by Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq.
As noted by CLSJ Executive Director Esmeralda Simmons, Esq. in the video above, it is imperative that parents have the information they need to advocate for their students. This month, the Center for Law and Social Justice kicks off our Parent Advocates Coming Together workshop series. This free, dynamic series is designed to empower parents to become better advocates for their children. The workshop topics are described more fully below. Our first session (Wednesday, March 8, 2017 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm) will explore the Impact of Race, Racism & Culture in Education. Read more about this and other issues facing children of African descent in this month’s CLSJ Blog Post below. Refreshments will be served and free child care is available with pre-registration. In order to pre-register, please call the Center for Law and Social Justice at 718-804-8893.
Parenting Black Students: Race, Racism & Culture in School
When compared to their White counterparts, by most measures and with few exceptions, the vast majority of Black children in American schools are performing at dismal rates academically. Black students make up the fastest growing group of children filling jail cells. They are suspended and expelled three times as often as White children, are subjected to harsher scrutiny and suffer from lower expectations from both teachers and authority figures.
Equally as significant, are the other systematic factors that follow Black students like an ever-present shadow. Black children face the same institutionally discriminatory burdens as the rest of the Black community. The neighborhoods where these children live typically face racially skewed economic policies in housing and school funding, disproportionate unemployment, violence and other social ills.
As if that weren’t enough, Black children (regardless of social class) also battle with what Dr. Joy DeGruy calls racist socialization: the adoption of a white supremacist value system which has its roots in race-based slavery. At this value system’s foundation is the belief that white, and all things associated with whiteness (including intelligence and beauty), are superior; and that black and all things associated with blackness, are inferior.
As noted by educator, consultant and author Gary Howard, “It is no mere coincidence that the children of certain racial, cultural, linguistic and economic groups—those who have been marginalized by the force of Western White domination—are the same students who are now failing or underachieving at disproportionate rates in our nation’s schools.”
When Black students first integrated into White schools, the American education system was permeated with assimilation logic: the belief that once Black students (and by extension other students of color) “assimilated into White society, academic success would follow.” However, research on the experiences of students of color since integration reveals that when schools require Black students to assimilate in order to excel, they deny the students access to their own culture, which is “the key resource that they bring to education.”
This explains why segregated schools, with inferior education resources, could produce honor roll students who were also part of the van guard of leadership in the Civil Rights Movement.
A report by the Heinz Endowment, Cultural Responsiveness: Racial Identity and Academic Success: A Review of Literature, reviewed more than 2800 studies “that examined the connections between culturally responsive approaches, racial identity, resilience and achievement.” Researchers found that contrary to the assertions of assimilation logic, Black students and students of color “performed best in settings that built on their culture and promoted their racial identities.”
A recent study out of Harvard and University of Pittsburgh found that when Black parents empower their children with positive racial socialization, they perform better academically. In fact, researchers found that “racial pride” was the single most important factor in protecting Black students against racial discrimination and it was found to have a “direct impact on the students’ grades, future goals, and cognitive engagement.”
As poignantly asked by Gary Howard: “How is it possible, with so much research and information available about multicultural issues today, that prospective educators can complete their entire teacher education and certification program without gaining a deeper grasp of social reality?”
Indeed. Because despite that promising research, most Black children continue to struggle in an education system that was not designed for them.
“Access” is Not Everything
Before Black children integrated White schools, White educators used materials that were focused on and designed to accommodate the learning needs of White students. That didn’t change when Black students arrived. The books that were used, the authors that students studied, the mathematicians they analyzed, were all White. The way educators were trained to create lesson plans, taught to frame history, social studies, science and humanities were all centered on the specific learning needs of White children.
White children were born into a system that was carefully constructed and maintained to provide them with racially-based access to benefits and resources at every turn. White privilege ensures they never have to wrestle with the fact that their social safety nets were sewn together with the fabric of racism and threads of racist oppression.
These children were accustomed to a lifetime of privilege born out of the brutality of slavery and protected with the violence of Jim Crow. It should go without saying that the learning needs of White children, those who represented the new generation of the slave holding caste, are very different than the learning needs of Black children. Because Black children were born into a legacy of racial inferiority. A legacy that ensures that by the age of five they (and their White counterparts) have been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that Black skin represents a curse.
