Seeing Every Student as a 10: Using Critical Race Theory to Engage White Teachers' Colorblindness

Article excerpt

I have attempted to carry on the critique and analysis of colorblindness in education in my work as a teacher educator. In working with in- and pre-service teachers, I have found that beliefs in colorblindness are rarely straightforward. At times, when the teachers I know claim to be colorblind, they enact practice that seems to betray this belief. When they claim not to be colorblind--i.e., that they see color and race--and acknowledge that racial background does make a difference in somebody's life and educational chances, colorblindness can still affect their teaching practice. For the most part, the teachers I have worked with want to address the racial disparity they see in schools and feel it is the responsibility of teachers to do so.

   Ben Blaisdell (BB): If you believe that students of minority racial
   groups have a tougher time in society because of historical issues,
   racism, etc., do you think it's the teacher's responsibility to
   respond to that type of treatment?

   Teacher (T): I think that's it the responsibility of everyone to
   respond to it. Yes, teachers ought to have a special sensitivity
   just because they interact with children.

As they attempt to work against racism, these teachers hold onto an ideal of equality. That is to say, they want to do all they can for all of their students regardless of racial background. As one teacher puts it, "I see every student as a 10."

As a white researcher working with primarily white teachers, I have found Critical Race Theory (CRT) to be valuable in addressing the colorblindness that still exists in teachers' thinking and teaching practice while also tapping into the way teachers value students. A theory that comes out of the field of law, CRT, in essence, is a way of analyzing the dynamics of race in U.S. society. (1) The main analyses of CRT derive from a presupposition that racism is inherent in U.S. society (Delgado & Stefancic, 2000), and that the existence of racism is inseparable from the history of property rights in this country (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995). Later in this article, I will describe the core tenets further and explain how CRT can be used to analyze the construction of race and racism. What is important here is that CRT is very direct in its assertion of the inherent nature of racism. Because this premise is a starting point for any analysis, CRT moves conversations about racism past arguments about whether racism exists or not and into analyses of how it exists. Its directness has helped me be direct and open with teachers (and for them be the same with me) in challenging colorblind views, in discussing what racism is (including discussions of individual vs. institutional racism, complicity, etc.), and as a way to tap into and draw on the spirit of that desire to treat every student as a 10.

In this article, I discuss how CRT has helped me address colorblindness in my work with primarily white teachers. I draw examples from an ongoing qualitative research study with high school teachers--four white, one Thai American, and all from middle-class backgrounds--about issues of colorblindness and race. All the teacher quotations are from these teachers. While this article is not a report on a qualitative study, per se, the study has had an influence on my work as a teacher educator with a social justice agenda. In the study, I employ a performance approach to research. In such an approach, the purpose of the research act is not for the researcher to extract knowledge from the participants; rather, the researcher and participants take the role of co-performers (Conquergood, 1991) in meaning making. The implication for such an approach is that the research with teachers is an act where we come to understand the world in new ways, an act that has relevance to the teachers themselves. As the teachers and I perform this act that together, they have a major and active role in determining the change that occurs. …