intention is to disguise the immense burden of ideology that hides under currents shaped by principles such as competitiveness, merit, and efficiency.

Ideology and Neo-liberalism

Ideologies are seen as abstract system of thought, set of ideas that are destined to simplify and distort social reality because they claim to explain what is, frankly incomprehensible.(Andrew Heywood, 2017: 9)

Every ideology passes through a political belief system that molds its concepts about the economy, the demands of the society, and finally establishes rules or orders that promote those ideologies. Ideology was first used and formulated by Antoine Destutt de Tracy (cited in Heywood, 2017: 5)  he described it as ‘science of ideas’, and though ideology would have a independent subject status in the fields  compared to natural sciences. But Marx by using it extensively in his work transformed the ‘science’ of ideology into a key political term. Gaziano (2014:1) solidify Marx’s meaning of the term by defining the Ideology as a:

Philosophy or body of ideas that forms the basis of a political, economic, social, or other system, reflect its needs and interests. (Gaziano 2014:1)

Ideologies express political ideas, as a set of beliefs and values that divides people in groups of class within the society, for example; the liberalism concept is linked to middle class, the conservative is linked to aristocracy and socialism concept with the working class (Heywood 2017). All of these groups of ideologies have their own view of the same goal, ‘equality, justice, and freedom’. Ideologies are molded by the historical and political conditions of the times and those political ideologies help to shape the values and nature of the society (Heywood, 2017).

We live in a society with varied social movements, post industrial nation that made possible to emerge new ideologies as feminism, multiculturalism, green ideology, Islamism and neo-liberalism (Heywood, 2017). Neo-liberalism arrived in the 80s as a modified structure of liberalism inclined to promote the free global market, with the main principles of individual liberty, private property, and market competition. The free global market or globalization is a movement that allows people and goods to travel easy across the national borders (Sleeter, 2018) and endorse the homogenization of political and socio-economic theory across the globe. Cookson (1992, cited in Ball et al., 2007) call it ‘the Ideology of consumerism’.

 Neoliberalism.., is an ideological and structural apparatus that promotes free-market economy by privatizing public services …and increasing Individual and Institutional accountability for economic success, while reducing social services and producing disparities between the rich and poor. (Kubota, 2014: 485)

Neoliberalism is considered to have unequal power structure, built on an institutionalized racism system, ironically promoting respect for diversity and an open society.  It is a global monopoly and a capitalist body that just focus in economic profits and elites commodities, where the minority, the lower class struggle to survive (Bogda, 2017; Singh, 2017;  Nelson et al., 2016; Sally, 2015; Kubota, 2015). The concept is not benefic for the minority and fails to deliver the promises of equality, freedom and respect, destroying the working class values, and contributes to the excess of consumerism, therefore transforming the public services into a business market.

The ideologies and neoliberalism concepts lead to the division of the society into groups with the same views; our personal beliefs determine us to become members of different organizations, either having the same political view or becoming an activist, we are seen, judged and define by others not just as simple individuals with personal ideas but as members of a group based on our ethnicity, cultural background or class of the society, originating stereotypes. These divisions are brought to schools, and the classroom is a mirror of the outside society and the concepts of ideology and neo-liberalism shaped the education policies and defined the rules that teachers, schools, parents, and students have to follow to be part of the system.

Stereotype and color-blind

“Ounce labels are applied to people, ideas about people who fit the label come to have social and psychological effects” (Appiah, 2001: 322).

Singh (2017) explains that race is a mean of a recognized exclusion carrying a term ‘otherness’, in the neo-liberalism principles the ‘other’ is related to the unproductive, ‘the one’ who does not contribute to the economic system. It is certain that today ‘other’ is associated with black, Asian and all the minority ethnic (BAME) groups. The ‘others’ are stigmatized and given negative stereotype, which will be marked depending on race, color, linguistic aspects and cultural difference. As Appiah (2001) argue that labels are made to operate, to mold what we may call ‘Identification’. Stereotyping have a precarious effect in molding the identification of the ‘other’, the minority is seen as harmful to the society. Negative stereotype are still strong embedded in the society today, it produce divisions and segregation, poverty and social inequality. Stereotypes developed over the years, build on oppression and discrimination, it lowers the confidence, and the potential of minority children. These negative stereotypes from the colonial times were associating minorities with a primitive or low values are still active now days within the modern society (Carter et al., 2017).

