The notion that every child is equal and has the same opportunities as each other in schooling is a novel idea in theory, but in practice it is difficult to achieve. The challenge for the teacher therefore, is to attempt to create a classroom in which every single student’s individual needs are met. Gilbert states, “social support for student achievement includes high expectations, respect and inclusion of all students in the learning process” (2005, p. 58). The idea of inclusiveness and a system based on equality is often not achieved by teachers and schools, due to the prevalence of social stereotypes.
This essay will aim to discuss how schools can be sites for reproducing social stereotypes, while highlighting the ways in which Educational policy and scholars can challenge the current process. In particular, the issues surrounding racial stereotypes will be discussed. The introduction of several key pieces of legislation in relation to racism has instigated a shift in governmental policy. The first piece of significant legislation was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1949) with the subsection on education.
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality… it shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups. ” There have also been several anti-racial legislation acts introduced in Australia, at the Commonwealth level. For example, the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act (1975), the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act (1986), and the Racial Hatred Act (1995). In 1999 the Ministerial Council designed a national policy for anti-racism and to an extent it was introduced in all of the states and territories.
In addition to the legislation, the Federal Government has established a website for teachers and schools entitled ‘Racism- No Way! ‘(http://racismnoway. com. au/) The website provides teachers with resources, lesson plans, competitions for students, and information on how other countries are dealing with racism in schools. Students can even post or discuss issues surrounding racism online through an interactive blog. The website is regularly updated and in combating racism in Australian schools it could be a useful resource.
In terms of state legislation Victoria has been proactive by introducing the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (2001) and the Multicultural Victorian Act (2004). To build on these acts the Victorian Government this year introduced a new strategy document – Education for Global and Multicultural Citizenship. The aim of this policy is “to equip all students with the skills, knowledge and attitudes needed to prosper and thrive in a world characterised by global mobility and cultural, political and economic connectivity. ” Thus, the combination of Federal and State government policies and legislation has attempted to combat racism in schools.
Another way in which racism in schools can be overcome is through Educational theories proposing change. Two of the most relevant theories in how to combat racism in Education are from Kevin Kumashiro and Gloria Ladson-Billings. Kumashiro’s theory is centred on four approaches to anti-oppressive education. They are: Education for the other, Education about the other, Education that is critical of privileging and othering, and Education that changes students and society (Kumashiro, 2000). Firstly, Education for the other focuses on improving the experiences of students who are in some way oppressed.
The students might be oppressed due to the schooling structure, or how the school and teachers treat them because of their ‘differences’ in colour. Kumashiro (2000) describes two ways to deal with this: providing helpful spaces for all students and teaching to all students. Next, education about the other is centred on the belief that students only gain knowledge about the stereotypes of particular marginalised groups. In order to challenge these stereotypes the “curriculum needs to include specific units and… to integrate otherness throughout” (Kumashiro, 2000, p. 33).
Teachers should aim to disrupt the knowledge that the students have and influence them to continually build on what they learn. Thirdly, Education that is crucial of privileging, aims to illustrate how certain groups in society are favoured over the marginalised groups and how this is maintained in social structures. This approach encourages teachers to educate not only about the other, but also about the processes by which certain groups are normalised and others are not (Kumashiro, 2000). The final approach describes oppression occurring in harmful discourses and the repetition of harmful histories (Kumashiro, 2000).
The approach details how oppression is interconnected and how teachers need to ensure the knowledge that the students obtain challenges the preconceived stereotypes they may hold. Ladson-Billings theory also attempts to deal with the problems of teaching racial minorities and how it can be achieved successfully. She begins by using the term ‘culturally appropriate’ to describe incorporating students home cultures and backgrounds, into the classroom. This method of incorporating student’s home culture, can often improve academic performances (Ladson-Billings, 1995).
