Racism: No longer overt but still present in the classroom

delpitAs a black child in the segregated south, Lisa Delpit recalls teachers extolling her to, “Act your age, not your race.”

A MacArthur “Genius Grant” winner and former Georgia State University professor, Delpit maintains that racism, while not as overt, still taints America’s classrooms in subtle yet damaging ways.

“It exists as much in the north as the south,” said Delpit in a telephone interview from her home in Louisiana. “The country believes at its core that black people are less than — it is a mindset that the entire society has.”

Delpit expands that theme in “Multiplication is for White People,” a follow-up to her best selling book “Other People’s Children.” She opens her new book by debunking the notion that low-income black children are born at a disadvantage, noting that there is no achievement gap at birth and that black infants lead in many developmental benchmarks, according to some studies.

She argues that the academic struggles of black students — despite reforms created to help them, including the No Child Left Behind Act — are due in part to the perception that these children cannot excel because the obstacles in their lives cannot be overcome.

“The question is how do you convince others that a people who have been marginalized are as competent and capable as everyone else,” she says. “My bias is when you believe it, you will see it.”

And Delpit says she has seen it in schools where poor minority students excel despite what many contend are insurmountable odds.

“In Baton Rouge, where I am now, there are two schools a mile apart serving the same population of low-income, African American children. In one school, the children have won state recognition for high scores and high performance,” says Delpit. “In the other, there is absolute failure.”

If the children share the same backgrounds, what accounts for the difference in performance?

Delpit says we ignore the simplest explanation: Many poor African-American children are not being taught. They attend desultory schools where worksheets and seat work are standard, where teachers seldom leave their own chairs to teach and where few probing question are ever asked. As a former teacher and someone who has spent her career training teachers and observing, Delpit has been surprised that teachers in low performing schools “apparently believed that it was okay to remain seated and not involved with the students when a visitor was in the room.”

“It has to be what goes on in that school,” says Delpit. “If it were just poverty, if it were just the community, if it were just the parents, then no one could do anything.

“But if there is one school of extremely poor children where the students are performing extremely well, it removes the basis for saying it can’t happen.”

The key, says Delpit, is teaching. “Good teaching is desirable, but any teaching is preferable to classrooms where teachers have abdicated the role completely. And good teaching is miraculous.”

Good teaching requires connecting to students and their worlds, something that she says is being overlooked in the celebration of rescue efforts such as Teach for America. While acknowledging the dedication of many Teach for America recruits, Delpit has concerns about the reactions of these young people when they encounter challenges.

“One of the things we know is that black and brown children don’t just learn from a teacher, they learn for a teacher. If they feel connected to a teacher, they are much more likely to learn,” she says.

Freshly minted Ivy league graduates dropping down into poor communities like missionaries in a foreign land often lack that vital bond, says Delpit.

“Without knowing the community, without knowing the kids, without knowing the culture, you are destined to have great challenges in teaching,” Delpit says. “What happens is that many of the TFA folks start to blame the parents and the community because, if they are not successful, it cannot be them — they have been told they are the best and the brightest. It must be these families and these communities. ”

But can children only learn from people like themselves?

No, but children must see some teachers who look like them, share their backgrounds and know their culture, Delpit says. Otherwise, “They are going to come to believe that academic success doesn’t look like them and isn’t something they should be aspiring toward or working toward. ”

“Children succeed when schools focus on extraordinary instruction,” says Delpit, who fears the testing frenzy set off by No Child Left Behind undermines such instruction.

“We are making school less interesting and expecting students to learn more and it just doesn’t work that way,” she says. “There is little tolerance for difference, for creativity, or for challenge.”

Delpit’s book opens with a conversation she had with Diane Ravitch, who also wrote a book raising alarms about the current direction of reform. The two education icons agree on several destructive trends in education, including the path taken by the charter school movement.

