Na’ilah Suad Nasir, “The Culture of Educational Inequality”


The title of my talk
today is the Culture of Educational Inequality. And I’m going to
talk both about how I theorize educational
inequality with respect to race, as well as
how race operates to reproduce racial
inequality within schools. As I do so, I’ll
draw on findings from several empirical studies
to ground the discussion in the words and experiences
of young people in schools. I have a lot to share, and I’m
going to talk kind of fast, because that’s just how I roll. And I’ll get through as
much of this as I can, and then I’ll stop to leave
some time for questions. OK. I want to start with what for
me is a fundamental premise about schooling– and
actually the reason why I study schools–
is that schools are an institution that both
reproduce social inequality, but that are also a
fundamental disruption of educational inequality
at their best, right. So schools are both these
kind of a longstanding sites of racial struggle. Again, both in terms
of the ways that they have the potential
for reproduction, and that they also have the
potential for disruption. So we’re going to
talk about kind of both sides of that coin
today, and both of those ways that schools operate. And I’m going to talk also a
little bit about the mechanisms by which both the reproduction
and the disruption of racial inequality happens
as folks experience school. And I want to kind of
underscore this with a term that Michael Dumas
has been using– one of my new
colleagues at Berkeley– who talks about schools as a
site of black suffering, right. So schools have this potential
to be a site of suffering, and yet so much of the way
that we think about schools and enact policies
through schooling has to do with their
potential as disruptors of racial inequality. You think about the entire
school desegregation movement, right. It’s based on the
premise that not only are we going to disrupt racial
inequality in society through schooling, but that will
be the mechanism by which we can change all of society. Right. And so again, this is just
an interesting tension that underlies what
I’ll talk about today. So I’m going to talk about
three different things. This is my basic
outline for you, because I’m pulling
together stuff– Kimberley and I we’re talking over
there in the corner. I’m pulling together stuff from
different parts of my work. So I’m hoping that it will
have some cohesion for you. If not, just think about it as
like a series of snapshots that are kind of linked together. We’ll start with some big
questions and underlying assumptions of my work. And then I’m going to talk a
little bit about some broader socio-political trends
that impact schooling, building actually in pretty
deep ways on the folks that have spoken before
me this morning, and also highlighting the
role of neoliberal policy in the current schooling
political climate. Then I’m going to
switch gears a bit and talk about the prevalence of
race in and inside of schools, focusing on the power
and reproduction of racial stereotypes as
it happens in schools. Then I’m going to talk
about two different efforts at disruption, right. So one is a school
that we euphemistically call Railside High
School where we studied a group of mathematics
teachers that had developed an equity
pedagogy over about a 20 year period together that pretty
much obliterated achievement gaps in their school. And then we’ll talk about
why that got dismantled. And then the second case study
is of the African American Male Initiative in Oakland
Unified School District, where they are looking to create
kind of alternative school spaces within the
school to better support black male students. And then I’ll conclude
with just a few thoughts. So to start with kind
of the big picture, there are several
big questions that underlie my program
of research, that operate as kind of
guide posts for me over the course of my career. The first is, how do we
understand and account for the processes
of culture, race, and racial stratification
in relation to schooling and learning? The second is, what
role does the identity play in this process? How are identities made
available in learning settings? And when I think about
identity in learning settings, typically when folks
talk about that, when psychologists talk
about that, they’re talking about the
identity people bring to settings, right. I’m also thinking about
the ways that settings make certain
identities possible, and actually seeing that as a
core equity issue in schools. Who are you allowed to be? Who are you allowed to become
through your engagement with schools? And then third, what
are some possibilities for repositioning, creating
new identity opportunities? So one kind of big
strand that you’ll see running through
this talk today is– my field has talked
a lot about understanding, describing racial
inequality in terms of differences in resources. And I think that’s a really
important body of work. But I’m also really
interested in thinking about how we understand
racial inequality in relation to processes of learning. So the very kind of
cognitive and identity processes that underlie
learning are also under-girded by racial inequality. And how do we think about
building those strands. So that’s been something I’ve
been thinking about and working on for a long time. So hopefully you’ll see some
connections there in the work. Several underlying assumptions
that my work rests upon, builds on the work