The effect of these stereotypes is that it constructs a hierarchy that is seen every day in our social lives, like a routine that you wait to be changed and get disappointed most of the times when it does not happen. This reality of inequality is so alive and more frequent that is becoming hard to eliminate, and becoming to realize that racism is deeply implanted in every corner of our society (Bottero, 2004; Nelson et al., 2017).

The Poor or the criminal, that is, economically unproductive, is hereafter, likely to be colored; alternately, because he is colored or unproductive, he is deservedly poor, or in prison (Singh, 2017: 9).

The school drop-out rates for the minority students is higher than for white students, this will leave them with an undeveloped educational potential  leading to a destructive  life and having few chooses professionally. The findings of Villalobos et al. (2018) revealed that social theorists have shown that not all the people from other countries or cultures are equally qualified as immigrant. Simmel (2002, cited in Villalobos et al., 2018) exposed, that there is a difference between the term foreigner and immigrant. As Sally (2015) mention it is assumed that rich people from the west can travel anywhere and will be considered as a foreigner, however the poor people that will travel to find a better life they will have an immigrant status.

Color-blind ideology was formed to get rid of the racist stereotypes and to bring respect, and equality among members of the society. The color blind mechanism was conceived as an ideology in which race is immaterial (Annamma et al., 2016). Instead of making racism disappear it generates more, it forces society to pretend there is no racism and avoid breaking the ice in racial discussion. By seeing the other race as irrelevant -color-blinded – it perpetuates it by a systematic denial of the existence of racism (Annamma et al., 2016).

Gotanga (1991, cited in Annamma et al., 2016) said that we cannot simply ignore race, and racism will disappear.

Ideologies that identify minorities as deficient will discourage engagements issues on race and racism, and eventually produce hierarchies. In the context of neo-liberalism within the colorblind ideology the individual has gain the right of free speech, of movement, of believes, etc. and the system is creating and promoting the fact that everyone is equal and have the same great chances to succeed, however when it comes to actually benefit of those chances he discover that he doesn’t have access to them, the system create barriers that cannot be lifted for the ‘other’. The system left the ‘other’ to be responsible for his own success and creating individualism in a capitalism society, and encouraging the individual to disconnect from his cultural roots (Philip et al., 2017). Color-blind is an ideology that promotes the idea that non-white races are inferior, creates a taboo resulting in a society that denies the existence of racism and invalidate people’s identity (Burke, 2017).

The racial ideology of color-blindness and the other principles of neo-liberalism combined are creating a social hierarchy based on different aspects like race, economic classes, ethnicity, and culture. When this division is encounter in local communities the people on the bottom of the social ladder suffer by not having access to the prestigious schools, children with different BAME background are left behind, because their parents don’t have the knowledge, the financial resources and the time to analyze the school market and to choose the appropriate one for their children.

School Market

Schools and colleges and universities are encouraged to compete and be more like businesses… and children’s development is a lucrative market opportunity for capital (Ball, 2010: 164).

Educational system makes part of a global market were students and parents are provided with services and encouraged to be good consumers, assuming that all parents can equally compare and choose schools like buying a product in a store.

The competition between schools is another factor that feeds segregation; well-regarded schools get more funding and high quality of education. The unfairness is that the schools that get more funding are the ones where the multiculturalism cannot be encounter. The competition of schools resulted in a white flight, leaving the less funding schools for students coming from working class families, and the majority are belonging to communities where predominant lives black, Asian and other ethnic minorities.

Gillborn (2015) confirms that the black Caribbean community is one of the long established racial minority groups in the United Kingdom and is constantly facing market educational inequalities in terms of achievement. School market creates segregation and it draws a line between middle-class and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.

