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How can we respond to the Black Lives Matter movement?

Discussion in 'Education news' started by mrjhchi, Jun 3, 2020.

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot over the past week about my own unconscious prejudices as well as what I’ve seen in my career in schools and what I think we can do as educators to do our part to fight racism and injustice. I don’t see myself as any kind of expert, these are more observations from across my career and following some reflection what I think needs to change.


    Most of my career was at a girls’ grammar school with a mixed student body in terms of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, I now teach in the USA and hence feel a stronger connection to these issues currently. Although no teacher in these schools would consider themselves racist there were certainly biases on show (and I don’t exclude myself from this) and I think they fell into three main categories when it came to black students:


    1. Unconscious bias around ability

    I remember being in a meeting where our second-in-charge had analysed our data for how different groups had performed in maths and how many students were in the top/middle/bottom set. Not one single black student was in a top set across lower school (the only years where we set). We talked about reasons for why this was (we of course didn’t even consider the idea that this was in any way down to us as a white- and male-dominated department). We did our best to talk about how black students were often from poorer socio-economic backgrounds and it could be that link which explains the disparity. We also talked about tokenistic gestures we could employ such as promoting black mathematicians as if sticking on Hidden Figures at the end of the year would solve the issue.


    Having had more training (in the US ironically) and analysing my own conduct in the classroom I think the cause is far more subtle and far more dangerous: unconscious bias. I’m not blaming my department but I think black students run into unconscious biases all the time and especially in school. This produces worse outcomes for black students and hence a vicious cycle.


    This all boils down to expectations: when a student walks in the door what prejudices do you have about their ability? I know I’ve built up a picture across my life of who is more likely to be a good mathematician and this is based on my experiences, media, statistics, etc. It’s impossible to not have these biases but as educators we have to be aware of them so we can “check ourselves” when we make decisions in the classroom. Decisions as subtle as “Who will I ask this difficult question to?”, “Should I have a chat with this student after a test as I think they could have done better?” and as important as “Which set should they be in?”. No single decision makes a monumental difference but it is death by a thousand cuts.


    Research shows a strong causal link between teachers’ expectations of students and outcomes at high school, college and beyond so if we, as educators, are not acutely aware of our own biases and fail to set the same high standards for all students we are the ones leaving them behind.


    Studies also show black students with at least one black teacher will do better educationally. When a white (or other non-black) teacher and a black teacher evaluate the same black student, the white teacher is 30 percent less likely to believe that the student will graduate from a four-year college and 40 percent less likely to believe the student will graduate from high school.

    2. Whiteness and white privilege​

    Whiteness is a term I’ve only learned in the past year and in a nutshell is the ideology that the way white people act, dress, speak, etc is correct, normal and inherently American (or British) and those who act differently are not.


    I read about an example of this yesterday where Dexter Fowler, a black baseball player, was not let into a club because he was dressed smartly but wearing a gold chain whereas his white team-mates who were wearing shorts and flip-flops were seen as smart enough to be allowed in (they all decided to find a different club).


    I remember a group of black girls in my old form who were close friends and a debate in the staff room around “Why do all the black girls hang round with each other?”. Many staff saw these girls as brash, loud, abrasive, most alarmingly, “intimidating” when they walked down the corridor together.


    I talked about how they would all have had difficult shared experiences growing up black and it must be comforting to be around others who were like you and were working through the same trials. One member of staff started saying how this was “no excuse for the way they behave” and that she was bullied for the colour of her hair growing up and “didn’t act like that”. I was completely shocked that someone who worked in education could be so blind to institutional racism to conflate the experience of being black to growing up with ginger hair. I’m not sure how many people cross the street at night to avoid ginger people or reject a job application for their ginger-sounding name, maybe more studies need to be done. I’ll never forget a different member of staff then saying “none of us here can ever even begin to imagine what it’s like to be black in this country”. I don’t think being so wilfully ignorant of your students’ backgrounds and cultures is acceptable any more if you want to step foot inside a school.