of many, many others in the field of education
and education research. The first is that learning
is inherently cultural. A lot of times when we talk
about culture and learning, we’re talking about the
ways that different groups of black and brown kids learn. That it’s cultural
when you’re talking about black and
brown kids, but just normal when you’re talking
about everybody else. I’m saying that learning
is inherently cultural. It’s cultural for
everyone, right. And it’s cultural
so for every one because learning happens within
social and cultural context, right, that are organized
socially and culturally. It occurs within
social interactions with others, peers,
teachers, parents, siblings. And it occurs in the service
of social and cultural goals, and also utilizing key
cultural artifacts. So many, many ways in which
learning is an inherently cultural endeavour. If you take that as
a premise, how do we then think differently about
who learns and doesn’t learn, where and why? And what types of resources
for learning get provided. The second is that schools
are cultural institutions. Schools are culturally
lived and experienced, they are not culturally neutral. They’re culturally
organized, guided by norms, conventions, artifacts,
social interaction, and that schools are potential
spaces of empowerment, of marginalization,
of identity building. They’re spaces where cultural
and identity trajectories are offered and taken up. And finally, I make
the assumption, again building on a
huge body of research, that race matters in schools. It’s one of the many
cultural and societal notions that take up life in schools. I argue that it does
so in two key ways. One, because race
constrains or enables access to quality schooling, and
quality learning environments. These environments are
largely stratified by race in our country and many others. And the second is that
race matters in school because racial
stereotypes are incredibly prevalent in schools. And I’ll talk a lot about
that as I talk today. When I talk about
stereotypes, I’m thinking about them, not
as kind of static things that just exist, and
just are kind of there, but rather as
cultural artifacts, as racial story lines. In other words, stereotypes
are racial narratives of story lines because they
are lived, used, invoked. We continue to produce them and
reproduce them and resist them through our
interactions with one another in schools
on a daily basis. And that alive nature of it,
is really, really important. I also think about them
as common ways of thinking and mechanisms of
oppression, right. They’re the artifacts that
organize our perceptions and opinions. And finally– this is
going to become important as I move on with the
talk– racial narratives are relational. That is, negative
racial stereotypes about African
Americans and Latinos are intimately related
to positive stereotypes about whites and Asians. What does it mean to have a
group that is a model minority group? It says something
about that group, but it also says
something about, what are the non-model
minority groups, right. So these things are
inherently racial, in the way that we think
about them, and in the way that we operate. So most recently
I’ve been trying to think about– you know,
because I come from a field where we study, kind of the
micro-processes of learning environments and of these
identity processes in schools, and we think about
the possibilities that get opened up or
constrained in those spaces. But I’ve been trying to think
about how we connect that to this idea of longer term
trajectories of big structures of inequality. How and where do those two
things kind of come together and how do we think about that? So I’ve been thinking
about using this term, learning pathways. And the picture there
for me is very powerful. So I’ve been trying to think
about how we conceptualize people’s trajectory through
schools, as not just an accumulation of these
moments of learning, or of these moments of
racialized interactions, but to think about the ways
that schools set pathways for students, and then move them
along those pathways over time. And one of these pathways
we’ve talked a lot about is a school to prison
pipeline, right. Another pathway is a
pathway that leads one to college and employment. So this metaphor of
pathways comes, for me from the work of
anthropologist David Plath, who argues that our life
trajectories can be captured with this metaphor, pathways. And he conceptualizes pathways
as culturally constructed sets of choices, but to keep in
mind that these choices are constrained. So there is this kind
of individual choice thing happening, and
yet your personal set of individual
choices are greatly constrained by your social
context and economic situation. So like this dirt
road on the picture, you can think of a cultural
pathway as a well-worn path. It doesn’t fully and completely
determine your direction, but it certainly facilitates
a certain set of choices. No one said you can’t go off
and walk through that grass, but it’s certainly much
more difficult to do so. So that pathway for me is a
way of thinking about the ways our society structure
certain outcomes and ends, but these are not
totally deterministic. Wait, let me go back. There’s one more thing I
wanted to say about that. So we can think about
schools as offering a certain well-worn path to
black students in particular. Again, not foreclosing
all possibility, but ensuring that it takes
a really strong effort to, for instance, try to chart
