I spent most of my first year of grad school
sitting in the back row of class with my hood up. There were nearly 40 of us in
the cohort. Two were Black.
My hoodie was an act of silent dissent. Today,
I completely understand when my students want to do the same, even with me in
front of the room. Academia and public schools are spaces where people of color
often feel underrepresented, unwelcome and unheard.
From third grade through high school, I was a
student in a series of neighborhood public schools. Afterward, I went to
community college and then on to a public liberal arts college where I earned
my bachelor's and eventually my master's degree. Each phase in my educational
journey shared two characteristics:
1. The further I progressed, the fewer Black
and Brown classmates I had.
2. As I progressed, regardless of the
demographics of the student population, the faculty and administrators were uniformly
nearly all White.
That needs to change.
An organization I am part of, the National Network of State
Teachers of the Year, recently
released videos designed to provoke conversations that will lead to this kind
of change. Called Courageous
Conversations About Race in Schools, the videos provide an effective starting
point for real discussions that should be happening in schools-particularly in
colleges and universities-across this country.
Research tells us that upwards of 80 percent of U.S. teachers
are White. Different research tells us that nearly 80 percent of teachers are
female. Obviously, those Venn diagrams overlap in a
largely White and female workforce.
At the same time, because of higher birth rates
among immigrant populations and the "mysterious phenomenon" of
disproportionately high numbers of White children in private schools, the majority of the
population of students in public school are students of color, and those
numbers are headed even higher, based on enrollment numbers in lower grades.
Schools systems need to do a better job of attracting
and retaining effective teachers of color. Students of color need to see more
people of color in positions of expertise and authority, and teachers need to
be conversant and literate in the cultural traditions that are present in their
classrooms. None of these statements should be controversial.
The lack of representation is an equity issue,
and to resolve it we can look to lessons elsewhere in our society. During the
Vietnam War the Pentagon realized that majority Brown platoons of soldiers and Marines
wouldn't take life-or-death orders from a uniformly White officer corps. The
Pentagon thus underwent an intentional effort to diversify the officer corps.
Since then, the Pentagon has submitted amicus curiae briefs in every major
affirmative action case before the U.S. Supreme Court because they understand
that representation matters.
TIME FOR A
The word "disruption" gets hurled
around frequently in business and increasingly in education. Usually, it's
about handing Silicon Valley tech bros a metric-ton of venture capital to
sprinkle the #EdTech™ fairy dust of the moment. But I'm going to argue that
when it comes to teacher diversity and representation in schools, we actually
In my neck of the woods the numbers are
especially grim: There are only about 800 Black teachers in all of Washington
State. In my 12-year teaching career, I have never worked with another Black
male general education teacher.
There's no reason for me to be alone. We see
talented students of color all over higher education because universities know
how to recruit them. As Jeff Duncan-Andrade says, "Look at any college football or
basketball team and tell me colleges don't know how to recruit Black talent.
When I was a kid I thought Georgetown was an HBCU."
But it can't just be student athletes. We need
to bring in students who can increase teacher diversity. It's imperative-and
it's well within our power.