    This group of girls would organise inclusive whole-school events celebrating food, dance, fashion and art from cultures around the world, raising £1000s for local charities but were still often seen as a nuisance by certain members of staff because they didn’t act white. This links in with my final observation:

    3. Excessive punishment of black students​

    This group of friends were often seen as needing to be “cracked down” on and would often complain to me as their form tutor that they were always the first to be called out for talking over the teacher and other minor offences. This may sound subtle but these small injustices scar our students.


    It is widely shown, not just in courts but also in schools, that black people/students are punished more harshly for the same crimes than white people even when you take further context into account (e.g. prior convictions). Starting in schools this forces black students to identify more as criminals and makes them even more likely to come into contact with law enforcement. This is known as the school-to-prison pipeline, there’s a brilliant This American Life podcast about it (https://www.thisamericanlife.org/538/is-this-working).


    So what can I do as a white teacher?


    Going forward I think educators need to be actively aware of their own biases in regards to their students, confront your own unconscious bias and become conscious of it. This needs to be a persistent process, not just ticking a box and moving on.


    I hope that I can have the bravery to speak out when I see instances of racism in my workplace and on the same hand would welcome being called out if I cannot keep on top of my own biases.


    As white people we need to be aware of our privilege and understand how and why that privilege comes directly at the expense of others.


    Schools and authorities need to prioritise the training and recruitment of black teachers.



    I’m no angel when it comes to all of this, I have unconscious biases and am more slacktivist than activist. I have often held my tongue when it comes to race to not offend people or sound cringe but you can’t be neutral on a moving train.


    If you’re not speaking out, marching, donating, educating yourself or at least reflecting internally then you are part of the problem. If you teach in a school and still refuse to engage then you bring shame to our profession.


    Black Lives Matter
    Justice for George Floyd

    Would be interested in other teachers’ thoughts and discuss what else we can do to respond.
     
  2. crocked

    crocked New commenter

    I didn't want to read and run so thanks for the post!
    An interesting read at a time like this. We've had similar chats in school and it's a damn difficult thing to change but being aware of it has changed how I respond to situations in small ways.
     
    MsOnline likes this.
  3. install

    install Star commenter

    It’s too late for talking imho. It needs more action - there needs to be more black representation in all walks of life. But it can’t be a token gesture either.
     
    MsOnline likes this.
  4. maggie m

    maggie m Lead commenter

    Great post. I too have worked at an East London secondary school and taught classes with 95% black students. We had around 30% of the staff from a BAME background. One of the deputy heads, the head of sixth form and some of the year leaders were black. Most of the student teachers I mentored while working there were BAME yet when jobs were advertised we rarely got any applicants from such a background.
    Interestingly a colleague who was doing a project for her Masters in education pointed out to me that the school was massively out of step with the local community, overall I think she said we had just under 80% BAME students compared to about 50% in the local population.
     
    Jonntyboy and MsOnline like this.
  5. MsOnline

    MsOnline Occasional commenter

    @mrjhchi, great initial post and subsequent posts. May this thread remain positive.

    The 1st step is open, honest discussion and self-reflection. When race is mentioned in schools (or online forums) non-Black staff members can visibly bristle and shift in their seats with tension.

    Eg. Black History Month reduced in priority over the years. Real staff-meeting quotes:

    "Why should they have their own month?" "What about x history month?"

    Result - many schools have chipped away at BHM and left Black History Fortnight, then reduced to Cultural Awareness Week to a single fundraising food-tasting afternoon. Consequently, the important point of BHM is totally missed while pupils are fed a static curriculum which omits the significant contributions of post-war settlers to the UK. Worse, pupils feel they do not fit into this country's history. Eg the Windrush generation, essential to the establishment of the much-loved NHS. The curriculum must be relevant, engaging, reflective and more useful.

    Staff need to feel safe to challenge/ address racism and prejudice.
    *Have you ever heard or made questionable comments in staffrooms or data meetings?
    *Have you seen how different 'types' of parents are treated?
    *Have you ever reflected on that young Black boy who was enthusiastic and top-attaining in reception but is disaffected and not fulfilling their potential by year 4?
    The UK data proves for a shocking read and the issue is systematic.