your way through these trees. OK. One more big theory slide
before I move into some data. So I also think a
lot about why it is that schools are so hard
to navigate productively for African American students
and other students of color. And this slide actually comes
from a piece, a handbook chapter that two colleagues,
Janelle Scott and Tina Trujillo just finished, thinking about
how do we– again thinking about this connection between
these broad socio-political trends in society
and in districts and connect that up
with the pathways that get opened up for
kids, or close down, right. So we’re thinking
about these trends and we argue in the
piece that there are three broad socio-political
trends that influence teaching and learning. The first, as Tom Shapiro
was just talking about, is economic inequality and
the bifurcation of wealth. We are in a moment of
unprecedented and growing wealth inequality. Where the top one percent
possess inordinate wealth. Where the middle class
has shrunk significantly, and poverty is growing
at alarming rates. With the shrunken
safety net, families are increasingly unable to
afford basic social needs. What does that mean for schools? Schools then are left to
attempt to meet a greater demand, in terms
of student need, and to compensate where
society has failed. And so again, we see this
construction of schools as having to make up for places
where society is falling short. The second major
trend is what feels like a bit of a
tension– increasing diversity in the midst of
increasing segregation. We’re also at a time where
schools and neighborhoods are far more segregated
than they were 20 years ago. White, black, and
Latino students increasingly attend
schools that are racially homogeneous
and unequal with respect to financial resources,
and in communities with greatly differing
degrees of political, social, and economic capital. But at the same time,
the teaching force is largely white, 82% of
teachers in our country are white. The segregation
in schools then is mirroring the segregation
in communities, and resulting in schools
with higher concentrations of poverty, still staffed with
white teachers potentially unable to meet the linguistic
and cultural needs of students. So again, you have this
backdrop against which these processes of
teaching and learning are happening in schools. The third is
neoliberalism, which is a term that’s used to talk
about the marketized context of teaching and
learning, which has been one of the kind of major
movements in educational policy over the past couple of decades. So all this, all of the economic
bifurcation, the increasing segregation, are happening
in a moment where schools are increasingly embracing
market-driven policies, including choice and
charter school policies, alternative teacher
certification programs like TFA,
Teach for America, merit pay programs for
teachers, and an increasing focus on standardization and
culture blind pedagogical approaches. These policies have had
a dismal effect on access to high quality schooling,
have de-professionalized the work of teaching,
and have negatively affected teacher’s
abilities to teach in critical and deep ways. So in some ways it’s like
this hidden handicap that’s happening in schools, and
much more in public schools than in private schools,
where teachers and schools are increasingly focused
on micro sets of skills to the detriment of
teaching critical writing or critical thinking or deeper
concepts in mathematics. These policies have
also increased push-outs and drop-outs as schools focus
on test scores and raising test scores, and have happened
alongside zero tolerance policies, which Kimberly
may or not talk about. Underlying these
trends, we argue, are three key frames for
understanding the world. And I’m not going to
say a lot about this, but I wanted to throw it out
there because I’m excited by it and think it’s important,
again as a backdrop to what I’m going to say with the data. One of these trends– and
so when I say these frames are underlined by trends. These trends, if you
just look at them, right, don’t make a lot of
sense about why we as a society would allow such things
to happen, right. So the frames– and I’m
building on Eduardo’s work as well– the frames allow us
to make sense of these trends in ways that rationalize
them for us, right. The first frame is
color blindness. The idea that color and race
doesn’t matter in the world. And it’s a key determinant
of anything that matters. The second is meritocracy, the
belief that the most deserving are the ones who succeed. So if you hold a
frame of meritocracy, then you look at inequality
and say well it’s OK because the
hardest working people were the ones who got ahead. And finally,
neoliberalism, which is both a frame and a
set of policies, right. As a frame, we think about it
as a belief in standardization and market-driven
approaches, a push towards smaller government,
reduce government spending on social programs. This idea of kind of
cutting the fat, right. And these three trends,
importantly, are deeply linked. They’re not just operating
concurrent with one another, they deeply inform one another. So we argue in the piece these
three socio-political trends open up certain learning
pathways to students and close down others,
and have deep implications for the kinds of
learning environments that exist in schools. So let me turn now,
shifting gears a bit, to thinking about the ways
