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Gifted Black Students Battle Stereotypes

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We've talked before about students underperforming because of gender stereotypes, but Education Week's Lesli Maxwell has a story up on gifted students underperforming due to racial stereotypes. Gifted black students often feel pressured to "act black," says the story, which students define as "being laid-back, being dumb or uneducated, and pretending not to be smart."

This study points to a disconnect between students' schools and their communities. If being educated is considered "white," then studying and acting smart may make black gifted students feel that they are rejecting their black identity. Perhaps this choice could be assuaged if curricula was made to be both culturally sensitive and relevant to students' lives. I'd guess that stronger ties between the school and the community could also ease tensions about stereotypes.

What do you think? Is this a problem you've encountered in your own classroom, and if so, how was it dealt with?

2 Comments

I am in my last year of school and do not currently work in a school, so I have not experienced anything like this, but I remember talking with a friend of mine last summer, he is a Harvard graduate and teaches in an inner city school in New York and deals with this on a daily basis. I remember him telling me that most of his African American students did not want to let anyone know that they were smart simply because they feared getting hurt by their classmates. He told me that the students never had any motivation to do good in school. They knew that school was not the place for them to try and excel in. It was sports that they needed to try their hardest in. Most of them felt that this was their only way out. My friend explained to me that he pushes all of his students Black, Hispanic,and White to do their best and he has seen much improvement in his students. Especially in his African American students, he has seen a huge change in the classroom. They answer more questions and are not afraid to show that they are gifted.

As educators it is our job to motivate every student in our classroom. Sometimes this can be more challenging due to some of the stereotypical behavioral some students taken on in order to fit in, being accepted by their peers become more important than doing well academically. I have seen this in students from different cultural back ground not only minority students. Again I want to reiterate that we have encourage and motivate every student in our classroom to do better, we have help them reach for the stars, no matter what is their cultural background is. A little motivation or simple acknowledgement works wonders.

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