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'Educators Must Talk About Race'

The recent racial violence displayed in McKinney, Texas, and Charleston, S.C., has ignited conversations about race in America. What is the role of the education community in these conversations? Educators can inform the conversation by articulating how racial incidents occur and flourish due to the creation and maintenance of a racially toxic environment for many students that has largely ignored race and racism, dismissed chronic racial inequities, and downplayed the ugly history of racism in the United States.


Tyrone Howard

Educational scholars can play a pivotal role in conducting research that demonstrates where and how racial injustice and violence occur in schools and society. Documenting the continued persistence of structural racism, racial inequality in education, and how to examine and eradicate racial privilege and race-based violence remain critical. Moreover, a growing number of scholars have articulated the manner in which race intersects with gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and citizenship status to highlight interlocking forms of oppression. This often creates multiple obstacles in attaining racial justice and equity.

Some educators might wonder how schools contribute to racial injustice and violence. The disparate number of school age arrests of students of color has become alarming. Students as young as 5 and 6 years old are being handcuffed by police, creating an environment where children of color are criminalized early, and seen as in need of harsh and severe treatment. The increasing presence of law enforcement on campuses along with the growing number of metal detectors at schools conveys a perception of greater concern with punishment than teaching and learning. Incidents of implicit bias by school personnel of all racial backgrounds that result in lowered teacher expectations and educational neglect are often steeped in racial stereotypes that can compromise students' opportunities to learn.

Finally, K-12 schools can play a role in changing the narrative around race by acknowledging the changing racial demographics in schools across the country. Children of color continue to underperform compared to their White peers, drop out at higher levels, and are suspended and expelled from schools at disproportionally high rates. Schools leaders can look at racial demographics of classroom teachers, and delve into the question of what does it mean for an overwhelmingly White teaching force to teach in increasingly diverse schools? Schools can also examine the racial and cultural relevance of school curriculum, and access to AP and gifted programs where students of color are woefully underrepresented.

In short, educators must talk about race. The horrific tragedy in South Carolina begs us to discuss race. Educators must be prepared to engage in an honest, sustained, and what is certain to be uncomfortable conversations about race, racial violence, and justice in schools and in the country. Educators can be at the forefront of such a dialogue and help to transform schools, or can be silent and sign off on racial injustice.

Tyrone Howard is a professor of education and the director of the Black Male Institute at the graduate school of education and information studies of the University of California, Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @TyroneCHoward.

Editor's Note: Read what each contributor had to say about the responsibility of educators to challenge racial injustice

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