Racism in Elementary, Middle and High School Education

According to World Population Review, the United States is the most powerful country in the world. According to USA Today of the top 25 richest countries in the world, the United States is ranked 11th. Yet, as far as education for the people of the most powerful and one of the richest countries in the world, the World Top 20 Project’s International Education Database 2018 ranks the United States 26 out of the 201 countries with the following countries not being ranked: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Monaco, Vatican City, Mayotte (France), Reunion (France), Canary Islands (Spain), Madeira (Portugal), Melilla (Spain), Saint Helena (United Kingdom).  This means the United States isn’t doing a great job overall, when it comes to education its people. Yet, one of this country’s most insidious forms of racism is not providing people of color the same level of education as it does whites. Here’s why not being well educated causes generational poverty. While more money seems like the most obvious way out of the poverty cycle, it is becoming more and more obvious that having money must be accompanied by having an education. If money is not accompanied by education, the uneducated individual or group of people will eventually lose their monies and will not have continual access to more money, or the knowledge to grow their monies. A person can end up with a job paying a decent wage, but if they are uneducated, they will always be one paycheck from being homeless. While this is true for all races of people in this country, it is especially true for people of color. In my opinion, the system which is run by whites understands this and therefore under-educating people of color appears to be an ongoing and on-purpose process. I’m not talking about athletes or entertainers of color who make millions of dollars. But then again, a lot of those entertainers and athletes also end up broke. Why? Because while they’re talented, many don’t have the education to know what to do with their money. Many times, their wealth has little to no longevity. When their playing days or entertaining days are over, so is their ability to grow their money.

The evidence of racism in elementary, middle and high school education is best revealed with the graduation rate of most groups of students of color. Black and Hispanic students graduate at a lower rate than White and Asian students. I think this is partially due to the fact that eighty percent of teachers at the elementary, middle and high school levels are White. In many cases this creates a cultural communication gap, since the student of color population in America’s school system is now over 40%!

It is no longer enough that beginning teachers leave college with the experience and education for teaching White middle income students. As with our nation, the faces in the classroom have increasingly more colors and cultures. In order to teach all students, teachers must be able to communicate with all students.

Research shows that the communication process used by a significant number of classroom teachers is a superior-subordinate type of communication.  It is basically a model of communication known as linear. In their linear model, there is a sender (encoder) and receiver (decoder), channel, message and noise (Adler & Rodman, p. 11, 1997). In the linear model one person speaks and dominates the conversation. The persons speaking, (White teachers), are always in total control. In conversations between African Americans, the conversational lead changes throughout the dialogue. This exchange of dialogue from students of color is in line with a model of communication known as transactional. This model indicates that as communicators we are simultaneously sending and receiving messages (Adler & Rodman, p. 15, 1997). Students of color tend to both send and receive messages while in the process of communicating. In the classroom teachers perceive this style of communication as assertive and aggressive. Research suggests that Whites and people of color communicate differently. For instance, African Americans generally communicate more assertively than European Americans (Orbe & Harris, 2001; Ribeau, Baldwin, & Hecht, 1994, p. 100).

In the classroom, communication breakdown often occurs when students do not understand the language or meaning of the teacher’s message. Breakdown can occur also when the teacher doesn’t understand the language or meaning of the student’s message. When cultural and socio-economical barriers are added to the communication process, miscommunication is likely to occur. A majority of teachers are not aware of barriers affecting communication and the teaching process, making it difficult to relate to, inspire or even effectively communicate with students of color. The outcome of miscommunication and ineffective communication between teachers and students of color is predictable. Not preparing teachers to deal with ineffective communication with students of color is a form of racism.

Leadership, from the school district level, must raise awareness of teachers and prepare them to deal with multiculturalism within their classrooms. There is a need for new strategies in teacher recruitment and better preparation of our current recruits for working with diverse populations (Cockrell, Placier, Cockrell & Middleton, 1999, p. 351). The leadership of our educational system must decide to institute steps to solve miscommunication and in-effective communication. America’s educational system must deal with this lack of multicultural training, before teachers reach their multi-cultured classes. Teachers must be educated and in many cases re-educated to understand students from various racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.

Another difficulty that affects communication between students of color and White teachers is the attitude by teachers, “I don’t see color. All I see are students.” I’ve spoken to many White teachers who have proclaimed to have this attitude of “color blindness”. Such an attitude makes solving the communication differences impossible. “My own experience with White teachers, both pre-service and veteran, indicates that many are uncomfortable acknowledging any student differences and particularly racial differences. Thus some teachers make such statements as “I don’t really see color, I just see children” or I don’t care if they’re red, green, or polka dot, I just treat them all like children” (Ladson-Billings, 1994, p. 31). White teachers must acknowledge the uniqueness that students from different cultures can bring to the classroom. Foremost they must be willing to accept the fact that these students are present in their classrooms. “This is not to suggest that these teachers are racist in the conventional sense. They do not consciously deprive or punish African American children on the basis of their race, but at the same time they are not unconscious of the ways in which some children are privileged and others are disadvantaged in the classroom. Their “’dysconsciousness’ comes into play when they fail to challenge the status quo, when they accept the given as the inevitable” (Ladson-Billings, 1994, p. 32).

Since education more often than not, leads to discovering ways of earning a living, starting a business and finding one’s way to happiness, not having an education limits one’s opportunities. Black students and students of color must have teachers who understand their ways of thinking and communicating, in order to receive the same education as their White counterparts. As of today, America’s school system is not putting much effort in leveling the learning field.