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The social topic I will be discussing is racial disparities and how the concept of whiteness embedded in our education system hurts marginalized students achieve academic success. Past research on the educational inequalities marginalized groups face indicate black and brown students are prone to implicit bias by white teachers, are more likely to get in trouble compared to their white peers, and their academic failures are blamed on their parents. Instead of paving the way for marginalized students to succeed in our education system, school administrations across the country have deflected by bringing up cultural deficiency rather than take responsibility for how their institution is failing to address the needs of minority students. There is also a disproportionate amount of minority students facing racial spotlighting from Anglo administrators and researchers have found they often feel they are not challenged enough, which adds to our crippling education system. This topic is important because it brings to the light the psychological issues minority students face as a result of the racism and lack of training from school administrators, while addressing in what areas our education system is failing minority students, and how we can improve their quality of education so they can achieve academic success. In addition, the concept of whiteness, an ideology according to our book where racial domination is normalized (Desmond, 2015), is indoctrinated in our education system, which has led to colorblindness and the belief on individual merit rather than focusing how America is failing students of color. While our qualitative research is current on addressing the racial disparities black and brown students face in our education system, Chapter 7 in our textbook “Race in America” highlights how past policies and the racial divide has led up to many of the inequalities marginalized groups face today.
First and foremost, in order to understand the racial disparities and educational inequalities which are still present for students of color today, it is important to take a look back on how past marginalized groups were treated by our education system. In chapter 7 of “Race in America” Desmond focuses the first half of the chapter to educate us on how racial disparities and inequalities date back to a few centuries ago when native Americans were forced to assimilate into American schools during the colonization era. They were forbidden to speak their Native tongue, practice their religion, and wear their cultural attire. Harsh punishments were documented through the Meriam report on the treatment of Native Americans in schools, which was no surprise to Native children and parents. Students who chose to not attend school or rebelled inside were severely beaten or left to starve. Other students who were scared to fight back were indoctrinated into the concept of whiteness by learning at a young age their culture is inferior and backwards compared to whites (Desmond, 2015). During this time, black children instead of gaining an education, were being born into slavery because of the fear if black people were educated, slavery would cease to exist and white people will not be able to profit from them. Organizations such as the NAACP fought for the desegregation of schools but it is clear through white people finding loopholes in policies and moving their children from public to charter schools, they did not want to share the same space. Although black students being able to occupy the same school spaces as white students was seen as a massive win, it’s important to take into account how schools no longer being segregated affect students of color attending majority white schools.
A qualitative study created by Chapman explores how students of color feel attending majority white schools. While these school were better funded and minority students were indicated to have higher grades, many of them expressed feeling alone and not challenged enough. The study showed they had lacked a high sense of self-esteem despite their academic success. Through interviewing these students, Chapman discovered many of these high-school students of color experienced racial spotlighting from their Anglo teachers. They also reported a disconnect with their white teachers and felt they could not relate to them. Many of them believed the lack of being able to connect with their teachers was due to their ethnicity and in turn explained why they felt they were being challenged less compared to white classmates (Chapman, 2014). Researcher Kirsten Weird adds to the racial disparities minority students face in the education system by explaining how the racial and academic gap were a result of how school staff treats specifically black students compared to white students. This mistreatment is costly and we see it as the graduation rates for black students are 73% compared to white students were 87%, and white students being found 54% more likely to be recommended for a gifted program compared to minority students (Weir, 2016).
In contrast to the rates of white students being recommended for a gifted program in the previous research, in another study, black and brown students were found to be more likely to be recommended by their teachers to participate in an intervention program to address disruptive classroom behavior (Reno, 2017). High school black and brown boys were found to have higher chances of being recommended for this intervention program. Researchers noted how white teachers were recommending marginalized students into these intervention programs. Black and Latino students are already criminalized by society but are also quickly labeled as the bad apples in the classroom by teachers because of their implicit bias being present when noting which students would make more sense in being labeled as troublemakers. It is why teachers should receive training on implicit bias to identify subconscious racial profiling, and more importantly for white administrators to understand different cultural norms so behavior which is not considered Americanized should not constantly be punished.
