The recent racial unrest across the nation has not left any area of our society untouched. While there has been a focus on police brutality, issues including racial mistreatment, racial inequality, and racial injustice have remained unfortunate realities in American life. Racial injustice is prevalent in education, economics, housing, technology, politics, health care, social welfare—the list goes on.
Needless to say, education has always had racial tensions and undertones; yet, we have largely been reluctant to acknowledge race and racism, grapple with it, talk about it, and put its ugly remnants behind us. A 21st-century analysis of race would reveal that it still remains the elephant in the room—the issue no one wants to acknowledge or discuss. However, as much as we attempt to ignore it, look around it, over and under it, race remains a constant reality in our schools and classrooms.
In this moment, it is critical for educators of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to develop the courageous muscle to acknowledge race, racism, and all of their complexities. It’s time to make sure that the calls we have seen across the country to end racial injustice do not stop at the entrances to schools across our country. To be clear, schools have come quite a way in creating more racially inclusive learning environments than in days past. Long gone are the days of racial hostility that required national guards escorting Black students into schools, while groups of angry white mobs shouted profanity-laced words. But the danger in today’s moment is that the pernicious effects of racism are subtler, layered, and not always visible—yet they are equally damaging.
Racial Equity in the Classroom: 5 Areas of Focus
Here are five areas that schools can examine to assess how they are doing when it comes to achieving racial justice in education.
1. Racially Inclusive Curriculum
What and who we teach matters. An analysis of school curriculums in all subject matters should ask:
- Are the stories, struggles, triumphs, and contributions of people of color present?
- Are students engaging in literary texts authored by people of color?
- Do their math textbooks highlight examples lived and demonstrated through diverse fields?
- Do science lessons speak to the contributions of scientists of color such as Mae Jemison or Katherine Johnson?
Not only does a racially inclusive curriculum send a powerful message, the images, posters, sayings, and visual representations convey who is visible and who is not visible in what we see, think, and learn about in our classrooms.
2. Discipline Policies
This has long been an area of discussion. Despite ongoing efforts to reduce racial disparity in suspensions and expulsions, schools have not gone far enough to eradicate the differences in how students of color are disciplined compared with their white counterparts. A 2018 report published by the Black Minds Project and the Black Male Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), found that the statewide suspension rate for Black males in California public schools was 3.6 times greater than the statewide rate for all students, even as the suspension rates among Black males have dropped since the 2011-2012 school year.
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