that race reproduces itself inside schools. And I’m going to focus in
this section of the talk, on this notion of racial
stereotypes and story lines. And this is important for
me in terms of, again, making sense– the prevalence
of these racial story lines are one of the ways that we
make sense of racial inequality in schools. The ways that we continue
to reproduce it in schools. And this is kind of building
on the work of Doug Massey and others who have argued
that inequality is upheld, both by the structures
of unequal access and the ideologies that make
that unequal access logical, or seem logical. Right. So this section then on racial
story lines and stereotypes, you can read it, see it as one
of the important processes that makes racial inequality in
schools seem logical to us. OK. So we know that in
our society there are strong and longstanding
racial stereotypes about intellectual ability,
about who’s good in school, and in particular about
who’s good in math. I forgot to say that
there’s a line in my work where I look at mathematics
teaching and learning in particular, not because
the content is actually of particular interest
to me, but because math is a place where these racial
story lines are particularly strong, and it operates
as kind of a gatekeeper content in school. Like if you’re a math person,
like you’re really, really smart, right. So it’s just kind of
an interesting social construction. So in this study we were
concerned with– this study happen like right at the
moment, I think about 2008, 2009, where our
nation was in a moment where we were beginning to
wonder if we were post-racial, like were we just in a
really different kind of racial environment? Obama was being elected,
all these wonderful things were happening. And so this study was
to try to understand, are kids aware that
racial stereotypes exist in this
moment that we were purporting to be post-racial. And to what extent do
kids hold or endorse racial stereotypes, right. And quite honestly,
at the time, for me, that was an empirical question. Do these notions of
race that we think about and work with as scholars, are
these things still happening in schools? Right. And then I think the
second big set of questions that we were taking
up in the study is, for students from
negative stereotyped groups, like African American
and Latino students, are there ways that they manage
the burden of potentially being stereotyped? Claude Steele’s work
on stereotype threat tells us that stereotypes
hold a particular burden. But how do kids
take up that burden? How do they make sense of it? What they do in schools? OK. So the study surveyed
about 150 students, fourth through seventh graders
in a diverse upper elementary and middle school in the South
Bay in northern California. And then followed that
survey with case studies of 12 African
American and Latino students, half of them in
elementary school, half of them in middle school. And an what we were looking for
and looking at with those case studies as we interview
them over the course of several months,
several times, and we observed them
in their classes, in their math classrooms
in particular, to look at how
did issues of race come up as kids we’re
navigating school? And how did they navigate that? How did they manage that? All right. So the findings
basically showed– because remember the first
question that we’re looking at is, are kids aware of
racial stereotypes? Do they endorse them? Basically the findings
showed that yes, kids are, by and large aware that
racial stereotypes exist, such that they know
that in our society folks believe the Asian
and white kids are smarter and better at math than
black and Latino kids. By middle school, kids come
to endorse these stereotypes much more fully, right. So the knowledge
of them increases from about upper elementary
to middle school, and the endorsement
of them increases as well, which is to say
kids, as they get older, are more likely to believe
the stereotypes to be true. And then the third
bullet here I think is particularly important,
is that the findings also showed that African American
and Latino students were more aware that these racial
stereotypes exist, but were less likely to believe
them, or to endorse them. And so again, this for me gets
at that notion of the burden, right. So if you belong
to a group that you know people are
stereotyping your group, but you know these
stereotypes are not true, what do you do with that? What do kids do with
that in schools? So that leads to kind of
this next set of findings– this comes from the case
study data– where what we saw were that they were basically
four kind of patterns in the ways that
stereotyped kids, kids from stereotyped groups,
manage this notion of being stereotyped. The first– and we were
looking for not just how they managed it, but what
that meant for their school achievement. What that meant for how
well they did in school. So the first group here were
kids who were simply unaware that the stereotypes existed. That was a strategy as it were. That proved to be a pretty good
strategy for school success. Folks in this
group were engaged, raising their hands in
class, doing well on tests, saw themselves as a student. However, by seventh
grade there was no one left in this category, which
is to say that by seventh grade they’re all aware that
the stereotypes exist, and so this strategy is
there’s a very short-lived one. The second were kids who
were aware of the stereotypes and decided that they were