    Some conversations may feel uncomfortable. Some self-reflection may feel uncomfortable.
    But, if people truly want change they will accept this as part of the process. If people don't want change, they cannot be forced to and that's the sad truth. I don't feel they have any place in schools with young impressionable minds that they can project their own issues onto.

    Unfortunately, many BME teachers feel that SLT will only be open to change if it's linked to an Ofsted priority. And even then, change shouldn't be 'pursued' as a reluctant, box-ticking obligation, but rather the genuine will to work towards equality.

    Some practical suggestions:
    *Black or BME staff forum at schools so that their views about solutions can be heard in a 'safe' space then fed back
    *Actively seeking Black (men and women) staff and SLT, who are representative
    *The same for governors.
    *A relevant and reflective curriculum, which truly engages and all children can feel connected to
    *Quality CPD
    *Quality staff mentoring
    *Policies to close gaps
    *Ring-fenced funding to close gaps (and I don't mean basketball mentors)

    Teachers have a big responsibility as agents of change because we spend so much time with the future - children.

    I am proud of how younger people have embraced BLM - it makes me feel hopeful.

    Black Lives Matter
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2020
    rexinstead likes this.
  6. circuskevin

    circuskevin Established commenter

    Sally006 and Jonntyboy like this.
  7. burajda

    burajda Star commenter

    I think that is right. The Afro-Caribbean Communities know their situation and within their communities they have people with expertise and knowledge of how to empower people and initiate change. Those positive voices need to be listened to, trusted and given space and resources in policy making. What doesn't work is establishment white academics and policy makers given powers and resources to do the job on black peoples behalf .
     
    corgie11 and install like this.
  8. burajda

    burajda Star commenter

    Yes, but BAME is not the same as 'Black'. Why would Black youth view Asian members of staff as people who could empathise with their community, social situation and identity?
     
  9. Jonntyboy

    Jonntyboy Lead commenter

    What an interesting and comprehensive OP. I'm sure we can all do more, and a recent thread on another topic made me think about my own unconscious bias. I'm sure we all have it.

    The problem can be, of course, that our biases are borne out in real life experiences, which tends to reinforce them. I have taught very few black students. In one school my total experience was with four boys. One, in Y10, was a delight - hard-working and really co-operative (the whole class was). The other three were in Y9 and were absolute pains. Why were they the ones often in trouble and sent out? Was it because they were black? Most certainly not. But anyone looking at my comments and classes would have immediately assumed I was a confirmed racist. In time - I was only there two terms - I managed to get one of these lads to settle down to some extent and we got on quite well. It took a lot of one-to-ones and man-to mans. But I gather that one of the others - the ringleader, really, whose eyes I could never get beyond (teachers will know what I mean) - was eventually expelled for drug supply. No surprise there. His parents were divorced and didn't come to the Y9 parent's evening. So more prejudices reinforced, unfortunately...

    I don't have the answers, except to say that I believe as teachers we must continue to expect, and show, tolerance and fairness, and stamp out bullying as much as we can.

    That said, in the general society many of these issues come from basic cultural differences between ethnic groups, and I think it takes centuries for these to meld. Ignoring them is unhelpful; exaggerating them equally so.

    We mustn't forget, also, that there are groups out there who deliberately want to foment strife and division for their own purposes and profit. It seems that they can quickly undo all the good that so many, of all ethnicities and colours, do on a daily basis in their own communities.
     
  10. rexinstead

    rexinstead New commenter

    I'm really glad this thread is here, I have contacted the Lever Group, who write the Jigsaw PSHE programme and asked them to include more lessons specifically about racism. They got back to me saying that if I can send some lessons ideas, they will see what they can do about putting them into the programme. I have written these lessons but I feel like it would be hypocritical for a white person to write lessons of this nature with no input from anyone who has actually experienced racism. So I would like to ask if anyone in this forum would be willing to work with me to see what I've written and to help me ensure they are accurate and cover everything that needs to be covered. Please let me know on here as soon as possible, as I would like to act on this while the momentum is here and while people are planning for the next academic year.
     
