November 04, 2006

Believe in color-blindness? "You just don't get it"

The National Education Association (NEA) thinks that if its teachers believe in color-blindness, well, frankly, they're misguided. In the latest issue of NEA Today, the monthly highlights, of all places, Seattle schools which utilize the severely divisive "Courageous Conversations" and have a rather ... unique definition of racism are now making use of a teaching "strategy" dubbed "culturally responsive teaching." They believe it the key -- the KEY -- to closing the ever-present "achievement gap," that chasm between white student academic achievement and that of minority (black, primarily) students.

"The challenge is to find better ways to connect to the realities of what students know and live," says Jacqueline Jordan Irvine, an Emory University researcher and advocate for culturally responsive teaching. Oh, in other words do what good teachers would be expected to do! Good thing we have "researchers" like Ms. Irvine to guide our teachers, eh? And what are some good examples of "culturally responsive teaching?" Take a look:

Culturally responsive teaching is not about one lesson on Martin Luther King Jr. during Black History Month. It is not serving tacos in the cafeteria on Cinco de Mayo. Beyond heroes and holidays, it is about understanding students' home life, their language, music, dress, behavior, jokes, ideas about success, the role of religion and community in their lives, and more. It is bringing the experiences of their 24-hour day into the seven-hour school day to give them information in a familiar context. Like the teacher in Atlanta who conducts a geometry lesson by talking about geometric patterns in Mexican pottery and African kente cloth and has students bring in examples from home.

I'd be incredibly interested in just how many Hispanic students would be "drawn in" to such a geometry lesson because "Mexican pottery" was utilized, or how many black students would be enthralled by the use of an "African kente cloth." Do African-American students really get motivated by things like a kente cloth?? Wouldn't examples closer to home be more relevant? Let's go even further -- why not make it really relevant in some students' cases? Teachers could make up test questions like the sample SAT question proposed by Professor James Loewen (author of the book Lies My Teacher Told Me):

Saturday Ajax got an LD:

a) He had smoked too much grass
b) He tripped out on drugs
c) He brought her to his apartment
d) He showed it off to his fox
e) He became wised up

(Via Illiberal Education.)

Would that be "teaching in the context of [the students'] community" as Magda Costantino, a Washington researcher and academic who designed a reading curriculum that incorporates American Indian culture, says?

In the late 1990s, however, Meany Middle School's reputation was dismal and race could no longer be ignored. Test scores were low. Discipline problems were high. Although the neighborhoods surrounding it are now seeing more middle-class growth, they were then largely poor. Race and poverty are the most significant factors in Meany's students' performance, says principal Princess Shareef, so when Seattle Public Schools decided to start implementing culturally responsive teaching district-wide four years ago, her school was a ripe target for the improvement it could bring.

"Race and poverty are the most significant factors ..."? How so? Poverty can play a tangible role in education (lack of proper nutrition, poor living conditions) but how precisely does race play a "significant" factor in student performance -- other than how it may be connected with some other factor? Glenn Singleton, founder of "Courageous Conversations," would have you (teachers, actually) believe that the "most devastating" factor contributing to [black] student underachievement is institutionalized racism:

"It is our belief that the most devastating factor contributing to the lowered achievement of students of color is institutionalized racism," Singleton writes (with co-author Curtis Linton) in his recent book Courageous Conversations About Race. White teachers (and minority teachers co-opted into the white power structure) stymie black and Hispanic students because they fail to understand their cultures and how daily racial oppression affects their outlook. They also push a curriculum tooled for whites, and are ignorant of the special ways that blacks and Hispanics communicate.

"We will shine the light on racial dominance to uncover how Whiteness challenges the performance of students of color while shaping and reinforcing the racial perspective of White children," Singleton and Linton promise.

This is the program by which Seattle (and other) school districts actually hope -- and "hope" is the key word -- will close the achievement gap. Consider: It is not poverty, it is not lack of an educationally conducive homelife, it is not lack of [parental] structure ... factors like these that are primarily responsible for the achievement gap. It is because white teachers "perpetuate the white power structure" and thus hinder minority student progress. Amazing then, that Asian students -- despite the "ravages" of this despicable institutionalized racist white power monolith -- manage to outperform their white "masters."

Consider the irony: During the Civil Rights movement, Americans were taught to "see each other without regards to race" ... that we were all Americans regardless of color. In other words, "color-blindness." But we've come full circle now, so to speak. Now, disregarding race can get you in hot water:

Despite Seattle's top-to-bottom adoption of a culturally responsive approach, "we have wonderful teachers and leaders who don't get it," Caprice Hollins, director of the district's office of equity and race relations, says. Not because they're bad teachers. Rather, "they think that this should be a colorblind society where race doesn't — or shouldn't —matter."

There you have it. You may be a terrific instructor, but if you don't buy into the notion that race is some educationally all-encompassing behemoth, "you don't get it." "You don't get it" if you believe in a color-blind society. And what conclusion does this logically lead to? If you refuse to "get it," if you continue your belief that Americans should treat each other without regards to race, then you are ... racist.

Today at John Rosenberg's excellent Discriminations is a perfect example of leftist "new-think" with regards to the philosophy of color-blindness:

It (color-blindness) was merely a tactical first step on the road to his (Berkeley law prof. Ian F. Haney López) version of equality. When that tactic was no longer useful, it was sloughed off like the dead skin of a snake, and its opposite — a demand for color conscious racial preference — was conveniently embraced. Colorblindness came to be seen as the problem, not the solution, in large part because racial discrimination was no longer regarded as the primary evil to be cured.

A few years ago, Harry Brighouse, professor of philosophy and affiliate professor of education policy studies UW-Madison, and contributor to the left-leaning Crooked Timber blog, dissected this entire philosophy (specifically "Courageous Conversations"). Some of the more powerful excerpts (my emphasis):

True, an achievement gap remains even after we control for wealth. But a good part of that gap closes when we control for grandparental wealth. The injuries of class take a long time to heal.

Some part of the achievement gap does seem to be explained by race, though much less than the district assumes.

The second assumption the Conversations approach makes is that what is explained by race can by addressed by making teachers face up to their own privilege and racism. The problem, in other words, is in the attitudes of teachers and other district employees. But we have evidence to the contrary.

... the Conversations approach demoralizes teachers, without any demonstrable benefit for disadvantaged children. Any one of the measures I've described above, unglamorous as they are, might actually benefit the disadvantaged, without demoralizing anyone. Teachers are not the problem, and they should not be told that they are.

Indeed. The most recent edition of Academic Questions, the quarterly journal of the National Association of Scholars, is just the latest scholarly report which refutes Singleton's thesis that institutionalized racism is the main factor contributing to the achievement gap. It features an article that states schools can actually do very little to slim the achievement gap as the "gap" begins at the earliest ages -- the prime years for personal cognitive development. Family influences prior to age 5, the report says, result in just about all of the achievement gap by age 11.

(Thanks to Hube for the research and writing assist.)

Posted by Felix at November 4, 2006 07:33 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

The last exerpt you posted was excellent - it sums up my experience with our District's Courageous Conversations. I think this should be forwarded to every teacher everywhere.

Posted by: Bronwen at November 4, 2006 08:34 PM

The gap is genetic. It can't be closed. To admit exists would put our elite, and their bureaucratic hangers on, out of work. So they'll keep lying, and our White children will keep getting prevented from learning thanks to mixed classrooms.

Posted by: Alex Linder at April 23, 2007 12:04 AM