just going to take them up. So you say, black girls are
loud and don’t pay attention in class, and I’m a black girl,
well I’m just going to be loud. I’m not going to pay
attention in class. As you can imagine, this is
detrimental for school success. I could say a lot
more about that but I’m going to
move pretty quickly. The third strategy I found
particularly interesting. Kids who said, yes,
I believe– again, these are black and Latino kids. I believe that black and
Latinos are not as smart and don’t do as well in school,
but I’m not one of them. Right. So kids again are
left on their own to make sense of these things. And so kids are saying well,
yeah, I guess that’s true. Society’s telling me this is
true, but I’m different, right. And those kids were doing
decently well in school but were carrying a really
heavy psychological burden. The burden of potentially
being found out. And so they were in a
certain amount of kind of psychological distress. And the fourth group were kids
who resisted the stereotypes. Who said we do not
believe these are true. We know that folks think this,
but we don’t believe it’s true. I have lots of models
and examples in my life and why this is not true,
and I will prove to you that this is not
true, and those kids were doing quite well
in school and were super-engaged and involved. I want to say one more
thing about stereotypes before I go on. And this piece of data
comes from a study of one of my graduate students–
my former graduate student who’s a faculty member
at Michigan State now, [INAUDIBLE] Shaw. And [INAUDIBLE] was
interested in kind of building on our work
on racial stereotypes, interested in particular
in the stereotype that Asians are good at math. And so he did a series of
interviews and observations in schools, asking kids
about this stereotype. So this comes from an interview
of a ninth grade African American male student,
we call Will here. An interviewer asks Will, “so
do you think those stereotypes,” meaning the stereotypes about
Asians being good at math, “are affecting non-Asian kids
in their math experiences?” And Will says, “yeah, because
this is my personal experience. But if I see, like– I’m
pretty sure if a black kid sees an Asian kid get an
A on a test, it’s like, I wish I could
do that, or I’m never going to do that because
it must have been for him it’s super easy. It’s like, he’s
super smart and I’m nowhere near as smart
as him, and I’m never going to be able to do that.” So it affects him
mentally, which in turn affects the outcome
of his or her performance. So this student is linking
this existence of an Asians are good at math stereotype
with a self-doubt that then kind of creeps in as
an African American student. It’s important in and of
itself but then it goes on. And I didn’t put all this
up because I didn’t want to overwhelm you with text. The interviewer
goes on and says, “have you seen that affect
friends of yours in that way?” And Will says, “because of
someone else’s performance? Yeah. There are kids in the class
who see other kids get A’s. Well, it’s like one of my
friends, he saw me get an A and they had me pinned for the
stereotypical African American male who wasn’t going
to do good in math. He saw me get an
A and he thought he was going to be
able to get an A, but then he wasn’t, and
then he saw me as like, oh, you’re hecka smart. You must have some
Asian in you.” So I find this
example particularly compelling because what
for me it brings to light is the way that these
stereotypes have life beyond even the evidence
that they’re not true. And then the way that
counter example gets then used as framed as
evidence of the existence of this stereotypes. And the other part that
I think is important about this is the way that
kids then have to manage that. So it’s not just that the
stuff is existing in the world, it’s that as you move
through your school life, you’re having to figure
out how to respond back to these notions
that keep getting kind of piled onto you, right. Let’s see– so these data
come from an interview study with African American
students at the high school level, and just kind of point
to the ways in which students see racism as being
prevalent in school. They talked about the
ways that their teachers had low expectations for
their academic achievement, and not just for them
personally, but for them as African American students. So students are perceiving that
low expectations are linked to these notions of
what teachers expect from them as black students. They perceive teachers
not to care about them as African American
students and as African American male
students in this sample. And they felt that
they were frequently subject to racist
stereotypes and unjust disciplinary actions. This issue of
discipline is really, really sealing it and
important in schools, and salient for a
number of reasons. One, because kids feel it as a
defining aspect of their school experience. That being harshly
disciplined is part of what it means
to be in school. And so even just figuring out
how to keep yourself in class is actually a pretty
big thing for students. And again because they see it
as racially unjust, for them it’s another message around
the ways in which they’re treated unfairly in schools. And I will say that these
data come from an interview study in about 2010. The following year, the district
that we had been working in got tagged by the
Office of Civil Rights and came up with a–
what is it called? A consent degree? An agreement with the