Delpit regrets what she calls the corruption of the original promise and purpose of the charter movement by anti-public school forces, saying,  “Now, because of the insertion of the ‘market model,’ charter schools often shun the very students they were intended to help. ”

Conceived as research and development labs to improve all schools, charter schools, if they do succeed, hold tight to their ideas to win the standardized test race, says Delpit. “So now, charter schools are not meant to contribute to regular public school education but to put it out of business.”

She also shares the skepticism of many posters on the blog toward the big money pouring into education by what she describes as “the antidemocratic forces of extreme wealth.”

Delpit laments the power now exerted on policy by the Broad, Gates and Walton foundations. “Thus, educational policy has been virtually hijacked by the wealthiest citizens, whom no one elected and who are unlikely ever to have had a child in the public schools. I am angry that with all of the corporate and taxpayers’ money that is flowing into education, little-to-none is going to those valiant souls who have toiled in urban educational settings for many years with proven track records.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

(All comments posted to this blog will go into moderation and require my approval to post.)

211 comments Add your comment


February 12th, 2012
12:09 pm

Maureen, you really need a “like” option on the comments. You are interacting on this topic better than you usually do. Thank you. I would like to Like your first interjection @Bootney.

Replication may or may not be possible. One fallacy of education is that all things that work in one place can be replicated in others. Some things are not scalable, and I am beginning to think education, with all its variables, is one of them.

The problem with replication, is that we tend to only seek replication of good test scores. We are so clouded with the judgement that test scores equal something of achievement. They do not. Scores are, however, indicators of the opportunities that will be allotted to our students, but people who will never know these young people as people, only as numbers. Unfortunately, it is our students’ hoop to jump through for acceptance into future academic and employment settings. I learned that from Lisa Delpit. :)


February 12th, 2012
12:19 pm

As a teacher, I am excited when my students are successful….regardless of race. Successful students come from homes in which their parents show concern for making sure children are working hard to receive a good education. My point is simple: everything starts in the home. The quicker we all understand this simple, simple, simple fact, then the outcome of education for all children will improve. Teachers should be accountable….but parents must be accountable, too.


February 12th, 2012
12:23 pm


How can you be “less concerned with the central office staff” of Dekalb than with the school’s administrators? First, it is the dubious hiring practices that allowed higher level administrators-in and out of school-to negatively impact instruction through creating or mandating dubious “best practices” methods and/or hindering real “school management” (funny that you hear only about classroom management). Second, it is the salaries of these central office positions that are taking away from teachers and programs in the school building.


February 12th, 2012
12:29 pm

Hey BlackLiberalLefty, it sounds like you’re ready to become a BlackRepublican. Welcome. ;-)

Interesting Observation

February 12th, 2012
12:31 pm

Back when we were “colored” our neighborhoods were more egalitarian, not by choice but by force. The high school principal lived next door to the school’s janitor. The corner store owner lived next door to the seamstress. The big church preacher lived next door to the saw mill worker. Around the corner the piano teacher lived a few doors down form the night club dancer and so on. Fast forward to the present day and we have enclaves of people who live on pulbic assistance with the success of law breakers being viewed as role models.


February 12th, 2012
12:37 pm

Some random comments:

As far as black on black racism goes, unless my reading comprehension has declined dramatically, the racist teachers “in the segregated South” who told the young Lisa Delpit to “Act your age, not your race” must have been black.

I’ve heard a couple of presentations about “90-90-90 schools” – those where 90% or more of the students were minority, qualified for free or reduced lunches, and exceeded on standardized tests. I believe I saw a list of such schools in Georgia, but I think a number of them were later identified as schools on the APS cheating list. I’d appreciate some clarification on that. Where are these schools, and is Doug Reeves correct about what they do differently?

I have also seen studies that suggest that discipline is a necessary component of education for “at-risk” students of all races, in part because they tend to come from home lives that lack structure, and thus structure and self-discipline must be taught in school (I’m probably not stating that nearly as well as the studies did.)

