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doni_georgia Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Nov-20-04 06:27 PM
Original message
Question concerning various forms of institutionalized racism in schools
I am a public school teacher. I teach in the suburbs of Atlanta in a inner city school (small city in the suburbs). Our school has the same typical problems of inner-city schools in big cities just on a smaller scale. Our school is 60% minority population (50% African American, 10% Hispanic) and 40% white. We have 43 homeroom teachers only 5 of whom are African American (I am white by the way). We are a Title 1 school with over 50% of our student body qualifying for free or reduced lunch. Our demographics are changing daily - a lot of white flight. We have a new principal who is a white female who has always been at predominately white upper middle class schools - she is clueless. Background on me - I grew up in the inner-city of Atlanta attended schools which were predominately African American (my sister and I were the only white kids in our elementary school). I chose to teach in the school because it reminded me of the school I grew up in.

Okay, on with my question. I see a lot of "bless their poor little hearts" attitudes from the teachers in my school. We have pullout programs for Title 1 and EIP (early intervention) most of the students in these remedial programs are black. Our special education department is full of kids who have been labeled EBD (emotional behavior disorders) almost ALL of these students are black. Last week, the new principal ordered me to use a behavior modification plan with one of the African American boys in my class. It involves me checking his behavior every 10 minutes and putting stickers on a chart if he is doing things I could train a dog to do (sitting, not talking, etc.). He is the only kid singled out for this humiliation. I am also being forced to modify this student's work to the level a kindergartener could complete. This kid is bright, capable, creative, and energetic. He has just had a rough school life. He doesn't try at all - and hell who could blame him. I feel like this kind of crap the principal is wanting me to do only says to him that he is stupid and can't control himself. I feel this is nothing but thinly disguised racism, although I am sure the principal means well. What I think the child needs is to be challenged and given opportunities to prove to himself and others that he is just as capable as anyone else. I think he needs to be held to the same standards as anyone else in the class and needs to know that I believe in him and I KNOW he can do it. I have decided that I am not going along with the principal's plan (consequences be damned). Yesterday I posted a sign on my wall that says: "The following phrases will no longer be allowed in this room: 'I Can't Do It,' and 'I Can't Help It'."

Okay - Am I wrong? What are some opinions here? Does anyone agree that these low expectations for this kid is racism, or am I totally wrong? Do these pullouts and remediation cause more harm and good and do they just create a culture of us and them? I see them as a new form of segregation by removing black kids from the class. What do some of you think? All opinions welcome, I have thick skin.
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LWolf Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Nov-20-04 10:29 PM
Response to Original message
1. Some reflections:
Not about being wrong or right, but about all of the layers in a problem like this.

As far as the sticker chart goes--I'm not a big fan of extrinsic motivators. I've used charts at kids' seats in various ways when there was a distinct need to have something visual in front of them to help them focus on a behavior that needed changing. Sometimes they work; it depends on the kid. But we should never rely solely on extrinsics. Why does the principal want the chart? I've never had an administrator tell me how to modify anything for a student; he isn't qualified to do so. He's never been a classroom teacher, and it isn't part of his job description, in my district. If I, or parents, request a "Student Study Team" meeting, those kinds of things may be suggested, but not mandated.

Anyway, why is there a perceived need? Is his physical movement and talking disrupting his own learning process, or disrupting the learning experience of those around him? If so, he needs something to help him manage himself in his space. It doesn't have to be a chart; there are lots of ways. If not, what is the point?

I've noticed that some of my African American students must move to comfortably make sense of things. I don't pretend to know why; I can toss out some possible reasons, but I don't really know. It seems to occur more with those students whose families have not yet reached "middle class." Perhaps some sort of cultural thing? It's not related to manners, intelligence, etc., as far as I can tell. But I have a student this year who has to do "dance" movements in his seat while he is thinking or trying to talk. It seems to help him focus and complete what he needs to say. I have another student (not African American), who comes from a large, close family, who cannot function without talking. Literally. I've been teaching this family for years, and they all share this characteristic to some degree. The youngest is the most extreme. He is polite and well-behaved. If you insist that he stop talking, he will. But he will get nothing else done, because he is holding himself rigidly under control, barely breathing, to make sure he doesn't talk. Normally, if no one around him will talk, he will talk to himself. If he runs out of things to say to himself, he will continue on with hums and nonsense syllables. And he will learn.

If a student has some ADD/ADHD symptoms, where physical movement and distractability prevent them from staying organized and focused, then a chart might help; there are other things that might help, too.

And as far as curriculum modification goes...the most productive learning happens when the child is challenged but not overwhelmed. Where ever that point may be, kindergarten or not. Putting them at that point for instruction isn't lowering expectations, it's fueling more efficient growth. Leaving them at a place where they are overwhelmed, where they don't have the foundation necessary to master requirements, tends to drop them further behind every year. But you are the best judge of where that point is, imo. Not a principle.