The middle-class parents have different selection criteria when it comes to choose the school for their children; they are more interested on the socio-economic-cultural background of the pupils that attend to that school rather than the academic environment. They are looking to protect they child from bad influence and are more interested to clime the social ladder, private schools guarantees that the pupil will have more opportunities and will create a safe environment for their academic development (Reinoso, 2008; Coldron, et al., 2010; Ball, 2006).

The term white flight has been used, particularly in the US, to describe the movement of middle-class families away from multicultural or predominantly Black or ‘migrant’ schools (Windle, 2017: 1129).

The school market competition effect is the white flight model, resulting in the movement of middle class families chasing prestigious predominant white areas that offer better social services, the movement creates an increase of living costs were the ‘other’ cannot afford to leave,  creating a false  ‘natural’ segregation based on the income of the family. This phenomenon left most minority communities facing funding cuts to the social services especially in local schools. The children from these communities are left with lesser choices for their future and that creates a endless circle for them, and more and more of this pupils are drown to the criminal life. On the other hand, in the high-status areas, created by the white flight movement, the schools are receiving more funds and are able to increase the quality of education service, creating socio-economic inequality.

Education and schooling

The goal of the education is to transmit knowledge and skills, involving the practice of teaching (Moore, 2010; Barrow and Woods, 2006).

Education in this neo-liberals time is about ranks and instructions in a commercial globalized mechanism environment, expressing an attractive picture but representing inequality. Teaching is the ability to transmit knowledge with the intention for a person to use the information received in order to have a personal or professional growth. The process of teaching may involve lectures, open debates, writing academic materials, creating different environments to help the student to learn (Peim, 2012; Moore, 2010).

Education is a wider concept than schooling, education can happen anywhere or anytime. It is more meaningful than schooling because education is a life-learning process and schools are not the only place where you can find knowledge. If what schooling offers cannot be applied to solve social issues, then, education is not fulfilling its goals (Aronowitz, 2004; Dei, 2008).

The schools are focusing on reporting if the minority students have equal opportunities rather than in offering those opportunities. The basic principle of schooling is to offer equal academic knowledge for everyone but in reality most of the BAME pupils end up having similar jobs like their parents. Through the primary and secondary education they don’t receive the necessary learning skills to progress to a higher education (Aronowitz, 2004; Dei, 2008).

Classroom segregation

Segregation represent a separation between groups based on race, language, religion, ethnicity, economical and social class, taking into practice it is a different number of groups sharing a common territory as a school, workplace or the neighborhood (Johnston et al, 2006; Merry, 2013). Segregation is a problem that education system needs to reflect on because it aggravates inequality in schools.

According to a BBC article from March 2017, in England the primary schools are more likely to be segregated by the socio-economic conditions and the secondary schools by ethnicity (BBC News, 2017).

Children of all age have a closer relationship with their families, and by the time they are teenagers in secondary schools, they already form groups sharing similar attitudes, feelings and thoughts (Sturgis et al., 2013). As McKeown et al. (2015) cited about Beverly Daniel Tatum book ‘Why all the black kids sit together in the cafeteria’ by explaining the social identity theory framework that young people relates better with similar characteristics to themselves and that leads to a pocket of segregation in places like classrooms.

Ethnical segregations in classrooms is not generated by the students as they naively choose to sit next to a familiar face in the first instance, by recognizing who lives in the same neighborhood or have the same habits or culture. The segregation we see in secondary classroom is a reflection from the society, is the result of school competition, racial residential segregation and racial prejudice. It is critical that the teacher has a multicultural classroom strategy.

After all, as our classrooms and lectures theatres becomes increasingly ethnically, racially and religiously diverse, we should be considering how these shared spaces are occupied and the impact that this can have on relations within and outside the school setting (McKeown et al., 2015: 3).

In practice a multicultural classroom involves creating a positive connection through dialog. Talking open about race, facilitating constructive discussions and create a safe environment were the students are feeling confident to speak open about race issues (Sleether, 2018; Carter et al., 2017). However, it is in the classroom were the students began and establish their social life; it is a space that presents singularities in regards to what occur in all other educational spaces. The classroom is, therefore, a social space where there is a construction of knowledge from interactions and representations, with the aim of building the meanings of each student proceedings. In the classroom the experience of diversity coexists in the same space and it is necessary to take into account that not all those involved understand this space the same way, since everyone has its own perspective. The classroom as a learning space, allows the teacher to evaluate and understand the difficulties that students demonstrate. The classroom is a space where teachers can promote integration and social inclusion for the students, in order to help them to have positive academic achievement. Is not an easy task for the teacher to promote integration when the students are exposed to racial housing segregation (Burgess et al., 2004), consequently the school classroom is the best tool for endorsing integration.

