Monday, October 26, 2009

Unintentional Racism, Institutional Racism, and the Achievement Gap

Nastasha Pollard

Critical Opinion #1:


Within our education system, racism is still very prevalent today and continues to have a huge impact on the educational achievement gap between white students and students of color. The article I read titled, “Racism in School: Unintentional But No Less Damaging” by Rob Kuznia, discusses this topic specifically speaking about the subtle racism that takes place within school and how this affects student of color. Teachers and other professionals within our society’s’ school systems need to be taught about unintentional racism so they can be aware of what may take place unconsciously, but is prominent to those being oppressed: students of color. Once these educators recognize this subtle racism, then elimination of the continuing achievement gap can begin to close. In addition, society as a whole, must address the discrimination that poor, urban schools with a majority of students of color, receive. With a lack of funding and opportunities, students of color are facing barriers that hinder their ability to achieve in the classroom.

Currently, unintentional racism is just contributing to widening the achievement gap between white students and students of color. Already certain policies and procedures perpetuate racial inequities within schools. According to the article, “minority students feel unintelligent, despised, or marginalized” within this oppression. Racism that is taking place is called unintentional because a lack of blatant, intense hate is recognized. Unconscious thoughts that take place by educators are directed through certain behavior towards students of color, due to deeply rooted stereotypes and prejudices. With in these subtle racist thoughts, educators have fewer expectations for students of color. They believe false ideas such as; students of color are not committed to achieving academically, when in fact students of color are just as motivated as Caucasian students. They believe ideas like students of color are more likely to misbehave in the classroom, not understand complex material, not go to a four-year college, and are not as smart as their white counterparts. Inadvertent thoughts like such follow through into the behavior and oppression towards students of color. Due to these thoughts, minority students are not placed or given the chance to be in honors or advanced placement classes even when they qualify. They are only called on for the easy questions in class. White teachers expect them to misbehave or be the distraction with in the classroom. They expect less academic achievement from these students. I’ve been subjected to unintentional racism myself, whether it was being continuously reminded that their was after school extra help if needed when I wasn’t struggling in the class, or when I was barely ever called on in the class when my hand was continuously up. With in the article, they give an example of a Mexican immigrant student who was “dissuaded by her school counselor to go to a four-year college” just because of her race, although she was more than qualified. Just a small incident like that of unintentional racism can have a huge impact on the student. She stated the experience filled her with self-doubt, so she ended up attending a community college. As a result of this discrimination, the achievement gap widens when systemic inequity is being practiced within school. Students of color are insulted, forced to expect less of themselves, and have a less of self-efficacy. Check this video out for more insight on the achievement gap: object width="425" height="344">

When this discrimination takes place, minority students who are neglected and undergo this subtle racism that is obvious to them, withdraw from their schoolwork, become frustrated, fall behind in achieving academically, and cut themselves short of opportunities.

Less on an individual basis, institutional racism is directed toward schools, with the majority population being students of color, that are usually located in poor, urban communities. This is essential in contributing to the achievement gap between white students and students of color. Schools filled with the majority of underrepresented students face an enormous amount of inequities in terms of opportunities available to them. First, they receive lack of funding. Lack of funding contributes to a lot of other problems like: lack of course offerings, poor quality of teachers, lack of resources, poor school discipline, adequate preparation for standardized tests, and higher education. In my opinion, it is hard to see how this institutional racism becomes unintentional or becomes unrecognized discrimination. If this has been a perpetuating problem with the education system, why are schools that have a majority of students of color, still undergoing these inequities? Why hasn’t there been much improvement? Why are predominantly white schools consistently funded? The article gives an example of a school in California that filed a lawsuit in 2000 due to complete neglect and lack of funding. “Textbooks were so scarce, students could not take them home” and “certain times during the school day their were no bathrooms” so students urinated on themselves. The state wasn’t providing “the basic necessities for a decent education,” which had a huge impact on the academic achievement of these students that their white counterparts in funded schools don’t have to face. When you have a multitude of schools that are challenged with this institutionalized racism and lack of funding, how can you then question why there is an educational achievement gap? These issues of racism were heavily prevalent back in history when schools were segregated, and people of color fought for equities with in school. This issue of institutional racism directed towards schools with the larger population being students of color, should not still presently be a huge problem in our education system.

As a solution to this problem of institutional racism, whether unintentional or not, whites must first take responsibility for recognizing the racism and discrimination that exist. They must step outside their comfort zone and discuss what’s not usually talked about. They must learn to be fully committed to equity within the classroom, so students of color do not have to experience discrimination that inhibits them to do well and feel positive about their abilities. Their quality of education should be just the same as their fellow white students, and the color of their skin should not be a reason they have to face oppression. The article discusses an organization called Just Communities that is “dedicated to teaching educators about unintentional racism, which is the key contributor to the persistent achievement gap.” The organization wants to work towards addressing the racism that unconsciously takes place within white educators so they understand the “architecture”, or framework of oppression and can battle to eliminate it. The organization has made progress by informing white educators who must be willing to believe and listen to the subtle discrimination that goes on, so they can address it. They monitored the students of color’s progress within the schools that educators had attended workshops, and results such as reading test scores of students of color went up 20%. When white educators are aware of this racism and states as a whole can work to put an end towards this institutional racism, then the “atmosphere of inequity” as the article states, will gradually diminish. When students of color are given the same opportunities and are not marginalized due to their skin color, they can achieve too without facing barriers to get there.

Research Center: Achievement Gap

Rethinking Schools

Unconscious bias and unintentional racism

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