  11. mistermanager

    mistermanager New commenter

    Yes it is horrendous what happened, but people are forgetting that George Floyd was a prolific criminal with a string of historic offences. He did not deserve what happened obviously BUT I do not get this mass hysteria making out that he was some sort of saint or martyr. I disagree with the BLM movement and believe they are simply an extension of the Labour 'momentum' movement... Most people will think this, but just not say it of course.

    Secondly I do not believe there is mass racism (certainly in the UK) in the present. Yes it exists, but it also exists the other way round... The BLM movement will unfortunately work in counter productive ways I feel.
     
  12. meggyd

    meggyd Lead commenter

    There are few black leaders in education because twenty or so years ago there were few black beginner teachers. Think of your kids now. How many of them (any ethnicity) want to be teachers? And now with university costing as much as it does how many parents from lower income families who did not go to university themselves will want to encourage their kids to go into relatively low paid, low status jobs when they graduate?
    I worked in East London too and there were schools that got things right and were appointing staff that reflected the area. I also think it is important for schools to work with local universities in teacher training. The uni I worked with was not high in the tables but the students I mentored were usually brill. I knew what they did in their training and that was great. What was more important many of them were local and they knew exactly what they were going into in school. At interview I would be more likely to pick someone like that rather than someone from a prestigious university miles away.
     
    rachel_g41 likes this.
  13. alex_teccy

    alex_teccy Lead commenter

    1. Unconscious bias is a doctrine of selective exclusion. It has no utility whatsoever, as you cannot observe any behaviour it causes.
    If it’s unconscious how can you do anything about it?
    2. There is no white privilege in education. If you look at educational outcomes at GCSE, white children do not out-perform children. In fact traveller children do the worst and white working class boys do worst than most other demographics. Boys from Africans can heritage do better than boys from and Afro Caribbean heritage. This is not evidence of racism.
    You say black children are excessively punished, yet cite evidence from the American judicial system. Why does this apply to U.K. schools?

    It doesn’t boil down to expectations because you have to conclude that expectations for the motivation for behaviour. It clearly boils down to sociocultural matters which is complex.
     
  14. a1976

    a1976 Established commenter

    I would be very concerned if my son or daughter's school was participating in something as divisional as Black Lives Matter. School should promote the philosophy that all lives matter.
     
    border_walker and alex_teccy like this.
  15. Morninglover

    Morninglover Star commenter


    Like this, perhaps?

    [​IMG]
     
  16. a1976

    a1976 Established commenter

    Negative, sis. Read the bottom.
     
  17. neddyfonk

    neddyfonk Lead commenter

    Shouldn't the campaign be 'Skin colour should not matter'?
    Why do employers insist on knowing ethnicity/colour ? Many would claim it is required for statistical analysis but then others use it to prove bias / prejudice rather than use data that proves they found the right person for the job. People applying for jobs should not provide a name, gender, age, skin colour or anything other than relevant qualifications, experience and aspirations. If, at interview a bias is revealed the selection panel can then be taken to task and challenged as to why they rejected good candidates.
     
    ParakeetGreen likes this.
  18. colacao17

    colacao17 Senior commenter

    I would be very concerned if it were ignoring it or labelling it divisional.

    Black lives matter doesn't mean white lives don't.
    Black lives matter is a reminder that black lives matter as much as white lives.


    Would you feel able to support the campaign if it was Black lives matter as much as white lives?
     
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  19. alex_teccy

    alex_teccy Lead commenter

    How are black lives in danger in the U.K.?

    In what ways are black lives more in danger the U.K. than other “races”?
     
    border_walker likes this.
  20. alex_teccy

    alex_teccy Lead commenter

    Of course it’s divisional. It’s a loaded phrase designed to stigmatise those who refuse to give an unqualified response.
     

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