Office of Civil Rights about how they were
going to address these massive issues of
disciplinary inequity in the district. So these kid’s
perceptions were very much supported by the
empirical evidence. OK. Parents also were very
much engaged and involved in helping students
manage these stereotypes. These data come from
an interview study with parents of African
Americans children. It’s a study around
racial socialization. And again we enter the
study, parents mirror to us some of the things that we
had been thinking about, which is parents said,
you know, I wasn’t sure if I was still going to need
to have this conversation about race with my kids. I kind of have a sense the world
is different than it used to be and maybe we I don’t have to
tell them about discrimination. We don’t have to talk about it. And invariably the
discussion happens when a kid comes
home after having had some racial incident. Parents also talked
about believing initially that schools were
on their kid’s side. Like a mother who talked
about a daughter who came home and said, you know,
mom, this teacher really doesn’t like me. He’s really racist. And she told her
daughter, no, no, no. What are you doing? You must be doing something. Let me go talk to the teacher. And she went and talked to the
teacher and came home and said, you know what? You’re right. The teacher’s racist. Now let’s help navigate this
a different kind of way. Which meant that parents then
had to figure out a new set of strategies, and had to come
to this point of realization that I actually cannot trust the
school system not to do racial harm on my kids. And so, again,
there’s a theme here that in this post-racial
era we are indeed not– we won’t go through
that in anymore detail. Some I want to talk
about two– and I’ll move through this pretty quickly
so we can get to questions. Two efforts at
disruptions, meaning disruption of these kind
of negative schooling environments. And the two examples
I’m going to talk about are very, very different
from one another. The first is a math department
in an urban high school that over the course of
a 20-year period created a very successful
equity pedagogy in mathematics, and were thus able to
disrupt racial achievement gaps in pretty profound ways. We just wrote a book about it. I’ll put up the
picture in a minute. And the second is a
district-wide program in Oakland, California,
focusing on supporting African American
male students where the courses are
much more around, kind of culture and identity. So again, two really divergent
approaches at this disruption. One focused primarily
on academic content. The other focused primarily
on identity and culture. So I know y’all are not maybe
so interested in the math eddy parts of this, so I’m just
going to give kind of overview. Railside High School is an
urban comprehensive high school in northern California. The student population is 54%
Latino, 21% black, 17% Asian. 30% of the students qualified
for free or reduced lunch. 25% are English
language learners. And in this context– there’s
a whole long history to it, but I’ll start the
history at the point where the math
department decides, we have to do
something different. We are reproducing
inequalities in our school through our instruction in ways
that we are uncomfortable with. And so they embarked
upon this journey of trying to figure
out how to undo that. And what that
meant for them, was to develop an approach to
teaching in mathematics that was de-tracked,
right, that put all of the incoming ninth graders
into the same high-quality, rigorous algebra classroom. And then took students
through a curriculum that they actually ended
up developing themselves. It was very much centered
around problem solving. It was a multi-ability
curriculum, meaning they were able to expand
their notion of what it means to be a mathematics learner
to include the skills and talents of all
the students that were coming into the classroom. And they had a strong
record of success. This has been studied by
many, many researchers. The book we wrote actually
just pulled together a lot of the research that existed. This table comes from
some work by Jo Boaler and here team at
Stanford who did a four-year study of Railside
and compared it to two other local high schools. It showed, as you can see
there, that after four years, students at Railside
were much more likely to pass the basic
tests, were much more likely to take
advanced math classes, were much more
likely– much, much more likely to report
that they liked math, and were much more
likely to report interest in math-related careers. Importantly, as I
mentioned, there was an elimination of
gender and race-based gaps by the senior year. So over the course
of four years, rather than increasing
gender and race-based gaps which tends to
happen, this school was able to eliminate them. So how did this happen? I’ll say a tiny bit about
the elements of the program. It obviously started with
a commitment to equity. So a commitment to taking
the assumption that if you’re producing racial
achievement gaps, then there’s something wrong
with what you’re doing. You have to un-naturalize
the achievement gaps in order to do this kind of work. Some kind of technical
things around block scheduling, which
meant scheduling the math classes into two
doubly long periods, and having the math courses
be semester-long rather than year-long. This allowed an opportunity
for kids who didn’t do well to retake courses. It also allowed the space to
