The Way We Learned: African American Students' Memories of Schooling in the Segregated South

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to explore the learning experiences and teachers' behaviors valued by students who attended southern rural segregated schools during the 1940s-1960s. The qualitative data yielded four themes: (a) memories of caring teachers, (b) memories of teachers as professionals, (c) memories of teachers as participants of the community, and (d) passing on the flame. Significant findings highlighted the importance of teacher caring and teacher approval. These findings may be used to enhance teacher preparation programs.

With the increasing diversity of students who make up public school classrooms and the lack of diversity of classroom teachers, additional research on teaching methods that appear to be effective with one or more minority groups is essential to identify ways to equalize the academic performance of minority students with that of their European American counterparts. The purpose of this research study was to uncover the types of learning experiences and teachers' behaviors that students who attended southern rural segregated schools during the 1940s- 1960s valued, and in their opinion, contributed to their academic achievement and career success.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

The research questions that guided this study are what memories of school have lasting impact on students and what are some distinguishing teacher behaviors that impact students' academic and career success?

HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

This study is informed by the literature that reports, analyzes, and describes the history of de jure segregation of African American schools in the South. The literature that recaptures segregated education in the South paints contrasting views - inferior education due to societal injustices (Ashmore, 1954; Clift, Anderson, & Hullfish, 1962; Johnson, 1941) and treasured education resulting from a "cultural form of teaching and learning" (Fultz, 1995a; Walker, 2000, p. 234). This research study follows the latter view and adds definition to the historical picture painted through the scholarship that has uncovered a more positive treatment of the knowledge imparted to students in segregated schools (Anderson, 1988; Bullock, 1967; Fairclough, 2004; Fultz, 1995a, 1995b; Riley, 1998; Walker, 2000). Specifically, the findings from this study provide a clearer understanding of the behaviors of African American teachers who taught in segregated schools during 1940-1969 through the eyes of their students.

Additionally, this study is linked to the scholarship that describes students' perceptions of African American teachers. Stanford (1997) claimed successful urban African American teachers possessed characteristics that support "community solidarity, community of learners, focus on the whole child, and personal accountability" (p. 108). In Howard's (2002) study, African American students' perceptions of their teachers' pedagogy and the impact of the teachers' pedagogy on the students' academic and social success demonstrated the teachers' ability to foster a family, community environment, to display "culturally connected caring," and talk to students in a caring manner. Stanford (1998) discovered that former teachers used pedagogical practices that encouraged their students to succeed despite negative attempts to hinder their success.

In direct relationship to the research that captures the significance of African American students' perceptions of their teachers and the behavior of these teachers is a relatively new body of literature that fills a void in research about teaching - the pedagogical practices of exemplary African American teachers. This body of research provides a lens through which the interplay of culture appreciation, caring, and teaching result in students' success.

Grant (1 99 1) contended that there is a connection between the way teachers think and their life experiences. Foster (1997) published 20 African American teachers' views and experiences about the impact of socio-political forces on their teaching with hopes that these accounts will lead society to better understanding Black teachers experiences. …