ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Opening Conversations About Race and Student Learning

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Karissa Bell

A recent UCLA study on suspension rates in schools had startling results: Students of color were not only more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts, but also to be suspended for less serious offenses than white students.

"There are very few schools with mixed demographics that don't have disparities present," said presenter Michelle Garcia.

Garcia, the special projects manager from the Teaching Tolerance project at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), is the first to admit that initiating a conversation about race in school is never easy. "It's hard when it comes from colleagues and then it's ... very hard for faculty of color to initiate conversations like this," she said. "Then it becomes, 'Oh, they're just bringing up those issues again.'"

That's why, to better facilitate these conversations, Teaching Tolerance has come out with the Teaching Diverse Students Initiative (TDSi), which provides a broad range of free resources for teachers and administrators.

Available resources include statistics, video interviews, surveys, and other interactive web-based tools—all of which are designed to open up discussion among colleagues and create a comfortable environment for speaking about uncomfortable issues.

One resource Garcia shared was Three Commonly Held Beliefs About Diverse Students, part of the Common Beliefs Survey:

  • I don't think of my students in terms of their race or ethnicity. I am color blind when it comes to my teaching.
  • The gap in achievement among students of different races is about poverty, not race.
  • When students come from homes where educational achievement is not a high priority, they often don't do their homework and their parents don’t come to school events. This lack of parental support undermines my efforts to teach these students.

The survey addresses beliefs commonly heard in schools that in reality only perpetuate the misunderstanding of diversity issues. TDSi tools are important because they not only attempt to disprove these ideas but also offer statistics that directly combat them.

Garcia was quick to remind the audience that the hardest part is often initiating the conversation. "Someone still has to take the initiative and make it happen at their school and bring up the uncomfortable," she said. "But, hopefully, these can make everyone a little more willing to engage in the ongoing process."

The SPLC is also offering the Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Culturally Responsive Teaching. Nominees will be accepted through June 1; five winners will be selected to win $1,000 and a trip to Washington, D.C., to be honored for their efforts.

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