do the kind of deep problem solving work that they valued. Complex instruction
and group work are kind of particular
teaching techniques that really focus on higher
order mathematical problems, rather than skills
and applying formulas. And the development of a
teacher professional community, where they worked on the
problems of practice together. And all of these elements
are actually really important and work together
to think about what equity pedagogy looks like. It has to be a concerted effort. One has to think about different
ways of creating and delivering curriculum, and teachers
need to work together to ensure that this
work is sustained, and that everybody’s
kind of on the same page. There were several
important assumptions that underlied this work that
they were doing at Railside, that all teachers and
students are learners, which in some ways it’s
not overtly racial, but it really disrupts the
kind of racialized notions that we’ve been
talking about, right. That they’re working
from strengths, making space for vulnerability. In other words, seeing strength
and smartness and intelligence in every student, redefining
what it means to be smart, redefining what it means
to do math in school, and the importance of
interpersonal relationships in that network. That notion of care,
that again, you think back to what the students
were saying a few moments ago, that they don’t
feel cared about, they don’t feel like
people think they’re smart. This kind of pedagogy then kind
of turned that on its head. Unfortunately this did not last. The math department at Railside
as we knew it in about 2012 no longer exists. And by around 2011, it
became clear to the teachers that the community
and set of practices that they had worked so hard
to create over a 20-year period was coming to an end. This was an incredibly
emotional time for them. And this book–
there’s the picture of the book there–
came about as we were studying the department
and this dismantling. And we’re in an interview with
a teacher who’s telling us, like how horrible
things are and how they’re not able to do
what they’ve been doing. And all of these reasons, there
are on the side of the slide, about why, the policy
shifts that created this new environment, with
kind of neoliberal policies at the heart of it. And one of the
teachers said, well, so what are you all doing? We’re like, well, we’re studying
this thing as it falls apart. And so the book came out
of that conversation, where he was like, well, are
you going to do something that’s actually helpful? We’re like, well hey, maybe
we should write a book. So that’s where
the book came from. But to get back to the
kind of policy shifts that created this dismantling
was a series of things that you see happening in
districts across the country. A new superintendent,
Broad Foundation trained with a focus on kind
of turning around the school. And that resulted in a series of
policies including eliminating the block schedule, going back
to a practice of tracking that was mandated by the district. So despite the fact that
you’re in a department that’s having these wonderful
results, the district is still saying no, no, no,
you have to do it this way. And, interestingly,
you have to it this way, because this is
how we get to equity when we measure equity by test scores. So like the very notion of
what we were moving towards is what caused this
dismantling of a department that was already doing what
the district was saying it wanted to have done. So teacher layoffs,
increases in class size, and a choice
enrollment system, that meant that the student
population in this school changed, not terribly
drastically, but drastically enough that it meant they
were getting more of the kids, and were viewed as kind of the
quote unquote ghetto school. That’s their words not mine. This resulted in changes
in classroom culture, a reduction in students
belief in their self and their peers, less
time and bandwidth for the kinds of
instructions that they had spent so many
years perfecting, and it had a really
strong effect on teacher’s
emotional engagement, where they felt like they
could no longer be effective. So an incredible loss
in morale, and the three of the core teachers
in the school left for other positions. So that’s a story, I think both
about the importance of content and providing rigorous
content in shifting the racialized nature of
schooling achievement, but it’s also, I think,
a cautionary tale around how, even in
the name of equity you can dismantle
equity reforms. And the way in which this
current political climate is doing that again
and again and again. OK, the second example is the
Manhood Development Program in Oakland Unified. This came about when they got
a new superintendent in 2010, a very progressive white
man, Tony Smith, who was concerned in
particular with raising the level of achievement
for the lowest achieving groups in the district. At the time, African
American male students were far and above the
lowest achieving group in the district. And he, using the
principles of John Powell’s targeted universalism,
decided that we’re going to start a
program specifically to support that group
because as we support the achievement of that group,
the kind of rising tide– what is it? Floats all boats? Raises all boats? I always get those things wrong. So in any case, the initiative
had lots of components. One of the components
that we studied was the Manhood
Development Program which were courses for cohorts
