Education is often hailed as a great equalizer. We teach children that good grades lead to good jobs, which in a just and equitable world would give all students access to opportunities. However, we often fail to acknowledge that prejudice, inequality, and racism doesn’t disappear when the school bell rings. Black students often face systematic racism and discrimination inside of the classroom; schools in white neighborhoods often have more resources, and personal bias doesn’t go away when a person earns a teaching degree.
Education should be a tool for liberation, and teachers can help by creating an anti-racist learning environment.
Wait, slow down. What is anti-racism?
Anti-racism is the process of challenging racist systems, policies, attitudes, and practices. It involves being mindful of power imbalances between racialized people and non-racialized/white people.
Indianapolis Public Schools has provided a list of resources for teachers and parents who wish to learn more about promoting racial equity.
Additional ideas can be found below.
Check your curriculum
When you teach history, are you saving Black contributions for February, or do you share how people of color have shaped America from the beginning? Most of history has two sides — if not more — and students should have the opportunity to explore non-eurocentric viewpoints that celebrate people of color. Now, let’s look at the classroom bookshelves. Are diverse books and perspectives available? Are there books with characters of color that kids will read “for fun?” For younger children, do the toys available in the classroom reflect diversity?
I’ll never forget the moment when I was working with a four-year-old Black student who told me he didn’t want to play with a Black toy because the “white one is better.” I told the student that the Black toy was beautiful as well, but I was shocked that a child that young could already be internalizing hatred of his skin or his hair. Celebrating diverse perspectives is a way to foster self-love in students of color while teaching white students to value people of various backgrounds and cultures. Asking these types of questions can help educators evaluate their curriculum for completeness and bias.
Don’t be color blind
“I don’t see color” is a common saying from people with good intentions. However, a color blind mentality often does students a disservice. If you are color blind, how can you teach students about their history or share toys and games that reflect their culture? It would be easy to overlook the fact that all of the textbooks and thought leaders you bring up in class are white. Most importantly, a color blind society would not have the ability to see and therefore speak out against racism.
Randy Ross, a senior equity specialist at the New England Equity Assistance Center, put it in best in an article on tolerance.org. “I have never heard a teacher of color say ‘I don’t see color.’ There may be issues of cultural competence [among teachers of color], but colorblindness is not one of them. The core of ‘I don’t see color,’ is ‘I don’t see my own color, I don’t see difference because my race and culture is the center of the universe.”
Rather than being color blind, give students tools and spaces to talk about and navigate issues of race.
Partner with community organizations
Creating an anti-racist classroom can be rigorous, difficult work — but you don’t have to do it alone. There are community members available to walk alongside educators.
Here in Indianapolis, IPS has partnered with the Racial Equity Institute to help educators understand and address racism in the classrooms and in the community. IPS has a Racial Equity Training Center on the Crispus Attucks’ campus. Beyond district-wide efforts, you can look at the needs and desires of the students in your classroom and try to match your needs with resources in your community. Are minority-led organizations interested in visiting and engaging students? Are mentors of color willing to connect with your classroom?
Hire people of color
The best way to ensure students are learning from diverse viewpoints is to hire teachers and school leaders from various backgrounds.
According to Teach for America, 50 percent of the K-12 public student population are students of color, but 80% of teachers are white. Growing up, I did not have any Black teachers until college, and even in college I only had one.
Having Black adults in the classroom creates diverse role models for students, which is beneficial for white students and students of color.