The ‘culturally relevant pedagogy’ builds on this idea by proposing not only to address student achievement… “but also to help students accept and affirm their cultural identity, while developing critical perspectives to challenge inequities in schools” (Ladson-Billings, 1995, p. 282). Ladson-Billings then details three broad propositions in her study based on excellent teachers of African American students. They are: the conceptions of self and other, the manner in which social relations are structured, and the conceptions of knowledge (Ladson-Billings, 1995).
Firstly, the teachers saw themselves as members of the community and as such teaching was a way to give back to the community. Thus, they instilled a sense of community pride in the students. The teachers also saw teaching as an art form, constantly changing and most importantly they believed that all students were able to achieve academically (Ladson-Billings, 1995). In relation to social relations, students and teachers relationships were reciprocal. For example, in every classroom students were given the opportunity to act as teachers.
The teachers also encouraged students to be a community of learners, rather than one of competitiveness. The classroom community helped to encourage students to learn together and to be responsible for one another (Ladson-Billings, 1995). Finally, the teacher’s conceptions of knowledge were based on the students ‘doing’ in the learning process. This involved the students learning from not only their teacher, but also from their fellow students. The teachers also used a variety of different assessment methods to measure academic process, and as such they took a critical stance in relation to the school curriculum.
For example, using a combination of district approved reading materials and other selected resource in assessment tasks. The final idea that the teachers encouraged was that knowledge must be observed critically and that it is not static, it is continually changing (Ladson-Billings, 2005). Both articles and the government policy illustrate how racial discrimination in the schooling system can be counteracted and also how it is still reproduced. There are four main ways the schooling system still reproduces racial inequalities. They are: the curriculum and the resources chosen, multicultural events, the hidden curriculum, and teacher training.
These examples will be discussed in terms of different ethnic group case studies. The curriculum poses many challenges for teachers of what to include and what has to be omitted. More often than not due to time constraints, teachers cannot spend as long as they would like on particular topics. Thus certain important information could be eliminated about from particular ethnic group’s viewpoints. Marsh states, “teachers need to help students identify bias and to seek information from a wide variety of sources so that many different viewpoints can be considered” (2008, pg. 26).
In addition, the selection of resources plays an important role in reproducing racial stereotypes. The over-reliance by some teachers in using the textbook as the primary resource, can lead to students learning only about facts and the ‘dominant’ position in society. Clark illustrates this, “… syllabuses and textbooks that are heavy on facts and light on analysis”, (2007, p. 16), merely produce students that do not know how to critically think and challenge stereotypes. In turn, tests that are set by the State government act as important measures for academic success.
These tests however, often favour the majority of the students in the school- not the minority. In Teese’s article he gives the example of discrimination in testing in public schools in North Carolina, America. He states “African-American students were found to have suffered relegation to lower tracks more frequently than white students, even after controlling for prior achievement, family background and other individual attributes” (Teese, 2007, p. 84). This example illustrates how testing can favour students that understand the assessment tasks better, and how schooling structures reproduce existing inequalities.
In relation to multicultural events in the school, while they are welcomed in the majority of instances, they do not promote critical thinking and a change in student’s attitudes to racial stereotypes. “… Multicultural education needs to be a celebration of difference and diversity, [but it must] move beyond this to assist the learner in developing an understanding of the historical and contemporary causes and effects of discrimination, based on ethnicity” (Beckett, 2009, pg. 6). For example, in my rural primary school due to the large population of Aboriginal pupils in the school, we had NAIDOC day celebrations every year.
This however whilst a positive move forward in Aboriginal education, never really challenged my pre-conceived stereotypes, as I was not given the opportunity to fully appreciates the historical perspectives. The hidden curriculum also produces and maintains racial stereotypes in the schooling system. McLeod defines the hidden curriculum as “social or implicit and even unintentional or unconscious, learning that takes place in classrooms, but also in schoolyards an corridors, on playing fields and in gym rooms” (2007, p. 417).
