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Effective Anti-Racist Education Requires More Diverse Teachers, More Training

In the wake of ongoing protests for racial justice, young people in America are demanding change from their schools.

Petitions are circulating all over the country in support of creating anti-racist education. One petition, written by alumni of Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix, Ariz., calls on the district to "review and advance its curriculum, goals, and objectives as they related to social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion."

"Education is the most valuable tool to dismantle racism and create a more equitable society," the petition reads.

Sumaiya DeLane, along with Khadijah Adamu and Samiza Palmer, started a petition in Montgomery County, Md., where they went to school.

"These are longstanding issues that need urgent solutions," DeLane says. "It needs to be total transformation versus reform."

Palmer says she doesn't think there can be "a truly anti-racist curriculum unless the teachers have gone through that same sort of training themselves."

Travis Bristol, an assistant professor of education at the University of California at Berkeley, agrees. He says that for students to receive an anti-racist education, teachers need better training and students need more diverse teachers.

All of this is in service to what he calls "the American project" of, in part, forming a more perfect union.

"I believe that to begin the work of forming a more perfect union requires us to enact anti-racist teaching, but it also requires us to prepare teachers to think about how to design anti-racist teaching," says Bristol, who is also a former New York City teacher. "And that is what gives me hope."

Here are excerpts from his interview on All Things Considered.

When we say anti-racist education, or anti-racist teaching, what does that mean to you?

So for me, anti-racist teaching means a fundamental disruption of the way in which teaching and learning happens in our schools today: It centers whiteness and white people. And so we have to start with the preparation of teachers.

You looked closely at how diverse teachers can reshape education and how, in particular, Black teachers can play a role. Why is having Black teachers inside classrooms important — not just for Black students to get a quality education, but for all children to get a quality education?

There is convincing evidence that Black children perform better in school, that they are able to persist through high school, that they are less likely to get suspended and expelled if they have a Black teacher compared to a white teacher. So there's clear evidence that for Black students there is this added value for Black teachers. There is a growing body of evidence that for white students, that there is a preference for having a teacher of color when compared to a white teacher.

But at the same time, I understand that you found school systems have a really tough time retaining African American teachers. Why?

In my own research, I have found that school districts have done a remarkable job of recruiting Black teachers. But they have, in many ways, placed at the feet of Black teachers the undue expectation that they can somehow fundamentally address 400 years of oppression.

School districts concentrate Black teachers in the most challenging schools, without giving those Black teachers the necessary resources to address the 400 years of marginalization and subjugation.

And so because Black teachers are placed in the most challenging schools without the necessary resources to teach Black children, Black teachers are leaving their schools, not their students. They're leaving the poor working conditions, the conditions that do not give them the tools, the resources, the ongoing training to teach Black children.

And so out of frustration, while doing good work, while raising test scores, while allowing Black children to persist, they also leave because they recognize, at the end of the day, that they do not have the tools and resources to do the work of teaching.

Listen to the full interview at the audio link above.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In the wake of ongoing protests for racial justice, young people in America are demanding change not just from police departments and legislatures, but also from schools. Petitions are circulating all over the country now to create what's called anti-racist education.

SUMAIYA DELANE: These are long-standing issues that need urgent solutions. It needs to be total transformation versus reform.

SAMIZA PALMER: I don't think you can have a truly anti-racist curriculum unless the teachers have gone through that same sort of training themselves.

CHANG: Sumaiya DeLane and Samiza Palmer started a petition in Montgomery County, Md., where they both went to school. Our next guest agrees that for students to truly get an anti-racist education, teachers need better training, and students need more diverse teachers. Travis Bristol is an assistant professor of education at UC Berkeley and a former New York City teacher.

Welcome.

TRAVIS BRISTOL: Thank you, Ailsa.

CHANG: So when we say anti-racist education or anti-racist teaching, what does that mean to you?

BRISTOL: So for me, anti-racist teaching means a fundamental disruption of the way teaching and learning happens in our schools today. It centers whiteness and white people. And so I - we have to start with the preparation of teachers.

CHANG: You've looked closely at how diverse teachers can reshape education, how, in particular, Black teachers can play a role. So tell me, why is having Black teachers inside the classroom important not just for Black students, but for all children to get a quality education?

BRISTOL: There is convincing evidence that Black children perform better in school, that they are able to persist through high school, that they are less likely to get suspended and expelled if they have a Black teacher compared to a white teacher. There is a growing body of evidence that for white students, there is a preference for having a teacher of color when compared to a white teacher. And I would say that we owe it to all children to have teachers who represent the rich diversity in our country.

CHANG: But at the same time, I understand that you found school systems have a really tough time retaining African American teachers. So explain why you think that is.

BRISTOL: Yeah. So in my own research, I have found that school districts have done a remarkable job of recruiting Black teachers. But they have the undue expectation that they can somehow address 400 years of oppression. School districts concentrate Black teachers in the most challenging schools without giving those Black teachers the necessary resources.

CHANG: Which leads me to my next question, then. What role should local, state and federal policymakers play in empowering teachers and principals to be anti-racist?

BRISTOL: In this situation, we need both carrots and sticks. At the state level, in order for teachers to receive a teaching license, they have to engage in anti-racist teaching. We license many things. In the state of California, for example, we believe that technology is important for teachers because we live in a digital society. And so we should also require them to have some competency in enacting anti-racist teaching. So that's something that every state can do right now. Local governments - school districts can create these ongoing learning opportunities for principals to engage in anti-racist training so that the principals can create the conditions in their schools for teachers and for students.

CHANG: I just want to take a moment to take in what we're talking about through this entire conversation, and that is, you know, on one hand, change may be coming. But on the other hand, how broken is this system that we are actually having a conversation about adding anti-racist education to our school systems?

BRISTOL: Part of the American project is that we are working to form a more perfect union. And I believe that requires us to enact anti-racist teaching, but it also requires us to prepare teachers to think about how to design anti-racist teaching. And that is what gives me hope.

CHANG: Travis Bristol is an assistant professor of education at UC Berkeley.

Thank you very much for talking with us today.

BRISTOL: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.