Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Perpetuating Racial Inequities in Education: An Examination of Pre-Service Teachers' Interpretations of Racial Experiences

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Perpetuating Racial Inequities in Education: An Examination of Pre-Service Teachers' Interpretations of Racial Experiences

Article excerpt


The challenges that African Americans experience in U. S. schools can be attributed to the dynamics of race. Winant (1994) contends that race remains "deeply fused with the power, order, and indeed the meaning systems of every society in which it operates" (p. 2). As such, people have come to believe that visible differences, or race, are linked to differences in "mental capacities, and that these innate hierarchical differences are measurable by the cultural achievements of such populations" (Montagu, 1997, p. 44). Wynne (2005) wrote "the political tenor of this country has turned towards a Nazi-like paranoia of all groups of children and adults who are comprised of anything that is not mainstream White Euro-centric" (p. 59). Such a climate is upheld by the nature and structure of the country's educational system. This "Nazi-like paranoia" identified by Wynne (2005) is simply a more recent characterization of the white supremacist ideology prevalent in American society. The prevalence of such an ideology adversely influences a country's efforts to achieve educational equity because the climate impacts teacher perceptions. The goal of this article is to examine the ways in which White supremacist ideology influences the education that African Americans receive. We do so by examining some of the scholarship on disparities in American education.

Review of Relevant Literature

The existence of a White supremacist ideology shapes the trajectory of scholarship designed to examine and uncover strategies to improve the academic performance of students of African ancestry in the United States. As such, instead of an examination of the ways in which school practices, policies, and personnel create and perpetuate the underachievement of these students, we find that a significant amount of scholarship tends to focus on how to fix the student or chronicles the efforts of schools who believe fixing the student is the primary path to academic success. In The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom (1988) charged that attempts to transform school curricula to incorporate non-Western thought and traditions under-minded the fabric of American society. Non-Western students should simply assimilate culturally in order to succeed. Hernstein & Murray (1994) argued that the academic disparities between African and European American students was due to black intellectual inferiority. Similarly, Sewell (1997) found that British teachers "pointed to African-Caribbean sub-culture as the main reason why the schooling process was not working" (p. 68).

John Ogbu (2003) asserted that African American students held high academic expectations but did not necessarily work to meet those expectations. He surmised that this, in part, perpetuated the existence of a Black-White achievement gap. While he acknowledged that students felt teachers did not demonstrate "caring," he never examined how school or teacher practices shaped students' to work hard. Furthermore, the dynamics of teacher-student relationships that enable students to adopt a particular work ethic was overworked. Thus, Ogbu's (2003) work suggests that if African American parents supervised their child's homework and if students worked harder, the achievement gap could be bridged. Assumptions such as these, that are not interrogated, inform the way that the school curricula, school and teacher practices produce African American children who are academically disengaged.

A line of inquiry has emerged which examines the ways in which school practices and teacher perceptions create inequities within the classroom. After all, teachers' perceptions about race are a reflection of the broader society and inevitably how teaching practices are influenced. Pinar (1993) notes that school curricula marginalize the contributions of people of color while highlighting the accomplishments of those of European descent, thereby creating distorted national identities. …

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