Saturday, August 4, 2012

Engaging with race in everyday interactions

Mica Pollock takes anti-racist action in the form of teacher education.  In a workshop called Everyday Antiracism for Educators, which Pollock teaches at Harvard University, teacher candidates wrestle with how address issues of race and racism on a day-to-day basis.  Pollock, et al. (2010) examine three tensions that the teacher candidates faced as they progressed in the workshop, all centered around the question, “But what can I do?”  As the teacher candidates read and discussed essays in the draft version of the book Everyday Antiracism (Pollock, 2008), they wanted to know how to apply abstract concepts into practical actions in schools.  They also wrestled with how to address systems of racism and injustice, while at the same time, taking practical steps to address inequality in their classrooms.  Finally, they struggled to reconcile their personal development with regards to issues of race with their professional persona.  

Pollock et al. found that the teacher candidates that left the workshop feeling the most empowered to engage in antiracist activity were the ones who could accommodate the three tensions listed above.  Pollock et al. (2010) suggest that teacher educators explicitly make teachers aware that these tensions may never be resolved over a lifetime.  

The textbook Everyday Antiracism underwent a few other revisions after the initial pre-service teacher workshop.  One of the additions included discussion questions at the end of every essay that can facilitate moving from general principles to strategies, and then concrete actions that one can “try tomorrow.”  The essays are written by wide range of scholars in many different fields, but they are all aimed at helping teachers and parents develop practical strategies for combatting racism and racial inequality.  

The authors offer suggestions about how to talk with students about “race” as social construction, and not a biological reality.  However, the authors also address biases that teachers may harbor about different racial groups.  While most of the authors challenge teachers to talk about “race” in strategic ways, rather than “colormute,” one author boldly maintains that teachers should actually be “colorblind” in their treatment of individual children.  In other essays, authors give examples of how teachers might address unequal opportunities in school, engage students’ home communities, and develop critical multicultural curriculum for children and teenagers.  This textbook offers a substantial amount of information and ideas that answer the question, “But what can I do?”  I believe this should be required reading for all teachers.

The most personally challenging essay was titled Resisting the “Lone Hero” Stance, in which the author draws lessons from examples of two white teachers’ failed attempts to bring an antiracist message to friends and colleagues.  This article is also appropriate considering that 84% of K-12 teachers are white (Simon, 2005).  The author concludes that patience and humility are needed to engage in antiracist work.  Particularly for white folks, the challenge is to listen to the perspectives of friends and colleagues of color in a way that empowers and affirms the work that people of color engage in on a daily basis.  There is a danger for white folks to attempt to create an image as the white person who “gets it.”  This only serves to alienate other white folks most of time.  It can also be a hypocritical stance, as another essay points out.  

It is important that those engaged in anti-racism also examine their personal lives for inconsistencies.  Do I live in an all-white neighborhood, attend a white church and associate with only white people in my social sphere?  How am I raising my children?  What schools do I choose for them to attend?  I blogged about my own hypocritical attitudes recently.

While I was frustrated with Pollock for her participation in the silence regarding racism at Columbus, I see how she has taken that experience as a way to launch her into action.  I wonder how many universities have adopted this type of critical multicultural education, though.  And how many white pre-service teachers, when presented with this information, take positive steps towards antiracist action?  How many feel overwhelmed with guilt and cynicism, and withdraw from dialogue?  I don’t want to devalue the efforts of engaging white teachers in antiracist dialogue and action.  However, I also wonder why there aren't more substantial efforts to recruit teachers of color. Whether or not teacher education programs actually took that route might indicate just how committed to antiracism they are.  

References

Pollock, M. (2004). Colormute: Race talk dilemmas in an American school. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Pollock, M. (Ed.). (2008). Everyday antiracism: Getting real about race in school. New York: New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton & Co.

Pollock, M., Deckman, S., Mira, M., & Shalaby, C. (2010). “But what can I do?”: Three necessary tensions in teaching teachers about race. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(3), 211–224.

Simon, C. C. (2005, July 31). Those who can, and can’t. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/31/education/simons31.html

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