The teachers need to better understand the significance of the seating chart in the classroom. Drawing attention to the fact that, by placing different background children together will encourage positive outcomes and by encourage natural friendship to be developed rather than support segregation in classroom (McKeown et al., 2015).

Racial and ethnical diversity throughout the contact theory explains that it reduces stereotype and discrimination, and an integrated classroom empowers a student in three aspects: learning, ambition and positive social interaction among students with different racial ethnic backgrounds (Sturgis et al., 2013; Burguess et al., 2004).

Another point to create a more multicultural integrated classroom is to give more information to parents, setting up meeting and workshops that delivers information about school market. Supporting BAME parents to understand and to engage in the school selection process will help to diminish social Inequalities and segregation in schools and classrooms.

These parents contribute significantly to segregation because they are insufficiently engaged in the choice process, make less conscientious choices or lack competence at managing the complex information about admissions arrangements (Coldron et al., 2010: 7).

Blaming just the parents without taking in consideration the individual circumstances, sometimes they don’t have all the information, or maybe the parents don’t have the time to be more involved, or they need to have a second job to support the family, is not the correct solution and the problems that this children are facing will not disappear.

Educators are seeking for a solution to ensure that schooling meets the needs of the multicultural students; throughout educational policy the politicians choose British values as the solution.

The conception of Britishness associated with social cohesion establishes a radicalized polarization in terms of who is and is not British enough… (Chalcraft et al., 2017: 33).

Indoctrination rejects education and denies thinking. Teachers cannot indicate to students what the superior is, or what is the most valuable as every subject needs to be conceived by reasoning. We need to let students to seek such things for themselves and not distorting or imposing a certain belief (Barrow and Woods, 2006).

Espinoza wrote that teaching British values in schools is an act of indoctrination by replacing international rights with British values (Espinoza, 2016). This matter will lead teachers not having sufficient amount of tools or equipment to create a culture that is fair, tolerant and respectful, while in terms of education the human rights gives directions and supply students with an understanding of the values that originate from their cultural roots (Maylor, 2016; Struthers, 2017).

British values can easily be misinterpreted as values solely for citizens of Britain, taking into a reflection of the imperialistic ideology. A teacher could reflect British values as English values within an English political system, forgetting that exists a vast culture provided by the Irish, Scots and Welsh in the same time leaving BAME students as an outsider to disregard their cultural background (Struthers, 2017; Maylor 2016).

Dei (2008) concluded that the current school system does not benefit the minority groups, and indicate that ‘the local community needs to take control of the education of its youth’ (Dei, 2008: 362), by creating they own minority centered schools with educators coming from their own local community. I do not share the same views as Dei regarding the creation of a centered school, this will only increase the inequality and segregation, however the strategy provided by Sleeter (2018) it seems more appropriate. Sleeter (2018) believes that to create bridges between immigrants and native students it’s a good classroom strategy for multicultural education. Creating bilingual education will help students to be proud of the cultural and language background and provide the ability to function well within their cultural communities (Sleeter, 2018).

Microaggressions are subtle reminders of racial stereotypes in the form of insults, gestures, verbal tone or behavioral, most of the times are difficult to identify, but deliver the same message that “people of color are less intelligent, more dangerous or otherwise inferior” (Carter, 2017).  We need to avoid the use of microaggression because will have a negative impact on minority students, creating more division in the classroom.

Burke (2017: 861) mention ‘that political correctness is something to challenge rather than reflective of ongoing concern over the realities of ongoing racism and discrimination’. Racial jokes can have significant negative impact as colorblindness because the joke teller is allowed to tell racist jokes without being accused of racism (Burke, 2017).