of 20 to 25 students, initially seventh or ninth graders
and it has since expanded. And interestingly,
these were classes held in the normal
course of the school day for average African
American male students and with African American
male instructors. And initially they
thought they would go into schools, recruit
African American male teachers, and this program would be
lovely and start moving. And what they realized
was there were none. And so they ended up
bringing– and where there were African
American male teachers, they didn’t have the kind
of culture and identity sensibilities to
support the curriculum that they wanted to implement. And so they ended up
recruiting instructors from the community,
folks who had, kind of community
development backgrounds and had worked with kids in
community settings, which led to a really interesting
kind of tone and nature of the program. And it also led to
these instructors having a unique role in the school,
where they were both delivering this curriculum to
students, but they were also serving as kind of
an advocate, mentor, go-between between the students
and the other teachers. So I won’t say a
whole lot about this. I do want to just kind of say,
obviously black boys in schools are racialized and gendered
in a particular kind of way. Black girls are
also a racialized, gendered, disenfranchised
and pushed out, and tend to be very much
ignored with respect to programming and policy. I studied this initiative
in Oakland focused on black males, which is apart
of this turn in our society to fund work and attend
to the challenges of black and brown males. So hopefully,
professor Crenshaw will talk a little bit
about intersectionality to put some of this
into perspective. So what did we find? Our study was focused
on looking at what happened in these classes. And I’ll just give the
higher order findings. We found new kinds of
discipline practices. And so the way
students were reporting having been disciplined in
their standard classrooms didn’t happen in these spaces. They were very different
rules around what counted as a discipline-worthy action. So in other words, the ways that
kids show up kind of naturally, their racial engendered
selves in classrooms was not considered discipline
worthy in the same kinds of ways. I’ll give you just
a quick example of that, where one of
the classrooms, it’s the first in class. And the instructor who’s
relatively young compared to the other
teachers the students had experienced, giving his
spiel about what this class is going to be about. Welcome you all. We’re so glad you’re all here. You’re leaders. And a kid in the back
starts beating on the desk, like keeping a beat. I can’t keep a beat. But keeping a beat on the desk. And it’s like this
moment of challenge, right, where we’re all
looking at the instructor, like whoa, what
is he going to do? Like clearly this is like a
challenge to his authority. And the instructor
looks back at the kid and says keep that beat going. And starts talking to
the beat that the kid’s keeping on the drum, right. So here you take a moment,
that in most classrooms would be a discipline-worthy
moment, where this way of being
is not OK here, and what this teacher
does is incorporate it. This way of being is fine here. And then later
the kid gets tired and stops beating on the desk. And the instructor was like,
what happened to the beat? You also see kids
moving physically in the classroom in
different kinds of ways where they’re sitting
on desks or they’re laying on their arms, or
they have their hoodies up. And these are different
ways of carrying yourself are OK in this space. There’s not a mandate on
one particular narrow way to carry and hold
yourself in this space. OK. So new kinds of
disciplinary practices. Lots of work and
talk and exercises to help kids see, reframe,
and debunk stereotypes about black males. And then a lot of attention
to building community– multi-layered relationships
between instructors and students, between students
and students, and having kids have a set of supporters,
right, that they can go back to, that they can talk to
when an issue comes up that they’ve dealt with
in the school or at home. They have a space to
come and talk about it. And that creation of
that space allowed them to navigate the rest of the
school space in different ways from a greater place
of kind of wholeness. I could say a lot more
about a lot of this. And I think I’m going
to just end there. This was some findings from a
new study on the whole school context that are successful
for African American youth. So I could talk about that
if y’all want to in Q&A. But I’m just going
to conclude, schools are unique sites of racial
reproduction and destruction. Students often
experience schools as highly racialized settings. Racial inequality in
schools is undergirded by key frames of color
blindness, meritocracy, and neoliberalism. Identity is critical to
the learning process. Negative racial and ethnic
stereotypes impact access to learning identities,
and students are left to manage these racial
stereotypes that others apply to them, and having
to figure out how to position and
reposition themselves. And finally, that
schools can and must find ways to
intentionally disrupt societal narratives
about race and provide rigorous high
quality instruction, and create new and
transformative learning pathways as they do so. And I will end there. [APPLAUSE]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *