Editor’s Note: After I posted Implicit Bias Training Doesn’t Seem To Work – So What Should Teachers & Others Do, Instead?, I invited my colleague Antoine Germany to share his thoughts.
Antoine Germany is a teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif., and chair of its English Department:
In the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the nation has undergone a reckoning with its racist past and a recognition of the systemic nature of racism in American society currently. Many well-meaning educators are motivated to recognize and correct these systemic inequities with self examination and exploration of possible solutions. One of the most popular solutions heard in schools and districts across the country is to have mandatory anti-bias training for teachers and administrators.
Although anti bias training is filled with good intentions there is little evidence that they work. In fact there is some evidence that workplace trainings on stereotypes can actually be harmful to the cause they espouse.
To be sure, bias plays an outsized role in education. There is evidence that many associate black skin with evil,that black boys are viewed as older and less innocent than their white counterparts, or that young black men are seen as more physically threatening than their physical characteristics warrants.
So if anti-bias training isn’t effective and bias is a serious cause of harm for students of color what can be done to fight racial bias in our schools?
There are a host of things that can be done to address this persistent issue on the systemic level, however for the classroom teacher some of the answers can be found in culturally relevant teaching grounded in a teacher’s cultural competences. Culture has always played a large role in how students and teachers give, retain, and demonstrate knowledge. What has not always been apparent is that the ubiquitous methods of teaching, managing, and assessing learning is eurocentric. Part of the underlying fallacy of white supremacy is the assumption that the way a classroom has functioned historically is the standard way or the way it is supposed to be done.
Intentional culturally responsive teaching means that teachers learn and use the student’s culture to help children access knowledge, practice skills and demonstrate knowledge. Instead of ignoring culture or pretending that culture has no affect on how students learn, culturally responsive teaching takes the opposite tact, it seeks to thoroughly learn, affirm and validate different cultural characteristics in the classroom and uses it to have a dynamic classroom of learners.
Much can be said about this pedagogical approach but here are some primary characteristics:
- Create a management style that embraces restorative practices.Acknowledges that relationships are central to building community. Establish a culture of high expectations with high support, emphasizing doing things “WITH” not “TO” or “FOR” students. Culture is central to learning. It plays a role not only in communicating and receiving information, but also in shaping the thinking process of groups and individuals.
- Use role-playing strategies
- Assign students research projects that focuses on issues or concepts that apply to their own community or cultural group
- Provide various options for completing an assignment
- Bridge cultural differences using effective communication
- Teach and talk about differences between individuals
- Show how differences among the students make for better learning
- Talk about current events that affect the local community
- Share responsibility of instruction
- Cooperative Learning Groups
- Have students lead discussion groups or reteach concepts
- Culturally Mediated Instruction: Instruction is culturally mediated when it incorporates and integrates diverse ways of knowing, understanding, and representing information.
- Research students’ experiences with learning and teaching
- Ask educators who come from the same cultural background as the students about effective ways to teach them
- Ask students about when in their school experiences they have learned the most, and what teachers have done that has helped them the most.
- Devise and implement different ways for students to be successful in achieving developmental milestones
- Allow students to set their own goals for a project
- Allow the use of the student’s first language to enhance learning
- iii. Create an environment that encourages and embraces culture
- Employ patterns of management familiar to students
- Allow students ample opportunities to share their cultural knowledge
- Question and challenge students on their beliefs and actions
- Teach students to question and challenge their own beliefs and actions
Let’s use this opportunity to reimagine what education can be. Let’s use this moment to embrace culture, use culture, and celebrate culture in a way that uplifts students and increases their learning. This process will raise teacher’s awareness and cultural competencies in a way that improves both students and teacher’s cultural efficacy. Hopefully the days of ignoring culture, or being colorblind in the classroom or in faculty meetings are over. Hopefully the norms of a classroom will be teachers learning from and with their students instead of the teacher being the sole arbiter of knowledge.