Is it too much to expect our teachers to model inclusiveness in the classroom, both in words and action? If teachers tolerate or practice racism, what can one expect from the students they teach?
A report this week illustrated how a middle-school teacher in Waterbury, Connecticut was put on administrative leave for making an inappropriate remark to one her black students in front of the entire class. It is reported that she first called the student by the wrong name, and when he pointed it out, she said, "How about black boy. Go sit down, black boy."
The school board, teachers association, and concerned parents expressed their concern. The board decided to implement a policy requiring that faculty and staff take sensitivity training. The teachers association issued a statement reiterating their commitment to work for the success of each child irrespective of race or ethnicity. Concerned parents expressed their outrage, clearly affirming that such racist behavior is unacceptable especially from the teaching profession.
That happened in a school in Waterbury, Connecticut, and picked up by the evening news. How many such instances occur in classrooms on a daily bases across the nation in a less or worse degree?
What are our expectations of those in positions of influence when it comes to trying to educate and enlighten others about race, culture, and ethnicity? Sadly, and too often, the behavior desired is not what is modeled. Stereotypical beliefs, wrong or imagined, govern our spontaneous actions or reactions.
We can never expect the practice of racism, cultural ignorance, wanton disrespect, and insensitivity to cease if parents, teachers, and other caring adults who work with children on a daily basis do not make a concerted effort to teach that we share a common humanity, that the color of our skin makes no material difference.
The focus must shift to what we all hold in common as children, teens, adults — as people. The emphasis is clear that each of us can only be enlightened with an understanding of our differences, and that understanding will lay the foundation to work together to resolve the things that divide us.
If teachers are not about the business of teaching and modeling respect and understanding across race and culture in front of the students in their classrooms, we, as a society, need to be concerned about the very fabric, the glue that holds us together, and moving in the right direction.
Sensitivity training is a step in the right direction for the middle-school in Waterbury. But only a minimum first step. Hopefully, the training will bring about positive changes in behavior where needed and serve as reinforcement where model behavior already exists.
More importantly, for those schools where racist practices are part of the culture, let us hope that change will occur even if incidents at their school do not make the evening news.