A group of Indiana elementary school teachers plan to meet during the new school year to continue their uncomfortable but fruitful discussions about race and power.
Indiana Public Broadcast Station reports on a voluntary project started by third-grade teacher Ayana Coles called Courageous Conversations, in which she facilitates honest exchanges on the thorny issue of race with her mostly White colleagues.
According to IPBS, the goal of the informal meetings, which began in the 2014-15 school year, is to close the divide on how the teachers think about race and power and to address how those factors impact their school.
A majority of pupils at Eagle Creek Elementary School are students of color. Nearly half of them (46 percent) are African-Americans, and Hispanics represent 18 percent. But 33 out of 37 faculty members are White.
In one of the frank conversations, reported by IPBS, music teacher Jason Coons, who’s White, said both sides are often guilty of racial bias. Students, he observed, have preconceived opinions of him.
“As a white heterosexual man, that’s a lot of what they see. And if they’re hearing at home how I’m the enemy… At the end of the day I’m just frustrated with the fact that I don’t feel like I can do anything about it,” he said.
Coles admitted that she was taught from childhood not to trust White people—a view she held until college. Coons responded that he was taught to mistrust African-Americans.
Despite what often appears as an impasse in their discussions, Coons told the news outlet that the conversations have opened his eyes to interpreting cultural differences:
“Like what I think is misbehavior. And I’m not trying to sound like some hippie or something, but like, OK, is this really actually something that needs to be addressed or is this just because it’s so different from what I grew up with that I view this as offensive?”
Cole made the point to Coons that while all races may have biases, only Whites have had the power to act on their biases through institution and policies.
A number of studies reveal how unconscious bias impacts Black students. A recent report from Johns Hopkins University reinforced other studies that found a teacher’s race has a significant impact on the level of achievement expected from students—raising fresh concerns about the consequences of teachers’ unconscious bias on the stubbornly persistent achievement gap.
It found that Black and White teachers differed significantly on how they evaluated Black students.
SOURCE: Indiana Public Broadcast Station | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty, Facebook