None of that addresses the real concern I hear; that the majority of kids identified as "at risk" in some way are African American. In some cases, it may be school-related racism at work. I think if you peel away another layer, you'll find some cultural divides that result in miscommunication and misunderstanding, which can misidentify students. If you peel away another layer, you'll run into the interrelationship between racism and classism; between color and poverty. The bottom line is that kids of any color who come from deprived backgrounds are less ready for school, and do not catch up to their peers from more enriched backgrounds. As a matter of fact, the most accurate use of test scores is to identify socio/economic/ed level of parents. And more minority families live in poverty, so more of them start out, and stay, "behind." In my opinion, we will not see this change until we actually address impoverished neighborhoods and families right at the source; in the neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, if your principal has mandated something, the only way I know of to change that is to get the parents involved. If they support the mandates, then follow them. If not, they can dispute them with the principal.
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doni_georgia Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Nov-21-04 08:41 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. Thanks
Some background on the child and my class. He is 11 years old in the 4th grade. He should be in 6th grade. I have all the EIP (Early Intervention Program - kids who "failed" the state test) plus some kids who qualify for Title 1 services (passed the test but barely), and some average and well above average kids. Because of the husge range of abilities in my students, I differentiate instruction in all subjects. Students work at their own pace on the skills they need to work on based on prescription I have written for them through a wide range of assessments. I test all my students for learning styles at the beginning of the year and I have learning centers that have actvities for the various learning styles. This particular student's learning style is auditory - he learns by hearing. This child has always had difficulty in school and has always been a behavior problem in the room. He is not bad - in fact he is an extremely sweet boy - he just craves attention, and will do whatever it takes to get attention. He is pulled out for various programs from my class throughout the day. In fact, out of a 6 1/2 hour school day, he is only in my room for 3 hours (not at one time, he's in the room for 30 minutes, pulled out for 30 minutes, back in the room, pulled out again, etc.). Getting him settled after the pullouts is a problem. I see his primary problem as low self-esteem. He thinks he is dumb and bad. He tells everyone that. When asked by one of his pullout teachers why he was the only kid with a chart, he replied, "Cause I be bad." He is so accoustomed to having one-on-one help with the simplest assignment, he thinks he is too dumb to do anything independently. He failed the state reading test last spring. He passed it in the summer, but he told me (and the teacher confirmed it) that when he retook the test in the summer, the teacher read it to him (thus invalidating the test scores - but that's a different story). He said to me that he knew he was dumb, because someone read him the test and that was the only way he could pass. I know ALL these people want to help him, but I feel they are hurting him by giving him the message that he is dumb, he is bad, and he can't do anything to change it. I have taught this type of kid for many years. I have had great success in turning around kids who were headed for trouble. I want to help this kid, but it has to start by eliminating the things that tell him he is stupid. The chart is meant to help him stay in his seat and complete his work, but it is not working - he won't even try. Why should he? It's embarassing for him to be the only child in the 4th grade with a kindergarten-styled chart.

What I see is that he needs to feel that he has accomplished something on his own. He needs to see for himself that he can do it. I don't care if he is out of his seat. I don't care if he needs to hop up and down on one foot while working. I just want him to try. I want him to know I believe in him. I have tested this kid, and he is bright. He has a wonderful sense of humor and is very witty. I had to break up a fight between two fifth grade boys the other day, and by the time I was back in the class, this student had written a rap for me called, "My teacher be bad." It was great, and I had him share it with the class. I have him learning his multiplication tables through the "Multiplication Rap," and he is writing his own rap for the poetry recitation competition. I am making small gains with this kid. I could do so much more if what I was doing in the class wasn't constantly being undermined by the pullouts and office intervention.

The principal got involved with this kid, because he threatened to kill himself a couple of months ago, so I called in the school behavior specialist to come and observe him for signs of abuse or depression. He doesn't get a lot of attention at home. Mom is a recovering addict. She recently got a job, but she works 3-11 shift at Walmart, so this child is alone a lot. His big brother is in prison (gang related). He does spend some time with his grandmother and uncle, who are both positive role models. The principal's contention is since I called in the behavior specialist, it means this kid needs to be tested for special ed. The behavior specialist has said the kid needs to stay in my room all day, because I am good for him. I have three rules in my room - Do your personal best, No excuses, Respect others the way you would want to be respected. That's it.

The problem is I have a parent of one of the white kids in my room that has been making a lot of noise at the board of education about this child. She doesn't want her kid in a class with kids like the student described above. She wants tracking, and of course, her kid in the highest track. I believe a lot of the interference I have been getting from the principal is because of this mom. She made so much noise at the county that she has been given special permission to move her kid to another school (one that is 95% white). The county caved.

