Race in the Schoolyard: Negotiating the Color Line in Classrooms and Communities

Race in the Schoolyard: Negotiating the Color Line in Classrooms and Communities

Race in the Schoolyard: Negotiating the Color Line in Classrooms and Communities

Race in the Schoolyard: Negotiating the Color Line in Classrooms and Communities

Synopsis

An exploration of how race is explicitly and implicitly handled in school.

Excerpt

Five years after leaving a teaching-credential program and a commitment to teach in urban public schools, I walked back into elementary schools to begin the research for this project. What drove me out of urban schools or perhaps what drove me into graduate school is captured by one moment, one day, in a third-grade classroom.

Those who have spent time in classrooms know that despite our best efforts we sometimes forge deeper and stronger connections with some children than with others. These are often not children we choose but ones who choose us— those who because of temperament, interests, or karma attach themselves to us and capture our minds and hearts. These are not teacher's pets; at least in my case they have often been children who are always on the verge of mischief, who are bright and occasionally bored. After two and a half months of student teaching in this particular third-grade classroom, I had developed that kind of connection with a tall, articulate, sometimes mischievous African American boy named Kendrick Jefferson. I watched him daily, a bright child trying to keep up with his peers, who were the children of faculty members at the worldfamous university nearby. He was clearly as able as they were in all areas, but it was hard to compete with their access to computers at home and summer enrichment programs. Nevertheless, Kendrick spent his classroom “free time” with me playing a math game in which we challenged each other with word problems. He was, at the risk of understating it, a curious and inquisitive child.

A detailed description of the school and class is unnecessary here, but a few details are important for this story. The classroom teacher was a charismatic and authoritative white woman who had a reputation as a successful teacher and . . .

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