Racism in education then and now.
It was 1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed legal racial segregation in public schools in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. According to the Legal Defense Fund, this was the most celebrated victory in fighting for civil rights. But did the integration of schools result in addressing the rights of students of color to get the quality education they deserve? Unfortunately not. There are still a variety of educational gaps and lack of access to resources between White students and students of color that continue to plague our education systems.
Did you know that Black students have lower academic outcomes than their peers? Black students make up 10% of gifted programs and 33% of special education (Ramsay-Jordan, 2020). Black students have 2-3 times higher suspension rates than other racial and ethnic groups (Gregory et al., 2016). Black students have the highest dropout rate at 17.2% (Ramsay-Jordan, 2020). Numbers don’t lie, and that’s evidence that racism and its disparities still exist in our education systems.
What is anti-racism?
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” – Ijoema Oluo
Anti-racism is actively doing the work and taking action to recognize and remove the structures, processes, policies, practices, and attitudes in our education systems that prohibit equity, especially for students of color. This includes both individual actions on the classroom level with our students, like incorporating different perspectives, and larger systemic changes, like advocating for legislative changes like DeSantis’ legal actions against teaching Advanced Placement African American Studies.
In addition, anti-racism involves recognizing the ways in which racism is woven into the fabric of our society and actively working to dismantle it. This can include educating ourselves about the history and impacts of racism, challenging racist ideas and behavior in ourselves and others, and advocating for policies and practices that promote equity and justice for people of all races.
In short, anti-racism implies actively working to challenge and dismantle racism.
Now to anti-racist teaching.
Why anti-racist teaching?
“Anti-racist work in all schools is essential. It is the exercise of hope, the practice of undoing and dismantling systems of oppression, the practice of freedom and of truth-telling. Anti-racist work is the practice of healing and of restoring; it is a practice of love.” - Jamilah Pitts, Learning for Justice
One of the first steps in anti-racist teaching is recognizing and acknowledging some of the ways our current education system is built on racist foundations, which shape traditional curricula, teaching methods, and the structures of our institutions.
Then we must look at the benefits of anti-racist teaching. There is a growing body of research on anti-racist teaching and its impact on student learning and well-being. Antiracist teaching seeks to understand and appreciate all students' experiences, especially those who have been historically excluded. As a result, students feel heard, seen, affirmed, and valued. They appreciate having a comforting and safe learning environment. And they are exposed to diverse perspectives, experiences, and content.
The Center for Teaching & Learning says, “Being an anti-racist educator means developing or growing an anti-racist mindset and agenda and using that to shape your teaching practices.” Therefore, as teachers, we must be cognizant of our conscious and unconscious biases that might seep into our daily teaching. We must use practices like self-reflection and participation in anti-racist initiatives to confront our biases, allowing us to grow and shift so we can best provide an inclusive, safe learning space for all our students.
The Department of Education explored how teachers in a school district used self-reflection for topics related to the effects of racism in education. For example, when reviewing the suspensions for the district, there were 149 suspensions and expulsion for every 100 black students compared with 32 for every 100 white students. When teachers were shown this data, it was brought to their attention how black students experience more consequences for behavior than their white peers.
In another case study by the Institute of Education Sciences, teachers shared their perspectives on the benefits of antiracist teaching due to their participation in an anti-racist initiative. For example, one teacher shared the following:
“I use my knowledge and position in society to better support my students and those around me who deserve to have their voices heard. I think about the experiences my students have that I cannot relate to. This has changed my actions and thoughts... I truly believe that students should have a hand in what they learn and how they learn in school and work with material that they can relate to. ”
The next move is on you!
Here are three recommendations to begin the process of becoming an anti-racist teacher:
1️⃣Engage in anti-racist work yourself:
“In the end, as any successful teacher will tell you, you can only teach the things that you are. If we practice racism, then it is racism we teach.” -Max Lerner
As mentioned before, we all have biases toward race, gender, or other aspects. These biases can affect our teaching when presenting certain materials, discussing a particular theme or topic, or choosing the reading for the students. Unpack your biases through self-reflection. Reflect on your daily teaching practice. Ask for help and seek support. Understand that racism takes on many forms. Acknowledge, recognize, and learn how this country, its structures, and systems (including education) were built on racist principles. Finally, allow yourself to read and enjoy diverse media.
2️⃣Fix your curriculum gaps:
“When we’re talking about diversity, it’s not a box to check. It is a reality that should be deeply felt and held and valued by all of us.” – Ava DuVernay
The research shows that students benefit from seeing their identities represented in our teaching content (The Center for Learning). Diversity in the materials and curriculum we provide to our students is a great way to make them feel welcomed and included in their classrooms. Each of your students has a different background, story, race, ethnicity, experience, and so much more. So why not allow them to see themselves reflected in their course materials, in posters and materials around the classroom, in the expert voices they hear from, etc.? We can also help students make associations between their background and the topics presented to them in the curriculum. In a nutshell, don’t just teach the standards or just teach the content. Supplement, expand, enrich, substitute, include, and modify, so you can foster the diversity your students deserve.
3️⃣Plan community-building activities:
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” —Audre Lorde
Activities centered around community and connection help students enhance their awareness and practice life skills. Therefore, incorporating group activities where students can interact with their peers and the larger school and outside community widen their perspectives, especially when working together to reach a goal. For example, students can work together in class to explore a topic by participating in a virtual breakout or escape room. On a school level, hosting a family night where traditional meals and games are shared allows each student’s family to be honored and celebrated. Another example is incorporating aspects of service learning into the curriculum to help students identify and meet a community need, like collecting items to donate to an animal shelter or creating items for the elderly community. Activities where parents, families, community members, and other stakeholders, especially those of different races and backgrounds, can participate open the door for discussions, sharing of experiences, values, and so much more. All of this can broaden the learning experience for students, build their character, and help them to develop skills they will need in the real world.
Now it's time to implement!
Antiracist teaching can lead to improved academic outcomes, mental health outcomes, and interracial relations for students of color. Small cumulative steps toward anti-racist teaching lead to significant progress. Implementing these strategies at the classroom level and expanding to the entire school community will begin to lay the foundation for accepting and including the diverse student body. Creating an anti-racist plan within your school is a significant step, and the strategies mentioned above can be easily implemented.
So are you ready to do this important work? We welcome you to implement these simple strategies. If you or your school would like a more in-depth plan or support in creating an anti-racist culture in your school, you may connect with us at https://www.lctelearning.com, call us at (305) 209-0003, or send us an email at email@example.com.
"Data Snapshot: School Discipline." Civil Rights Data Collection. U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, Mar. 2014.
DePaul University, Center for Teaching & Learning. (2023). Inclusive Teaching: Being an Anti-Racist Educator.
Gregory, A., Hafen, C. A., Ruzek, E., Mikami, A. Y., Allen, J. P., & Pianta, R. C. (2016). Closing the racial discipline gap in classrooms by changing teacher practice. School Psychology Review, 45(2), 171-191.
Lee, D.M. (2012). Creating an anti-racist classroom, Edutopia. George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Ramsay-Jordan, N. (2020). Understanding the Impact of Differences: Using Tenets of Critical Race Pedagogy to Examine White Pre-Service Teachers' Perceptions of Their Black Students' Race & Culture. Multicultural Education, 27(2), 2.
Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands, Institute of Education Sciences. (2020). Student Voices: Perspectives on Antiracism in Schools.