Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Social Justice Teaching through the Sympathetic Touch of Caring and High Expectations for Students of Color

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Social Justice Teaching through the Sympathetic Touch of Caring and High Expectations for Students of Color

Article excerpt

Introduction

One of the challenges to effectively educating students of color is the tendency of teachers to use pity as a moral basis for lowering expectations for student learning (Ladson-Billings, 2009; Landsman, 2004; Zembylas, 2013). This sense of pity can stem from feeling sorry for students' social and economic circumstances, and the consequent belief that students should be exempt from learning with rigor (Knesting & Waldron, 2006). Some students might initially interpret teacher pity as a form of sympathy, thereby interpreting and internalizing an attitude that learning is optional or unattainable due to this perceived disadvantage. These seemingly well-intended messages have shown to negatively influence students' self-perceptions and result in low academic achievement (Graham & Taylor, 2016). This cycle can then result in the self-fulfilling prophecy of lowered expectations (Liou & Rotheram-Fuller, 2016). Such reduced expectations negatively affect low-income students of color (Diamond, Randolph, & Spillane, 2004). That is, teachers with low expectancy practices often use their own assumptions about students' race, social class, and life circumstances to disregard their own responsibility to support students in reaching a higher level of academic achievement (Landsman, 2004).

Sympathy derived from perceived disadvantages can undermine students' intellectual capacity. In the context of a racialized society (Ledesma & Calderon, 2015), this deficit conception of sympathy can reduce students' humanity (Ralston Saul, 2009) and thus render them as the racial Other (Alfred, 2005). These practices minimize students' experiences with low expectations as a form of racism and naturalize their intellectual promise as subordinant to White students' academic superiority (Gillborn, 2005). Sympathy as it is commonly constructed from deficit lenses inhibits teacher and students to come to an understanding of their social justice context (Ralston Saul, 2009).

Although the life challenges of young people of color in this country have very real consequences on students' motivation to learn (Bandura, 1986), fixating on these challenges without attempting to address them at a systemic level can create a glass ceiling that hinders their academic achievement. Valencia (2012) has identified the practice of teachers' diminished expectations for a student's ability to learn as environmental deficit thinking. Not surprisingly, researchers regard such an approach as counterintuitive to expectancy efforts to address achievement disparities across race and class (Liou & Rotheram-Fuller, 2016; Milner, 2007; Weinstein, 2002). Consistent with Freire's (2000) scholarship, these compassionate intentions result in the reduction of learning; rather than address and challenge the oppressive systemic and societal structures that students of color face, these attitudes create a false sense of generosity on the part of the teacher. This erroneous perceptual framework and expectancy practice operate under the guise of generosity (Freire, 2000) even as it reproduces and perpetuates societal and educational inequities (Rist, 1970).

Along this line of thinking, teacher sympathy and learning expectancies in the classroom often have negative effects on students. We argue that this form of sympathy is misplaced because it does not contribute to the educational success of students--nonetheless, the concept of sympathy must remain vital and central given its role in determining how people read and respond to each other in a society (Candace, 2007; Gerdes, 2011). Du Bois's (1935) article, "Does the Negro Need Separate Schools?" prompted us to revisit the role of sympathy between teachers and students as a method of providing a pedagogical platform for the future success of low-income students of color. In the era of racial segregation, Du Bois referred to teacher sympathy as a vital ingredient for reenvisioning the education Black youth had long received--one based on America's racist history and exclusionary practices that promoted school segregation and white supremacy. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.