‘I don’t see colour’ and ‘I don’t treat my student differently based on the colour of their skin’ are synonymous with teachers’ conversations across the globe. After decade in the classroom, school leadership and academia, we seek to dispel the myth of those statements. You may think you are a non-racist and that this challenge is an affront to your practice or value as a human being. If that is the case; please stop reading. You are not ready for the truth; you have work to do.
For those of ready for progress read on.
There is a plethora of research that exists which is contrary to cynical and majority view that interpersonal racial discrimination is prevalent in today’s classroom. Let’s start with the behaviour and perception of behaviour of Students of Colour.
‘[O]nly White, middle-class students – but particularly boys – could enjoy an unproblematised association with “traditional” academic success’ (Archer, 2008, p. 23).
Archer 2008 argues that educational ‘success’ in the eyes of teachers is very much an ‘impossible’ subjective position for ‘Minority Ethnic’ students. As Students of Colour are more likely to be overlooked for their academic achievement. When they are not they are regarded as attaining these goals in the wrong way; think East Asian students being told they lack leadership and social skills ‘achieving but in the wrong way’.
While society may allow teachers to exist with a self-designated non racist medal/badge/cookie, the reality is that is that educators will mirror the same trends that they are primed for in society. Okonofua and Eberhardt 2015 investigated educators (across racial lines) and their views on repeated infractions that were committed by Black and white students. They presented online records of insubordination and class disruption (the order counterbalanced across the sample) and asked teachers:
“ “How severe was the student’s misbehavior?” “To what extent is the student hindering you from maintaining order in your class?” “How irritated do you feel by the student?” and “How severely should the student be disciplined?” All questions were rated separately on scales ranging from 1, not at all, to 7, extremely. ”
Above are the mean ratings of how troubled teachers felt (a measure of severity, hindrance, and irritation) by the student’s misbehaviour and how severely they felt students should be disciplined. From their data you can see in the first instance white and Black students caused troubling feels in educators in (near) equal measures. Educators also felt Black student should face disciplinary action more than their white peers but this was not statistically significant.
So, teachers are NOT racist.
Erm, if only.
When told about the second interaction teachers thought that the Black students should be disciplined more severely and brought on more troubling feelings. Look at the bars above again. Yes, that’s a statistically significant relationship.
Look at the data again one more time and let the results sink in; this paper is entitled ‘Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students’.
How does this impact in our classrooms? I sincerely hope you are not retreating into yourself but questioning the processes that lead into these patterns.
In the UK the Timpson report 2019 found that a Black boy with SEND needs and FSM is 168 times more likely to excluded when compared to a white girl without those characteristics. A Black child of Caribbean heritage is 2.2 (1.7 if we remove socio-economic status) more likely to assessed as SEMH needs than white pupils Burgess . This means that educational psychologists are showing obvious racial discriminations and so are schools (that’s every level from senior leadership to teacher) in the referral process.
These patterns don’t exist in a school vacuum. The reinforcement of correlations also exists in our criminal justice system – being a Person of Colour or an ‘Ethnic Minority’ you are over 55% more likely to serve a custodial sentence for committing the same crime as a white person.
I could go on;
What can we do? Well, this begins with interrogation of self and that start with an acceptance. Next comes the hard work of using techniques to combat these socio psychological phenomena. That is for another day.
Okonofua, J. A., & Eberhardt, J. L. (2015). Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students. Psychological Science, 26(5), 617–624. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797615570365
Archer, L. (2008). The Impossibility of Minority Ethnic Educational ‘Success’? An Examination of the Discourses of Teachers and Pupils in British Secondary Schools. European Educational Research Journal, 7(1), 89–107. https://doi.org/10.2304/eerj.2008.7.1.89
Strand, Steve & Lindorff, Ariel. (2018). Ethnic disproportionality in the identification of Special Educational Needs (SEN) in England: Extent, causes and consequences. 10.13140/RG.2.2.23625.19044.