Education professors push ˜white privilege’ training for all teachers

Victor Skinner, 

NEW YORK – New teachers who treat students of all races the same have it all wrong, because that approach “perpetuates a systemic stratification in our schools, sustaining the achievement gap and perhaps inadvertently maintains long-standing control by the dominant culture,” according to a new study.

Academics at Marywood University, The College of Saint Rose and Kean University recently released research titled “What’s race got to do with it? Preservice teachers and white racial identity” that argues new “colorblind” teachers who are not equipped with “awareness of the history of oppression and institutional racism” falsely believe “that success is based solely on hard work.”

“White pre-service teachers enter teacher preparation programs with minimal cross-cultural experience and often adopt a color-blind approach to teaching, failing to understand the role that race plays in teaching. Without adequate training, white teachers remain unaware of biases and privileges affiliated with whiteness and perceive aspects of the white dominant culture as the norm.”

The researchers, published online by Arizona State University’s Current Issues in Education, placed 75 white pre-service teachers in racially diverse, low-income “high-needs” schools in the northeast United States for a semester to see how they’d do. The study focused on whether the experience changed their perceptions of their own “whiteness,” and whether they used a new-found racial awareness in their lessons.

Most of them did not.

whpriv_small Education professors push ˜white privilege' training for all teachers

“One-fifth of pre-service teachers surveyed said they became more cognizant of the need to be culturally aware of their students backgrounds. And 35 percent demonstrated an increased self-awareness of the disparity between themselves and their students’ backgrounds,” Education Week reports.

The research shows the white teachers felt more comfortable with racially diverse students after working in the high-needs schools, but didn’t feel the need to gear their lesson plans around racism.

“If schools of education seek to prepare teachers who serve historically underrepresented populations in diverse settings, explicit and systematic attention to issues of privilege and identity in coursework is imperative,” the researchers wrote.

“By ‘foregrounding’ race in preparatory courses, preservice teachers from historically overrepresented groups have the opportunity to develop efficacious, culturally relevant practices.”

In other words, the researchers believe new white teachers must continuously and explicitly frame their classroom lessons around race and their own racial “privileges” to effectively teach minority students.

Teachers who attempt to simply look past race, and who teach and treat students based on their individual merits, “have negative effects on teaching and learning, negating the history of racism and discrimination in the United States and its continued influence on people of color,” the study argues.

“This study examined whether White student teachers changed their White racial identity and color-blindness, as well as their perceptions of working with students of color, following a semester of student teaching.  According to the quantitative results, student teachers were more color-blind at the conclusion of student teaching, particularly regarding awareness of institutional discrimination and blatant racial issues,” the researchers wrote.

That means teacher training schools should saturate courses with a focus on white privilege, race and America’s white supremacist system, so teachers carry that on with them in their own lesson plans and school initiatives once they get a job, according to the study.

“We believe that teacher education must address tenants of white racial identity throughout the curriculum so that preservice teachers continuously reflect on issues of race, including the role that whiteness plays in their interactions with students of color,” the scholars wrote.

Many of the white teachers in the study acknowledged that some minority students were biased against them because of their race, and the teachers attributed that to the students’ upbringing and personal lives. The researchers argued that more white privilege training in teacher preparation programs would help them realize it’s actually them, and their whiteness, that causes minority students not to like them.

“The student teachers did not exhibit any introspective remarks recognizing that whiteness carries a sense of dominance and superiority that students feel and react to, covertly or overtly,” according to the research. “Furthermore, white teachers tend to ignore cumulative negative effects of inferiority that people of color experience.

“When white teachers fail to openly discuss racial issues or lack acknowledgment of historical oppression and racism, students of color will perceive teachers to be bias.”

“Given that most white preservice teachers enter schools of education with limited cross-cultural experience, preparation programs must include critical content on racism, historical oppression and white privilege, along with immersion experiences and constant critical reflection,” the study concluded.