As such students pick up hidden curriculum messages in a variety of ways, such as what happens in peer culture and direct comments from teachers. In Alia Imtoul’s article (2006) she describes two examples of how racial stereotypes are produced in the hidden curriculum. Firstly, a female Muslim student approached her school’s principal and asked whether or not she could wear the hijab as part of the uniform. The principal felt initially that the hijab did not threaten “… the private operations of the school and so allowed her to wear it provided it was in the colours of the school uniform” (Imtoul, 2006, p. 5).
This however was not the case when the school photograph that occurred every ten years happened. The principal airbrushed out the Muslim girl’s hijab in the photo to look like hair. As a result of the principal doing this she sent a message to the Muslim girl, that even though the school supported her beliefs in the private sphere, they could not support them in the public sphere. The second example occurs with the majority of immigrants or students that are from different backgrounds to white Australian children.
Due to the fact that some of the Muslim girls wear the hijab to school, some of the other students assumed that their command of English was not very good. Thus, the Muslim girl in this example had to deal with their peers assumptions of how she should speak and act. This example also highlights that students who are from a different cultural background, have to not only learn English to fully participate, but concurrently they are fraught with whether or not to assimilate or practice their own culture, in the school.
For example, the Muslim girls who attend a dominant Christian school often feel marginalised, as there is no real understanding of what their religion means and how they can be supported within the school system. (Imtoul, 2006) As such, the majority of Muslim girls do not approach the teachers if they have a problem with another student; for the most part they deal with it themselves. (Imtoul, 2006) The two examples cited previously raises the issue of the lack of teacher education, in relation to racism.
The first area of concern is that pre-service teachers do not receive the adequate training or the university subjects to be able to handle issues of discrimination properly. O’Brien and Burgh state, “most alarming were the significant limitations… within teacher’s understanding and skills… and their knowledge which might be partisan, partial or simplistic” (2001, pg. 2). In order to increase pre-service teachers knowledge of teaching strategies for marginalised groups, two professors Susan Noffke and Nora Hyland (2005), introduced an inquiry-based subject at their university.
In this subject student teachers were encourage d, to conduct community and social inquiry assignments in the schools where their placements were, or in the local community where the y lived. For example, attending a local church service of a different faith to their own. The student teachers then documented their findings and discussed them weekly in-group sessions. This subject illustrates the need for more subjects, which train teachers to adequately deal with issues of racism in the classroom. The second issue surrounding teacher education is pre-conceived stereotypes that the teachers might hold themselves.
This can in effect produce classes that do no meet the needs of all students. For example, teachers often have the idea that female Chinese pupils are quiet, diligent and hardworking. Archer and Francis highlight this “… the homogeneity of teachers conceptualisations of British Chinese femineity was striking… they were positioned first and foremost as passive, quiet, hard-working and high-achieving pupils” (2005, p. 241). These pre-conceived ideas about certain students could often reproduce existing inequalities in the lesson plans that are delivered by teachers.
In relation to the previous example, Chinese female students are just ‘expected’ by the teacher to be compliant, however if they challenge this stereotype it can present problems in the class. There are several ways in which schools can challenge the inequalities that exist in relation to racism, but concurrently they need to eradicate the ways in which these are produced. The policies as both a Federal and State level, illustrate a commitment to eliminate racial inequalities in the schooling system. The theories proposed by Kumashiro and Ladson-Billing present several solutions to help teachers and schools to eliminate racism as well.
Despite, the theories and the policies encouraging ways in which existing racial inequalities can be challenged, it is quiet difficult to introduce these in practice. For example, the Muslim student’s experiences demonstrated how a better understanding of their culture and religion, is needed in mainstream schooling. It is doubtful if racial inequalities will cease to be reproduced in schooling, as it will require a significant commitment from the students, teachers, and the community as a whole. The goal of any school is to achieve an environment in which every student feels included.
This can prove to be quiet a challenge for teachers, students and the wider schooling community. If a school wants to be seen as an anti-racist school, they will need to invest time and money in teacher training, develop the curriculum in conjunction with the students and the wider community, and re-educate every student to critically challenge what they are learning. It will be interesting to see whether or not this can be achieved or whether racial inequalities will continue to be reproduced in the schooling structure.
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