In a racist society, an education designed to meet the needs of White children can be extremely harmful to the psychological, academic and professional developmental needs of Black children. Sadly, forcing Black children to participate in an educational process designed for those who benefit from the oppression of Black people is directly related to the fact that: Black children are suspended more often and more harshly than their White counterparts. It is one of the main reasons why Black girls and Black boys are the primary passengers on the trains driving up and down the school to prison pipeline. This is why those disparities start as early as preschool.
Black children need a culturally responsive education: one that is both culturally competent and designed to meet their specific needs and the needs of the communities in which they live.
Culturally Responsive Teaching
Professor of Education Dr. Geneva Gay defines Culturally Responsive Teaching” (CRT) as “teaching that uses the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them. It teaches to and through the strengths of these students.”
CRT is a dynamic approach to education that empowers educators and parents to improve academic outcomes for Black students. It is an education framework that requires us to center the specific needs of marginalized students. CRT is grounded in the plethora of research that demonstrates that “culturally responsive pedagogy and positive racial identity promote academic achievement and resilience.” In other words, it is imperative that Black students have access to educational environments that support their specific needs as Black children and validates their culture. Indeed, this is necessary for all students.
More importantly, CRT works.
Research shows that when Black children receive an education tailored to meet their specific learning needs, they will perform better in school, they are more likely to go to college and they are more likely to be empowered to use their education to address the issues plaguing their community. But shifting paradigms is no easy task. It requires the knowledge, skill sets and the will to make it happen.
We must remember the following words by Malcolm X: “Only a fool would let his enemy educate his children.”
In light of the dismal way Black children are floundering in schools originally designed to accommodate the needs of White children, it would seem Brother Malcolm was correct.
This and other research is why the Center for Law and Social Justice is pleased to kick off our Parent Advocates Coming Together series – a free workshop series designed to empower parents of NYC public school students. The workshops will be held on Wednesday evenings from 6:00 to 8:00pm, beginning Wednesday March 8, 2017. Each workshop will take place at the Center for Law and Social Justice, Medgar Evers College, CUNY at 1534 Bedford Ave. 2nd Floor, Brooklyn, 11216. Refreshments will be provided and childcare is available for parents who pre-register by calling 718.804.8893.
Session One: (Wednesday, March 8, 2017) will explore the Impact of Race, Racism and Culture in Education. This session will be facilitated by Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq., General Counsel at the Center for Law and Social Justice, who has an extensive background in teaching the principles of Culturally Responsive Education.
Participants will learn about the connections between positive or negative racial identity and academic success. How does your child’s understanding about race shape how they perform in school? How does your school’s understanding of race and culture shape the academic outcomes your school produces? What can parents do at home to address this phenomenon and advocate for their students? These issues and more will be addressed in the first segment of the PACT Workshop Series.
Subsequent sessions in the series includes the following topics and will be taught by experts in the field:
Session Two: Wednesday March 15, 2017: Tips for Navigating the NYC Middle School Process | What do families of students of African descent need to know about the middle school application process? What are some of the pitfalls families and students need to avoid? How can you maximize your chances of getting the school you desire? Learn this and more in the second session of the PACT 2017 series.
Facilitator: Ro Johnson, Education Journalist
Session Three: Wednesday March, 22, 2017: Equity and Excellence in Math Education | How can parents and students in African descendant communities develop a love for and understanding of math? What can parents do to help increase their student’s math capacity? Participants will learn all this and more in session three.
Facilitator: Dr. Terrence Blackman, Mathematics Chairman Medgar Evers College
Session Four: Wednesday April 5, 2017: How to Get Your Child into a Top High School | How can parents prepare their students for the high school of their choice? What steps should parents and students take now that can help take their students to the top? Get your questions answered by the CEO of Admissions Squad, Inc.!
Facilitator: Tai Abrams, CEO Admissions Squad, Inc.
Session Five: Wednesday April 22, 2017: DOE Speaks: What are some of the key terms and policies that are can shape your child’s academic career? What are some of the insights parents need to have in order to better understand the Department of Education? Learn all this and more from celebrated principal Fabayo McIntosh-Gordon.
Facilitator: Principal Fabayo McIntosh-Gordon, Brighter Choice Community School, Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
Contact the Center for Law and Social Justice at 718-804-8893 for additional information. We look forward to welcoming you in the CLSJ-PACT community!