by Leah Smiley
As schools are seeing more students of color in the classroom, they must begin to think critically about educational reform and ensuring that all students achieve greatness, regardless of their individual differences. It is my proposition that educational reform, then, includes offering curriculum and instruction with:
1. Accurate examples of diverse contributions to U.S. History
2. Opportunities for students to learn more about inspirational diverse role models
3. Positive reinforcement pertaining to experiences with individuals who are different
So why do teachers claim to instruct students in this area of diversity using examples of slavery, rap music, and sports? I’ll tell you why– because they don’t know any better. They watch too much TV; read too many online blogs about people of color robbing, stealing and doing drugs; and they listen to other teachers who have biases. This results in teachers “stereotyping” the black experience.
That’s right, I said it: stereotyping. Stereotyping is so much easier than doing a little work to distinguish facts from fiction. As an example, in 2011 there were a few hundred blacks that became successful rappers or athletes– just a few hundred. On the contrary, according to the Small Business Administration, as of 2011, there are over 2 million black owned businesses. In a population of 40 million plus, isn’t it more likely that a black person would be a business owner, than a rapper or athlete?
Additionally, the unemployment rate for blacks is 11% (according to the Department of Labor)– which of course is much higher than other groups, but that leaves the question: what about the other 89% of people?
African Americans are commonly linked to welfare, public assistance and poverty. But the reality is that roughly 25% of the population lives below poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This figure could be caused by a number of factors including, unemployment; underemployment (where you have a job, but don’t make enough to support your family); and bad choices resulting in prison records from illegal activities. But that still means that 75% of the population is not in poverty. Here are some other facts:
– Washington, DC, which is affectionately called Chocolate City because there are so many black folks, has the highest personal income per capita in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
-Queens County, New York is the only county with a population of 65,000 or more where African Americans have a higher median household income than White Americans. Nevertheless, there are dozens of cities and suburbs around the country with affluent and highly educated blacks, such as Atlanta, GA; Prince Georges County, MD; Willingboro, NJ; and more.
I bring these facts up because it is necessary to educate our students about these issues so that they are not under the assumption that what they read online and see on TV is true. Instead, teachers should instruct students to question images that are in the media or that they learned from their parents. Not only does this build a critical skill that is invaluable in the business world, but it helps them to view individuals who are diverse as individuals.
Furthermore, if teachers do a little more research, they may find out that their self-fulfilling prophecy (or notion that diverse parents don’t care about education), is also a stereotypical myth. Perhaps if YOU changed your mind, you would get better results in the area of parental participation– and you just may get some help in teaching students about diversity.