Sunday, March 12, 2006

Racial Gap in Education

John at Discriminations (see blogroll at left) has an interesting post about the underrepresentation of minority teachers in Connecticut's schools. Oddly enough, minority representation in teachers evenly matches the percentage of minority graduates of teacher colleges, yet still there's a problem.

And the freakin' CTA says we don't talk about race in education. Geez. But back to John's post.

Officials in Greenwich want to attract a more "diverse" teaching staff. There's nothing wrong with that, except when you really mean "darker skinned" when you say "diverse". But the question is, why would you want people of different colors, which to the Greenwich officials is synonymous with different cultures, teaching your kids? John provides an answer:

In addition, it appears that the jargon of “cultural competence” is spreading throughout educationdom as a rationale for hiring minorities. “Minority teachers act as cultural interpreters for the entire school community," one administrator claimed.

Ah yes, cultural competence. Ranks right up there with having the correct "disposition" to teach. I wrote about cultural competence last October and will copy the main points here:

Again, I argue that teaching disadvantaged students, giving them some "cultural capital" to spend, is to open the doors to success in society. Others argue, however, that "cultural competence" is not the perview of the student but rather is the responsibility of the teacher; the teacher should adapt, accomodate, respect, and nourish the culture of each child, whatever that culture may be, instead of teaching them the tools they'll need to function in the larger society. In other words, the social engineers want to create a "society" in the schools that is entirely different from the one in which we live. This accepting of other cultures seems to be a one-way street, and only the dominant culture needs to do the accepting. While there is good reason to merge the two beliefs and find some meeting between them, it's not a happy medium--we need to teach the children to function in the society we have much more than in the Utopia we want.

Wendy McElroy writes the following about the new "cultural competence" requirement some schools have for prospective teachers:

In practice, the term is the new face of political correctness, which is often accompanied by the PC concepts of "diversity" or "multiculturalism."
"Cultural competency" advances the same basic goals as those buzz words. Certain groups (such as minorities) and certain ideas (such as gender feminist interpretations of oppression) are to be promoted by institutionalizing policies that encourage them. Of course, this means that other groups and other ideas are de facto penalized or discouraged.

Her article continues:

Norman Levitt, Professor of Mathematics at Rutgers University, explains, "'Cultural competence' is…a bureaucratic weapon. 'Cultural competence,' or rather, your [an educator's] presumed lack thereof, is what you will be clobbered with if you are imprudent enough to challenge or merely to have qualms about 'affirmative action', 'diversity' and 'multiculturalism,' as those principles are now espoused by their most fervent academic advocates."

So already we see that "cultural competence" is a buzzword for thought control and conformity. So-called non-diverse teachers (you know, the monolithic white bloc) will learn cultural competence from our diverse brethren and sistren, which will make us better able to teach algebra to our diverse students.

But let's take John's quote about "cultural interpreters" at face value for a moment and see where it leads us.

For starters, it assumes that people from different cultures will have different values or see things in different ways than we do. In fact, a person from a culture steeped in oppression might well sympathize with the 9/11 hijackers, might hate Jews, might hate America, or might advocate violent revolution. Or, a person from a religion of peace might not believe in having women bosses, might not value the girls in his/her class, or might want gays crushed under toppling walls. Are we to say to these people, "Share your culture with us, but unlike Jay Bennish of Colorado, do it in an even-handed way"? Is that not asking them to subvert the very culture they're supposed to be sharing with the rest of us, and interpreting for us?

Additionally, does this not make our diverse teacher now the spokesperson for his or her identity group? After all, this teacher is here to provide different views for the rest of us, so presumably we can go to this person for the "black" perspective, the "Moslem perspective", or the "gay Guatemalan" perspective on major events of the day. Does this seem at all respectful? It seems to me to be more like having animals in a zoo--let's go see how the lemurs are reacting to this stimulus!

Our goal should be to provide the best education for the students. If we teachers are only supposed to teach English, math, science, PE, art, foreign language, history, or whatever to our students, why does it matter at all what our "culture" is? If 2x+5=25, x=10 no matter what culture my students or I come from. If, however, we want to create "thinking citizens" who will be "activists in the community", why even bother with the facade of teaching academic content at all? Let's just put a bunch of leftist demagogues, suitably chosen based on race and culture, in the classrooms and let them rant.

Yes, of course there's a middle ground. People of different backgrounds can share insights in class while still addressing the academic content of their course. That's part of how you build rapport with students, by showing just a little bit of what makes you as a teacher more of an individual and not just an academic automaton. However, the primary goal for hiring teachers must be academic and pedagogical comptence, which can be measured, and not some nebulous cultural competence. Hire the most highly qualified teachers to teach the children, and don't worry if these teachers "look like" the kids or not. In that way you're doing the children a service instead of pandering to vocal constituencies.


Anonymous said...

Lisa Delpit, in her essay The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children,

Darren -- you linked to this article in an October 2005 comment but I cannot find the article. It appears it is now a book. Do you still have a copy of the article and if yes, could you post the whole thing? Our district is going through training on Cultural Competence and the Achievement Gap or some such name.

Thanks --


Darren said...

It's the first link on this page. I'm surprised I had as hard a time as I did finding it--and it's a scanned form in pdf format! Used to be you could find this essay anywhere, now all you find are people's thoughts on the essay!

Thanks for letting me know about the old link in the Oct post. I'll correct it.

Anonymous said...

Got it! Thank you!