…In my own examination of whites who held power in racially diverse neighborhoods – they expressed colorblind principles of “tolerance” and embraced diversity as a cherished value, at the end of the day, most only work to preserve their own material assets or to consume diversity as a way to enhance their own lives (Burke, 2012 cited in Burke 2017: 862).

Burke also drew attention to the fact that most of the time the self preservation of whites is at the expense of minority people in this situation, it can be found in schooling, one of the examples is linked to white flight movement.

Practice and conclusion

It is undeniable a challenging mission for a teacher who is facing a multicultural classroom to address all the issues that come with this task. The teacher needs to take in consideration not only the cultural difference of each pupil but also the student educational background and one of the most common barriers the native language. For example, if the first contact with the English education system is in the secondary school, the teacher has to detect through simple interactions the primary needs of that pupil, in order to create an environment were the student feels safe to ask questions about the issues that he or she is facing. The teacher, in the classroom must understand and respect the different cultural aspects of each student, in order to avoid deep ruptures with their customs and traditions. The cultural aspect has to be seen as a benefit not as a burden for the classroom.

The teacher must develop teaching strategies and learning actions, which should lead to the integration of the students that are coming from different education systems or different cultures in order to avoid cultural segregation.

One teaching method that I use with my students is to share a traditional song that expresses their native culture. Each student had to explain in few words the culture that they are coming and at least three reasons for the song that they chose to share. This exercise developed confidence in each student that is accepted despite the fact that are coming from a different world, always creates a fun experience which has great rewords, the students with different cultural backgrounds start to communicate more, start to have confidence that they could use these differences in a positive way.  A different method that I use usually for the next stage; I chose students with different culture backgrounds and put together two bands giving the task to compose in two weeks a song that mix few elements from their cultural background. After two weeks of practice I could notice that the students are more open to each other culture and they became more curious about the others musical cultural origins. This method helped the BAME students to engage better with other students, give them a sense of culture proud when their notice that the other respect their culture and are willing to learn more about it.

The school market through its selection process creates systems that promotes individual learning, were students are pushed to have just personal high achievements in order to succeed; this type of competitiveness between students is deepening the segregation in the classroom. The students are cultivating an individualist approach to learning; there is a lack of encouragement for students to share their knowledge with each other. However, the classroom requires adaptation, it is in this sense that I support to, implement strategies that promote a more cooperative learning and less competition; a more cooperative work will help the students to develop teamwork experience, and in the same time will help the BAME students to feel more integrated in the school life, improving their social skills and gain more confidence in their own capabilities, and reduce segregation in the classroom.

One difficult task for the teacher is to assess all the students and to make plans for their individual development, not all have the same learning capacity. The constant interaction between the teacher and students is a key element for understanding and adapting the individual learning plan.

The cooperative strategy also allows students to control their negative impulses, the student can adapt better to the new standards and to the school environment. Most of the BAME students have little to no-confidence in their academic future, some students are developing introversion personality (intentionally silent, unsettling, noncontributory) and the other extraversion personality (irritating, noisy, preventing others from speaking) depending on personal upbringing social, cultural and family experience. One method that I regularly use to overcome some of these issues, I create teams with four to six members, depending of the total number of students, but the key is to make sure that each team has students with a different type of skill, level of knowledge, and I design special tasks (most of them similar with general quiz)  for each team, the goal of the task is to encourage the students to share their individual knowledge (for example, I make sure that each student has a dedicated question that only they will know the answer – for example like the most popular band in their country of origin, or the national anthem). This type of exercise allows the students to gain more confidence in their own abilities, it is giving them a sense of accomplishment, and each time they want to contribute more to the lessons. These practices help to overcome individualism, the fact that they are collaborating with another colleague, can make them feel more comfortable and less “abandoned”, promote an open discussion and make the students feel that each one of them has knowledge to share with their colleagues, and for a multicultural classroom this kind of support is very important, students who are less interested, are assisted  to become more involved, in this way most of them are starting to think more about their academic future.

We need to build a curriculum that envisions and respects cultural and racial diversities, to discuss and rethink the ways in which we can help inside or outside the classroom, to promote healthier and more respectful school environment for all students.

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