This is Mrs.Norman Maine

February 12th, 2012
12:45 pm

@prof, that was exactly her point.

However when the word racism is used, people of all races lose the ability to reason through and logically discuss a topic at hand. What you are reading are knee-jerk reactions to one word. Most of those objecting did not even consider the truth of her words because they did not really read them.

As I stated in my earlier post, my son’s teachers are Black and their instruction has been nothing but subpar in my opinion. They simply would not be allowed to get away with it in majority White or even reasonably integrated schools. They just know that no one is going to care if the kids from their classrooms are underachievers because they are Black and it is expected after all. I complain to the administrators but then I’m just that one parent therefore I must be a crackpot.

Hillbilly D

February 12th, 2012
12:48 pm

I think expectations have a whole lot to do with things. Show kids, especially young kids, that you expect them to learn and produce and most of them will rise to meet the expectations. If you send them the message that they can’t do it, for whatever reason, most of them will drop to that level. I have no way of knowing but I wonder if that doesn’t have something to do with the difference in the two schools mentioned in the column. That would be the first place I would look. Children everywhere look to adults for guidance and it should be given to them.


February 12th, 2012
12:54 pm

Also, while I’m sure family and family values are important, I’m not sure they’re always the deciding factor. Anecdotally, I know one middle class, two parent “family of color” in which one sibling was the high school valedictorian, received a “full-ride” scholarship to a prestigious out of state university, and is now working on either a Master’s or Ph.D. Another sibling bought into the “gangsta” lifestyle, and was either expelled or dropped out, and last I heard had at least 2 children out of wedlock. Two ends of the extreme, in the same family.


February 12th, 2012
12:56 pm


nope, but i’m tired of the blame game and so are a lot of other blacks…to say or imply that racism is keeping black kids from getting an education is asinine…i see first hand how black athletes are lauded in the black community while the straight “A” student is patted on the head and gets a few “great job” comments,while the athlete is paraded around like hes the best thing since sliced bread. we need to stop the soft bigotry of low expectations and challenge black kids to exceed. when you have black administration like ATLANTA who thinks their students are to dumb too learn then you know its a deep seated belief that black students cant compete academically.


February 12th, 2012
12:58 pm

NCLB was the latest revision of Johnson’s EASA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) and Clinton’s IASA (Improving America’s Schools Act)

Gaps remained even after the aforementioned efforts. Both implemented national tests but neither demanded accountability.

I don’t have the answers except to say that our reps game of identity politics doesn’t promise a better future for the children or society overall.


Maureen Downey

February 12th, 2012
12:58 pm

@To those wondering about why their comments aren’t posting immediately: As I noted in the latest entry on Dr. Delpit’s book, I have changed the posting process — all comments are moderated pending approval.


February 12th, 2012
1:00 pm

Maureen Downey

February 12th, 2012
10:40 am

I wish folks would talk about a point that I have brought up in the past and that is central to Dr. Delpit’s book:
If poverty and culture are insurmountable, as some posters here contend, then why are some schools succeeding despite facing those obstacles?
Either it can’t be done or it can be done.
Since it is being done, why don’t we talk about how it is being done.
I don’t think every teacher or principal is capable of producing high achievement in kids who bring these daunting obstacles with them to the classroom. But clearly, some are.
We need to know more about how they do it. We need to both celebrate it and replicate it.


A most excellent point


February 12th, 2012
1:09 pm


yes thats anectdotal, nothing is 100% right all the time.


February 12th, 2012
1:09 pm

The other day, I shared my thoughts regarding how the curriculum has been narrowed especially in schools where challenges related to poverty and race are concerned. Here is a good example of what I was talking about. http://bit.ly/Apgiu8

Sad when you think about it. Books taken away, literally, from the classroom to promote “order” and control of the scripted lessons. Is this what we want for our children?

Ed Johnson

February 12th, 2012
1:10 pm

@bootney farnsworth, add the name Ronald L. Mallet to your list…



February 12th, 2012
1:17 pm

But some posters’ comments moderated more quickly than others perhaps?


