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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgokEyDlubk

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.


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