Misunderstandings of cultural norms and behaviors leads to cultural deficiency as one researcher found when exploring which students were more likely to experience school consequences (Aanyon, 2018). Once again, Latino and black students were found more likely to experience school punishments compared to their white classmates despite having the same disruptive behavior. For gender, it was boys of color who were found to experience an office referral or suspension. Along with white students being least likely to experience a disciplinary punishment, girls and students whose main language is English were least likely to receive any form of punishment. While implicit bias can once again be explained for the high number of students of color facing school punishments, through interviewing school administration, cultural deficiency was a common result in explaining the behaviors of these brown and black students. Rather than taking accountability, immigrant parents were to blame for their children’s behavior. Similarly to how “Race in America” explains how Native Americans were forced to assimilate otherwise they were punished, first generation and undocumented Latino students struggling to assimilate to American schools are being punished for their behaviors not being considered American enough. This cultural misunderstanding on how schools norms may vary create disparities in education because these same students are then challenged less as we have also seen through Chapman’s qualitative research and are punished for not showing normalized “white” behavior. Whiteness is once again shown in how racial domination creates racial disparities for behavior that is not considered Americanized. This in turn creates educational inequalities as students of color struggle to navigate the school system and try to reach the expectations of their white teachers.
However, navigating the school system indoctrinated with whiteness is a difficult concept to grasp for white students and administrators because it is not something which directly affects them. As a matter of fact, in the past couple of years, emerging new concepts and terminologies are being understood in modern times, one being the idea of “white privilege.” However, not everyone is coming to terms with white privilege and the idea that racial disparities do in fact exist. Take into account researchers who interviewed white college men and their perception of white privilege. Since most of them had difficult childhoods, they did not believe in white privilege, but instead deflected by talking about individual merit leading them to college. Researchers noted their experiences reflected a blind eye to colorblind policies as they disputed how people of color should feel and deal with racism. Mindsets like these are damaging to future minority students in the education system because much like earlier school administration blaming cultural deficiency rather than taking accountability for academic failures, these people deflect on the problems rather than come up with solutions to how they are part of the problem.
One of the main solutions to decrease the racial disparities black and brown students face in our education system is to address interactions taking place between students of color and white school staff. Proper training on different cultural norms and improving interactions without being offensive can help reduce implicit bias, address behavioral concerns, and foster healthy student teacher relationships. Instead of resorting to school punishments when effective communication can work; it can stop students from falling behind in their classes while taking accountability for their own disruptive behavior. Further research can be done to see if these methods can be sociologically proven to be successful and how students of color can be affected long term when school administration fail to meet their academic needs. Overall, this social topic is important because factors such as implicit bias, whiteness, and cultural deficiency are rarely discussed in terms of how these ideologies are affecting the academic journeys of black and brown youth.
- Anyon, Y., Lechuga, C., Ortega, D., Downing, B., Greer, E., and Simmons, J. 2018. “An Exploration of the Relationships between Student Racial Background and the School.” Race, Ethnicity & Education 21(3): 390–406.
- Cabrera, N. L., and Corces-Zimmerman, C. 2017. “An Unexamined Life: White Male Racial Ignorance and the Agony of Education for Students of Color.” Equity and Excellence in Education 50(3): 300–315.
- Chapman, T. K. 2015. “Is Integration a Dream Deferred? Students of Color in Majority White Suburban Schools.” Journal of Negro Education 83(3): 311–326.
- Desmond, Matthew, and Mustafa Emirbayer. 2015. “Race in America.” Pp.245-278 in Education New York: Norton.
- Reno, G. D., Friend, J., Caruthers, L., and Smith, D. 2017. “Who’s Getting Targeted for Behavioral Interventions? Exploring the Connections between School Culture, Positive Behavior Support, and Elementary Student Achievement.” Journal of Negro Education 86(4): 423–438.
- Weir, Kirsten. 2016. “Inequality at School What’s Behind the Racial Disparity in Our Education System?” American Psychological Association 47(10): 41-42.
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