How the Things You Don’t Realize You Don’t Know Can Do the Most Harm (by Guest Blogger Allyse Nickels)

photo (2)Remember that annoying thing your parents always told you growing up? That phrase you rolled your eyes at every single time they said it? The beloved: “You’ll understand when you’re older?” Well, what about the moments you realized they were right?  Isn’t it funny how often times, you don’t realize what you didn’t know before until life gives you the experience that teaches you the lesson?

I’m using this example to illustrate the biggest “what you don’t realize you don’t know” in the United States Education system: White privilege.  With the over-abundance of white instructors in primarily non-white classrooms, “white privilege” often times goes unnoticed, and yet it renders a quiet and insidious disconnect between the instructor and child. Upon being educated about “white privilege,” its existence and reality as an issue is made clear.  How can a teacher with so few struggles attached her race expect to know about racial struggles unknown to her personally and, therefore, expect to connect fully with her students?

So, how can instructors nation-wide learn about “white privilege” and get connected to their students? Fortunately, some states are taking initiative!  Oregon, following California’s lead, has begun to implement “Courageous Conversations,” an effort to educate teachers about race-related issues in the school system and in the classroom in particular.  According to the Portland Tribune’s article on “Courageous Conversations”  “Schools beat the drum for equity:”

“Through intensive staff trainings, frequent staff meetings, classroom observations and other initiatives, the premise is that if educators can understand their own “white privilege,” then they can change their teaching practices to boost minority students’ performance.

Food for thought:

How exactly does understanding “white privilege” allow for connection between teachers and students?

Is education n “white privilege” enough or should some other action be taken? What about doing more to hire non-white instructors? Is hiring non-white instructors  in and of itself discriminatory?



11 thoughts on “How the Things You Don’t Realize You Don’t Know Can Do the Most Harm (by Guest Blogger Allyse Nickels)

  1. I am not aware of the education/certification and hiring process of teachers, however it is widely known that most teachers aren’t paid very well, unless you teach above the high school education level. I am also under the impression that to become a school-aged teacher, a bachelor’s degree is what most employers look for. Please correct me if I’m wrong. But if I were to compare these qualifications, say, to that of a nurse, then the comparisons are remarkable. The process in becoming even accepted into a nursing program is beyond competitive and extremely complex and difficult! Not only are applicants expected to have next to perfect grades, but they should also come equipped with tons of volunteer/intern work as well as culturally enriching and diverse experiences. And then there’s the process of actually completing the program and trying to find a job, which in itself is just as difficult and complex!

    My point here is, that in addition to the increase in staff training, our system needs to recognize that teachers, who spend about as much time with our kids as parents do, must be put through a well equipped and competitive program that prepares them for teaching the future of our melting pot. Add the fact that nursing hasn’t always been so competitive and that its complex programs have only begun to become this difficult in the last decade, we can safely say that the program for education can be renovated to be just as competitive and therefore have the right tools for teachers to be prepared in facing multicultural issues that will enhance student and teacher connections.

    • Teachers are required to have or complete a Master’s degree in order to teach AND must complete teacher development training throughout their careers. They also must come to their programs with extensive volunteer/intern experience with youth. While there are many who critique teacher training programs, it appears that it is not the bar that is set too low but, instead, programs that may not be giving teachers the tools that will truly help them in the classroom on some level? Of course, this is not true for ALL teacher training programs…and it would be important to look into these programs and their reviews more closely for the bigger picture…

  2. Great post! Focusing on your last question, yes, I think hiring a teacher just because they are white or non-white is discriminatory. I think a person should be hired based on their skills, and who is more qualified. Having said that, I do think having more non-white teachers would be great for students. But I do not think we should start hiring teachers based on the color of their skin.

    • I agree that merit should be the factor to consider when hiring a teacher, not skin color.

      I would argue that a teacher doesn’t necessarily have to connect or sympathize with their students in order to be an effective teacher. It’s an ideal thought, I suppose, but teaching effectively is more about relaying lessons than about personal friendship.

  3. Great article Allyse, I especially love the intro. It’s great that Oregon has decided to take on these “courageous conversations”. It isn’t easy to do because no one wants to admit doing something discriminatory. It has become such a big taboo now-a-days. I believe that their important though. How can we become aware of ourselves if we never analyze ourselves? These conversations should really help put into light the issues and differences out there, including white privilege. I mean, how is someone to know that their privileged when they live it every day? Someone needs to point it out or they have an experience that puts it into light. These conversations should provide an opportunity to explore these differences in a safe environment, that way we can come up with a way to address them better. I also agree with Megan. Hiring new teachers shouldn’t be race related, but rather skill related. I also think it would be nice to have more colored teachers, but it would be more detrimental to the students if they’re not good teachers too.

    • I agree with you! No one wants to own up to having discriminatory biases because that brings up feelings of shame. Its uncomfortable, and we all want to avoid uncomfortable feelings if we can. However, it is that vulnerability that is the birthplace for change. “How can we become aware of ourselves if we never analyze ourselves”–this is so great, and its impossible to! We have to consistently engage in self-reflection and make sure we aren’t partaking in actions, behaviors, attitudes, etc that reinforce racism in anyway. The first step we’ve got to take is to raise awareness–but more importantly we have to refuse to be satisfied with awareness alone. The awareness needs to inspire change and better practices, acceptance, respect, and understanding.

  4. I loved reading your post! You brought up so many great thoughts and ideas and definitely got me thinking! I believe that it would be wrong to hire a “non white teacher” just for diversity in the classrooms. What should be the first and most important thing in schools minds when hiring a teacher is; who is the most educated, experienced, beneficial, and can bring the most to the school and students. Students deserve to have the best of educators when teaching them for their future. Students deserve to have a teacher that is excited, motivated, and dedicated to making their students the best they can be. I don’t think it matters if the teacher is white or non white. But reading your post I do believe it is important for a teacher to be educated and aware of classrooms with a diverse group of students. They should be knowledgable of the learning differences, home differences, and academic level differences that each student has; if this requires a teacher to get more training, then so be it. We need to remember that the children come first, not the color of the teacher. We should be focused on preparing ALL educators on the diversity in classrooms, so all are well equipped.
    Danielle Rawins

  5. I really enjoyed your post, I liked how you linked growing up and how the things you don’t know harm you most to something that is such a big issue like white privilege. I think diversity is an absolutely great think and people from diverse backgrounds bring so much more life experience to the table therefore I am all for diversity at schools, but I think teaching skills are what should set teachers apart. Regardless where the instructor is from, if they have the skills needed to be a great teacher then they are the ones who deserve the job regardless of where they are from.

    • I agree with you 100% Dajana. Like with any other job, people should be hired for their skills, not where they are from.

  6. Alysse,
    Could not be more appreciative for your blog post. White Privilege is something that I learned about for the first time last fall, and have been extremely aware of and interested in correcting and changing since then. While it makes me proud that our state is taking steps to eliminate racism with campaigns and programs such as Courageous Conversations, I can’t help but feel as though we should be so much further than this. I think the biggest problem is that for so long, we have set our standard at tolerance–rather than acceptance. These two are very, very different from each other. To tolerate is to simply live among each other. That’s not enough–we have got to go a step further and live with acceptance, love, and understanding. I believe the first pledge we all must take individually, is to own “teachable moments” anytime we are in the presence of racism, no matter how small, we have got to take a stand and voice the intolerance of inequality whenever it is present. This act is what will elevate the standards we set for equality among us all, no matter what.

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