February 12th, 2012
1:18 pm

no government program can replace 2 loving parents. a lot of black kids only have one supportive parent{mom} which puts them at an automatic disadvantage in life…a lot of black men have decided not to care for their offspring and the results are disastrous to say the least. failing schools are just one of the symptoms of this psychological malady. in other words, if the black man cared for his kids the way hes supposed to, they wouldnt be having so many problems in school…

@This is Mrs.Norman Maine

February 12th, 2012
1:19 pm

This is more egregious in DeKalb because so much of our funding is used for non teaching employees.

Teachers are very low on the totem pole, and classroom teachers (those teachers who teach science, social studies, language arts and math) occupy the lowest position. Attracting and retaining high quality teachers has NEVER once been a conversation in any DeKalb Board of Education meetings the past few years. Indeed, 600+ teaching positions were eliminated during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 schools years. It’s disconcerting that teacher attrition is so high that Dr. Lewis and then Ms. Tyson could safely say they would not fill these hundreds of teaching positions and be sure of knowing that at least this many teachers would leave each year.

High quality teachers will not stay in a system that does not strive to retain them, and you are so correct in realizing high quality teachers are what all students need.

Increased class sizes also mean teachers must rely less on performance based assessment so you see teachers relying more “pencil and paper” testing. “Pencil and paper” tests and standardized testing is not the best way to assess if students have mastered the content, and in particular your son is at a disadvantage since he is not a good test taker. Assessment of content mastery should not be based solely on a child’s ability to take a “pencil and paper” test.

I hope you push for more funds to be redirected into the classrooms for direct instruction for students, salaries and a supportive environment that will attract and retain high quality teachers, and a culture of “putting students first”, something that has not happened in DeKalb in a long time. I have taught in all areas of DeKalb, and there is a very big difference in the expectations and delivery of content from area to area. Please demand that the superintendent and the Board of Education lower class sizes, provides the support necessary for your son and his classmates to succeed, sets the stage to attract and retain high quality teachers, and pours your tax dollars directly into the classroom where your son sits. All of the “staff development”, training and supervision in the world will not substitute for a high quality classroom.

IMHO there should be a Student Bill of Rights:

1. Every child has the right to be in a decent, clean, safe environment.

2. Every child deserves to be in a classroom with a reasonable pupil teacher ratio.

3. Every child deserves highly qualified, competent teachers who are paid well and have schoolhouse support staff and technology.

4. Every child deserves to have abundant access to state of the art science and technology equipment.

ALL of the items above should become quantifiable objectives that the BOE, Dr. Atkinson and all of the Dekalb Schools support staff should be measured on.

It is sad that parents in many parts of DeKalb cannot imagine a school system that can deliver these rights for students in every school. Until every student has these rights ensured, we cannot say our schools are equal for every child.

Maureen Downey

February 12th, 2012
1:22 pm

@Digger, I do occasionally leave my computer to grab a Diet Coke,walk the dog or play with my kids. I have to be online and in the blog to release comments. I have a stay-at-home day planned, which allows me to check the blog often so no one should stay in moderation too long.


A Black parent.

February 12th, 2012
1:25 pm

@Zooteacher. Yes,I was very angered by the entire conversation. I often feel helpless,because the schools say that they have an open door policy,but you have SOME teachers that don’t want you there and the administrative staff is harder to get in contact with than the president of the US. I am really considering homeschooling my kids.


February 12th, 2012
1:41 pm

“no government program can replace 2 loving parents.”

While this is true, values and attitudes have changed and returning to stigmatizing illegitimacy, divorce, and living arrangements that were once outside the norm cannot be mandated in a democratic society.

It is a turbulent, fast paced and hyper competitive age we live in. Perhaps the best we can provide in education is a stable, disciplined environment with highly qualified teachers to instruct students.

