Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Danger of Being "Color-Blind"

 The Danger of Becoming "Color-Blind"

Nakkula writes about the effects that color-blindness has is our schools. He writes that "Research has indicated that endorsement of "color-blind" racial attitudes is significantly associated with greater levels of racial prejudice and a mistaken belief that society is just and fair." (p.125) He goes on to stress the importance of cultivating alliances with our students. Last week I witnessed this first hand because of a situation involving three of my students. On Thursday, some of my students stayed after school to help me with a project that I am running for the school. After they were finished, three of the boys ( who are all friends), wound up getting in a fist fight in the front of the building. Friday, I was was asked to come to the principals' office. Before I was even in the office, I could hear my principal screaming at the boys. I could tell that they were very glad to see me. I asked the principal what had happened and she told me it had been reported that the boys had been fighting on the front lawn after school. I explained to her that the boys had stayed after school because they had volunteered to help out with the school wide project. I told her that they were good boys and that they had made a mistake. The boys were not being forth coming with details of the fight so my principal threatened to call the police and press charges. One of my students is from Syria. He immediately became very upset. He was actually in a panic. Luckily my principal left her office. I told him that I would try to handle the situation. I have had many conversations with this boy and he has told me of the violence that he has experienced in Syria. He has a mistrust and real fear of police and military.
My principal was an ESL student herself and taught ESL students for ten years. However her mantra is that all students are treated the same. She has said that she "does not see color." I disagree with this way of thinking.  My principal believes that what is fair for one is fair for all. This is not seeing each student as individuals. I agree with Nakkula, we need to acknowledge the differences of our students so that we can teach them more effectively. I went to my principal and explained to her the situation and where my student was coming from. She backed off. She realized that she could not treat this boy in the same manner. I told the boy that he was going to have to take the consequences for fighting,but there would be no police involvement. He was upset but no longer in a panic. He knew that his father was going to be mad. I don't know what the outcome was ...I am sure I will find out on Monday.

Nakkula (p. 122) also states that "If we work with adolescents and wish to meet them where they are , we must go there, to where they live racially, even when - and perhaps particularly when - going there takes us beyond our educator comfort zones." I think this is a very important lesson for me as a white middle class teacher to learn. I will never fully understand the hardships that go along with race and to some extent ethnicity that many of my students have had to endure because I have never experienced them. Therefore it is essential that I learn all that I can about my students. I know that it is a big undertaking and I will not ever succeed in knowing all my students, but I hope to know most of them. When I read about the conflict between Antwone and Ms. Petersen, I would like to think that could never happen to me, that I would be better than Ms Petersen. The fact is Ms Petersen is a good teacher and these things are going to happen. I think that if we are reflective in our relationships with our students, we can minimize the conflict. As a white teacher teaching a team full of non-white children, I might not know exactly where my students are coming from but I can provide a classroom where both realness and relationships can abound.

"Could a greater miracle take place
               than for us to look through each other's eyes
                                                                for an instant"?

                                                                                              Henry David Thoreau


  1. Mary, I like that you brought up the story of Antwon and Ms. Peterson. I think this is a PERFECT example of what happens in schools on a regular basis. I always wonder how the handful of Black students I have in my classes feel, and how they see me as a teacher. It gets really dicey. I want to be sensitive to student needs, but not so overly sensitive that students notice that some kids are treated differently. How do we make students accountable for their actions, but also make sure that we are being fair to all students? I know, I know..."fair isn't equal..." BUT, I really believe that there is a fine line. In order to hold myself accountable, I constantly self check my own classroom practices (am I correcting boys just as much as girls? Students of color just as often as white students?). I try to make a lot of mental notes about warnings and corrective behavior. I make sure that I'm consistent when it comes to discipline. This is different from choosing to be color-blind, I would almost call it color (and gender) consciousness. I do wonder about the Syrian boy and his friends in the story you shared, I'm not sure that I agree with none of the boys being given a consequence. What about a letter of apology or some other alternative consequence? Shouldn't they still be held accountable for their actions?

  2. I absolutely agree that they should be held accountable for fighting. I am sorry that I was unclear on that point. I told him that he had to take his punishment for what he had done. He also got in trouble t home from his father for fighting. My issue is that we need to be sensitive to the issues that our students are facing each day and learn to be better communicators.

  3. Hi Mary,
    I teach in my classes that fair is not always equal. I do agree that there needs to be a line where students are held to a certain accountability, but I do not think that consequences need to necessarily be the same. For example, at my school, if a student is late for school a certain number of times, then they have to serve an in school suspension. To me, this consequence does not seem like it would do the student any good....the student has already been missing class time, and now is out of class again sitting in the office. Or to play off of what Brittany was saying, detention may work for some students, but writing a letter may work as a better consequence for other students.
    I like very much what you say about going where the students are. And last fall I read a lot about home visits, but I am curious if you think that you as a white middle class woman may be intimidating to families if you were to do something like a home visit? (you may already do these, sorry I can't remember) And if they are intimidated by your presence, how can we work against that? I am becoming more interested in this as I start to think about maybe switching jobs.

  4. Yes I have gone to many homes and I don't think that families are intimidated by the visits. Actually it is quite the opposite. I think that going to the home levels the playing field. In my experience the families that have visited are touched by the effort.