Book Review: Everyday Anti-Racism

This book is the perfect book for the educator that is looking to bring discussions of racism into their classroom. Organized by topical sections, this selection of essays by real educators can answer questions, give tips, and provide insight on how race is perceived in the student experience.

A key theme of the book is respecting the student experience and how to integrate the perceptions of your students in the classroom. There is also a handful of essays talking about some small things, such as posters, that can have an impact on the racial aspect of peoples identities.

For any teacher that is looking to get real about race in school, Everyday Anti-Racism is the book for you. Although just reading it is not enough. It is a guidebook to the anti-racist educator to take meaningful steps toward combating discrimination in the classroom.


Now That You Know All the Things That You Know

Knowledge is a key aspect to making a good teacher. The teacher that doesn’t know the answer, or leans on the textbook makes it challenging to learn. This is something that is obvious for many students who, like myself, have spent the last 16 years of their life with teachers.  Knowledge for many people is what defines teaching. A teacher is someone who disseminates knowledge to new generations. To disseminate knowledge a teacher has to lecture, advise and critique. These skills all involve the teacher telling the students what to know, what to do, and how to do it. These skills are the tried and true method of passing on the canonical knowledge of a subject. However, there is more to what a teacher does than pass on knowledge. That is growing inspiration and interest in students lives. It is the intangible side to what teachers do and it requires different skills than the tangible knowledge side. Where as the knowledge side of education requires lecture, advice, and critique, the intangible side requires that the teacher stop talking and listen to the student. As stated earlier, knowledge is what makes a good teacher, but listening is what separates the good from the great.

For the final sessions of EDHD 3002 we have read Jacqueline Deal’s article called Lotus: A Pedagogy of Listening. Deal’s article has sparked my own thought on how I will be a listener in the classroom and especially how listening can break down my own prejudices about students and discrimination when working with students. Though my attempts to be self-aware of my own prejudice I have realized that my biggest problem is a lot like Deal’s, in that I think very highly of my own sense of achievement. Just as Deal recognized it was wrong of her to critique the choice of her student’s to join the Marines, I sometimes do not value other peoples achievements if it is something I do not value as a worthy pursuit. For me I am prone to support students getting a bachelor’s degree at a state university and then entering a lifelong career for which they are trained. It is important to realize that for many of my future students achievement will not come from this route. Some will join the military, some will become full time parents, some will travel and some will get a technical degree. All of those are just as worthy as my pursuit for achievement and it is my job as a teacher to listen to what my students want to do and help them get there.

Finally I connected this to Everyday Antiracism in that for many teacher’s pursuits of antiracism they may find themselves having to be proactive and action oriented to fight against the racial status-quo that can be apparent in many classrooms. However, an action-oriented antiracist teacher can do harm if they do not listen first to what their students want. We all know that there is a disproportionate number of white students in post-secondary education compared to real population percentages, and that students of minority status drop out of high school too often and as teachers we should help minority students stay in school and reach post-secondary education. Only, however, when they wan too. If a young minority-status student with high potential leaves high school with no post-secondary education and plans on living at home to take care of their younger siblings, it is important to realize the incredible responsibility and dedication that it takes to make that choice. My prejudice would dictate that everyone and especially minority-status students should spend 4 years in  a state university, but I have to recognize that that option is not for everyone and I should be encouraging my students to be best of what they want and need to be.

Here are some other resources that I have read and channeled while writing this:

Very long but excellent piece on a homeless girl growing up in New York and what she wants to do with her life:

Here is a podcast titled Listening to Students featuring a handful of teachers about how and why to listen to students:

Respecting the Student Experience

This week in Exploring the Teaching Profession, we have read part D of Everyday Anti-Racism. This section is subtitled Race and the School Experience: The Need for Inquiry. To supplement this reading were two articles on gender and the school experience which open up the topic of those who fall upon the borders of gender normality experience school. For this weeks blog I focus on the inputs to learning and what kinds of inputs have the greatest effects on the outcomes.

In secondary education, especially pre-high school education, the focus is on encoding the students to complete objective tasks. These are addition, subtraction, states and their capitals, biologic and geologic understandings of the Earth and many more. These objective tasks are decided by the representatives and senators who create and vote to law education policy.

So what is the teacher’s goal amongst the objective purposes of education? From my 16 years as a student and my limited experiences as an educator it is not the goal of the most effective teacher to meet prescribed learning objectives. What part D of Everyday Anti-Racism and the articles about gender speak to is the student experience and what the most effective teacher focuses on; student experience.

There have been many acts that take the approach of objectifying education into tangible inputs and outputs, median income and test scores, or race and misbehavior. No Child Left Behind and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as well as the National Defense Education Act all attempt to meddle with the murky balance of inputs and outputs in a student’s learning. A teacher however should be mainly concerned with student experience and how to best reach each student in their classroom. To try to objectify the learning in ones classroom leaves some students at the margins. When we focus on student experience we invite all students to learning.

The flaw of No Child Left Behind (the most recent education reform act and most recently abandoned) is that it focuses on money, materials, and the tangible inputs of education. Material benefits are nice, but the biggest inputs to a students education are more intangible. Everyday Anti-Racism speaks to some of the intangible inputs concerning racial/cultural identity. The ones that I specifically like are Kathy Schultz’s investigation of why students go quiet in the classroom and how to explore their possible experience and why they are quiet. Doug Foley describes the tools to investigate the cultural experiences in the classroom and how to gain insight on your own teaching style from the students. Erika Sokolower-Shain talks about exclusion from the gender binary in the classroom and how what most people find as a basic identity can exclude students from learning.

These essays are important to future teachers like myself because the greatest barriers to learning for students in my classroom will not likely be the quality of the textbook, or the technology available, or even if there are chairs for everyone. The biggest barriers to education are the intangibles. The family life, the safety in the classroom, and the feeling of belonging. Those are the biggest walls between a teacher and students.

Objective Academics and Student Empowerment

This week for EDHD 3002 we read a selection of Everyday Anti-Racism titles How Opportunities Are Provided and Denied Inside Schools. This collection of essays concerned how children of racial minorities are denied opportunities of equal value to those white students are offered. Some examples given include a subjective nature to standardized testing which discriminate upon racial lines and how students of racial minority status are often placed onto remedial or slow tracks in math and science. A common theme in both of those examples as well as many of the essays is that race discrimination in schools starts and is carried out by the subjective decisions by teachers and administrators. This would make logical sense as racism and race in general is a subjective concept. That being true, the answer would be either to remove the chance of subjection in education or to train educators to be more racially aware arbiters. I personally believe that the solution is in the latter, because to be subjective is to be human and to make any decision.

It would maintain that I would agree with many of the articles, I also differ from many as well. I believe it is the job of the educator to the most to empower the student to go forth and continue to improve themselves. Empowerment, as I see it, breaks down into two parts. The first is the belief in ones self to accomplish goals. This is connected to self-esteem but combined with the sense of accomplishment. Students need to have experience with accomplishment through challenging and adverse goals to believe that they can repeat that process. Second, students need to have tools or base knowledge from which to take on a career, a family and post-secondary education. If these two parts of empowerment are true, I believe that it is important to address the hurdles which directly affect empowerment.

My favorite essay in this section is by John Baugh titled Valuing Nonstandard English. Baugh explains how African American Vernacular English is shuned in some English education and how that is damaging to students who speak AAVE. Baugh in his conclusion says that English educators need to not just tolerate AAVE in the classrooms but accept it as well as teach academic English. He calls on teachers to teach linguistic acceptance and fluency (Baugh pg. 105).  This approach to linguistics in the classroom empowers students by not putting down their speech and teaching them the tool of academic English and knowledge of linguistic differences.

There are articles for which I disagree, one of which is Maria Ong’s Challenging Cultural Stereotypes of “Scientific Ability.” It is in my opinion that this article addresses a problem that is but the lining of the causes of racial disparities in science, math, and engineering education. Ong’s concludes that it is a lack of role-models in SME which needs to be addressed. Ong in her article sites research that is contrary to that conclusion. Talking About Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences by Elayne Seymour and Nancy M. Hewitt claims in their study of 400 undergraduates who switched out of SME majors, women and minorities did so after adversity that was generally felt across all SME majors and that they tended to blame themselves for switching. This would suggest that it was a lack of confidence in women and minorities that create disparities. Confidence comes from within and outside like a role model. To have confidence is rather to have been empowered.  Empowerment in children is not, in my opinion, a matter of role models, but a matter of self-assurance, control, independence, and self-motivation. My opinion is backed by researcher and educator Carolyn M. Tucker in Promoting Sccess in Math among African American Female Children: A Self-Empowerment Approach. Adversity and failure is commonplace in education and it is the students who are empowered that can overcome. Due to historical and modern inequalities in child development, racial minorities face lack of control, independence, motivation, and assurance which then reflect racial disparities in SME classrooms.

A video concerning the empowerment of youth by Mishal Hamed Kanoo:

The last work read for this week was Richard Milner’s Start Where You Are, But Don’t Stay There. I appreciated this piece because it stressed the importance of educator to student relationships. I believe it is a human tendency when faced with adversity (such as faced by a teacher with a difficult class) to shore up psychological defenses and pull themselves emotionally out of the situation. Milner states however that sharing personal stories and letting students know you as a person helps is a tool in getting students to respect you as a teacher. Milner’s example is a white teacher in a racially diverse science classroom that was not being respected by his students. It is encouragement for me to create relations with my students and let my students know me so that my classroom can be a place of mutual respect.