Writing off whole groups of society that do not conform to what sociologists observe as successful parenting will not solve the problem for a society like ours that believes in a social safety net. Too many people will eventually fall into this social safety net and strain it’s already delicate fabric. Almost all of us now have close friends and/or relatives that do not fit the idea of two loving parents in a stable household.

Schools cannot be all things to all people, but they are the best hope we have.

We need to start involving teachers in what works best for the students they have. Teachers are rarely consulted when the decisions are made, yet they bear the responsibility for the decisions. Having all of the responsibility but none of the authority never works. We really can’t afford to do business this way anymore.

say what?

February 12th, 2012
1:44 pm

Some years ago the best research to give excuse for poor performance in poor black schools was rubye Paine’s research. Her work was cute but if failed to bring to fruition a plan to overcome. Same as this work by Delpit- stating the obvious but lacking solutions. Everyone wishes to write and give facts according to their own biases.
For Payne, principals were encouraged to have all faculty ride a school bus through the neighborhoods of students to get an idea of where the children lived, notice the delapidation, the lack of resources in the community, the public transportation that may ride along the street late in the evening that will keep the child from getting adequate sleep, etc. What infuriated me the most in DCSS is that administrators believed in ruby Payne, and purchased copies of her books with Title I funds for every teacher. Simply stupid when all teachers had to do is become free from differentiated lessons, uploading said lessons, attending a meeting everyday during planning, and allowing them to teach, thereby learning about the students in the classroom. Kids will please the teacher who they believe believe in them. What a waste of funds if people purchase this book and support this non-sense.

Dr. Bill

February 12th, 2012
1:46 pm

The only thing that changes education in MHO is if parents make learning important at home, it will carry over to the classroom, it they don’t it doesn’t matter how many dollars you throw at the school or program

What race card

February 12th, 2012
1:49 pm

We live in Forsyth county and just happen to be black. My son’s first grade teacher tried to put him in special Ed stating he could not read on the same level as the other students. I had to get my video camera and tape a “cold read” by him and present it to the principal to draw attention to her nonsense. She left the school system the next semester. My son is now in the fourth grade and exceeds the standards on ALL categories of the CRCT. Why? Because we have the best resources in the state to create the environment for any child to learn. However, it is unreasonable to assume teachers are completely objective in every way. They are held hostage by what they were taught and what they believe to be true. Unfortunately some believe the exceptional child can only be found in a particular package.

What race card

February 12th, 2012
2:00 pm

I grew up in the APS system in the 60s and 70s. I never saw a textbook that had less than 30 names written in it or less than five years old. Fortunately I supplemented my education by going to the library and reading a great deal on my own. I don’t remember seeing Beverly Hall’s name tossed around during my time. This problem has existed in the South for some time and is hardly eradicated in 2012. Say what you will but the educational system here is designed to fail those who need it the most. It’s not a financial problem but a matter of the heart.

Unfunded pension

February 12th, 2012
2:12 pm

Of course the culture can be overcome. Black children CAN learn. But, significant progress at scale won’t happen until we label the culture as a problem and take steps to fix it. Thinking we can leave inner city culture alone while we fix the schools is a pipe dream.
It’s the ultimate racism to defend the indefensensible while blaming others for the problem