Anyway, I believe in this child, and I won't give up on him. I am willing to do whatever it takes to get him to believe in himself. Problem is, he has been crippled throughout his educational career by well-meaning people who have taught him the hidden curriculum that kids like him are dumb and bad. Found out Friday, during community circle, that this child's first grade teacher pulled his hair, called him stupid, and made him stand in a corner on a regular basis (other kids in the class who were in his first grade class confirmed this). That woman still teaches at my school. This kid was in that woman's class for 2 years, because when she retained him, the principal put him in the same class the next year. The damage done by this woman is still affecting this child. Anyway, I am going to keep on doing what I am doing. He is resisting right now, because it's scary having what you have believed to be true turned up-side-down. I will not give up on him. I have already talked to his mom and made arrangements for him to stay at my house a couple of days this week while she works. For him, I think the most important thing is building a relationship with him where he trusts me and doesn't think I am just telling him he's smart, special, and important - he needs to know I really mean it.
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LWolf Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Nov-21-04 11:36 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. It sounds like you are doing exactly what he needs.
It also sounds like he shouldn't be pulled out for anything; if you are already differentiating for him, he shouldn't need pull-out.

I don't know about the school itself, but it sounds like the parent making noise at the school board is an issue of racism. I wonder what her reaction to her child being placed in the EIP was to begin with.

It just flat out enrages me that a teacher who verbally or emotionally abuses kids is allowed to continue in our classrooms. Those teachers, few and far between as they are, reflect on us all. One experience with a teacher like that, and what parent is ever going to trust a teacher with the well-being of their child again?

And what about damaging administrative decisions or policies? It's pretty basic; if a child is retained, he/she needs a different teacher the following year. If what teacher A did the first time around didn't work, it probably won't work the 2nd.

I've had many children for more than one year; my school used to do a "looping" program where we all had our classes for 2 years. I loved it; the 2nd year is so productive. You've already got a working relationship established with the child and the family, and it is just "full steam ahead" beginning on the first day of school. My administrator didn't want to "loop" school wide; he always said, "They thrive with you for 2 years, but that means some kids have to be in less than optimum classes for more than one year, and will never get a chance to be with you." This year, because I changed grade levels, half of my class is a previous "looping" group from 2 years ago; I had them for 2nd and 3rd, and now for 5th. We are so happy to be back together again! My philosophy has always been:

First I love them. Every single one. Then, I accept them where they are when they come to me, and do my best to move them forward. If they are happy, healthy, and making progress, we had a great year.

I can tell that you are doing the same.
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doni_georgia Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Nov-21-04 01:37 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. I'm thinking about looping up with these kids next year
They need stability, and if I stay with them two years, I might can get them ready for the big test at the end of 5th - which if they don't pass that, they can't move on. I feel it's their best chance. I have several students who are more than two years behind. We're making progress, but we need more than one year together. About the pullouts - unfortunately they are mandated in our district according to test scores, but I have found research on how much instructional time these kids lose being pulled out, how it places them on the fringes of the classroom culture - creating more discipline problems, and how it is de-facto segregation. I am going to send copies of the research to my principal and the superintendant.

Thanks again!
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DrWeird Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Nov-21-04 07:39 PM
Response to Original message
5. My wife just finished her masters thesis on this subject.
She's a former special-ed teacher. She had dozens of cases of teachers trying to load african-american kids into her class that didn't belong there. It's definitely institutionalized racism. There's no doubt about that. The little I know about the subject, it sounds like you're doing just what she would do.

I'll run it by her, see what she thinks.
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ecstatic Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Nov-22-04 09:28 PM
Response to Original message
6. Yes, low expectations are racist
Edited on Mon Nov-22-04 09:30 PM by Truth Hurts A Lot
And the biggest form of institutional racism, in my opinion. Black kids are just as smart as white kids. They should not be simply tolerated in the classroom--they should be taught like all the other students. The result of this type of racism is a generation of young people who --to be brutally honest---are unproductive in society, because nobody ever took the time to believe in them. It does way more harm than good to not teach all children fairly and equally.
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Karenina Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-17-05 02:28 PM
Response to Original message
7. I integrated the school in my area at 7
ASK ME ANYTHING!!! :evilgrin:
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SemperEadem Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-27-05 02:22 PM
Response to Original message
8. of course what you are being ordered to do is racist
a principle who has no practical knowledge or experience working with black children has no clue as to how to approach them is not qualified to order you to treat a young African American male child with the contempt with which she's ordered you to treat with him.

Have you informed his parents as to what the principle is ordering you to do with him? Why not? They have a right to challenge that idiot for humiliating their child.

Black parents have had to put up with this kind of shit out of schools since Board v Brown. White educators can't seem get it through their thick skulls that brilliant black children do exist--it is not a condition that is exclusively white, upper middle class protestant. In their racist minds, there is no way a black child can be brilliant--therefore the way in which they choose to treat with that child is to dumb that child down to their own level of expectation.

That principle and anyone else who condones what she's ordering you to do should never be allowed around black children in an education setting--they have enough hurdles to overcome without some idiot attempting to reduce them to nothing by singling them out and humiliating them, just so that child can fulfill their sick expectations.
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