February 12th, 2012
2:13 pm

I teach in a predominantly black school. Every year I have students who succeed and those who don’t–at least not as much as they are capable. The biggest difference between performance I see (barring disability) is motivation–and this crosses color and culture. The big question remains: How do you motivate the unmotivated? We get told to play to their strengths. If they like to talk, have them work in collaborative groups. But what do you do when they use the time to socialize only? They work while you stand next to them, but as soon as you move to the next group, they’re off-task. They don’t care about the grade. I had a student the other day who spent the science period ignoring me and reading a graphic novel. I just kept my eye on him because he is a student who will disrupt and argue all day long, just to be a distraction so that he doesn’t have to work. On this day, rather than send him out, I just ignored his off-task behavior. We previewing vocabulary and reading some text together to build background (we do lab activities regularly, too) and discussing a comprehension sheet they would be working on. Since it didn’t get finished, I told the kids to put their name on it and place it inside their science book so it wouldn’t get lost. He put his name on it…and put it in the trash. His doc just took him off ADHD meds because he/she concluded the kid doesn’t have a disorder; he just likes to disrupt. Everyday it is continual talking, distracting behavior and arguing that he wasn’t doing anything. He’s in 5th grade. He’s also white. Underachievement happens in all colors and classes, but I think kids who have adult role models at home who expect them to be successful and try to engage them in interesting activities and conversation at home, definitely have an advantage over those who don’t.

Please tell me how to motivate these kids without resorting to material compensation. I’m really interested in how to make it work.

Beverly Fraud

February 12th, 2012
2:26 pm

Ron Clark has had some success.

Could part of that be that he…RESTORED THE DISCIPLINE?


February 12th, 2012
2:42 pm

I’ve had the opportunity over the past several years to observe the teenage moms who have given birth while in school and have actually had the chance to catch up later with many of them. What I see, regardless of race is this:
-those mothers that make the sacrifice to stay in school after having children so that they can at least graduate tend to send their children to school with the idea that education is important and is their way out of poverty
-those mothers that make the sacrifice to work to support their children rather than go on welfare, send their children to school with the idea that education is important and is their way out of poverty
-those mothers that don’t finish school. don’t work are usually mothers to mulitple children who will follow in the footsteps of said mother – they will become teen age parents who drop out of school and rely on the government to raise their children
True for all colors – black, white, brown……well, haven’t had any teenage asian mothers…….


February 12th, 2012
2:49 pm

@say what? – Based on your long entry regarding Ruby Payne (not Paine), you did not read the book???

Dr. Payne’s work does not focus on “poor black schools.” Her work is focused around all students living in poverty.

Did you skip the chapters on teacher-student relationships? Identification of the resources and strengths of any student?

I teach in a rural area. The poverty runs deep. Discovering her work was a pivotal moment in my teaching. I became a much better and more effective teacher by implementing many of her suggestions.


February 12th, 2012
2:55 pm

If the goal is for children to really learn, children need to be in classrooms with qualified teachers and groupings that are conducive to learning (read — not stuffed to the gills — or smaller rather than larger classes). Not every child is the same – that’s one of things that is beautiful about America — we’re mutts — you can’t look around and see a group that all looks the same like you can in Iceland or in Japan. Yet, in DCSS we’ve had a director of curriculum who mandated that the curriculum be taught a certain way to everyone … no room for creativity by the teachers. If you look through the textbooks (for instance the middle school English series) – it’s dry and boring. No room for creativity. The walls can’t be decorated creatively, they must post standards that the kids could care less about. The teachers have to “differentiate” but there aren’t enough minutes in the day to fully allow for this and the classes are so crowded that its unrealistic unless your “superman” (woman). The “tenure” of principals and assistant principals within the system is paltry (3 or 5 years at best with only a few exceptions). Promotions have been done based on “who you know” rather than what you know and experience. Movement has been made to prevent (maybe intionally prevent) such tenure so, possibly, “points” can be minimized per school and funding can be kept at the “top” — therefore the experience with teaching and administering within the schoolhouse is quite minimal in DCSS. Dr. Atkinson has her hands quite full. I agree with the author of the book — children, all children, no matter their race, need and should have, excellent teachers. I’m sure it is much more difficult to obtain and retain such teachers in very poor, minority neighborhoods — it’s just easier to keep them in the wealthier neighborhoods becuase their jobs are a bit easier. Not even the “wealthy” neighborhoods have all good teachers and administrators in DCSS…. the parents supplement more (see yesterday’s discussion). All children are entitled to “good” teachers who can read, speak and write excellent English, communicate and relate to the students and who can teach their subject matter at an appropriate level, treat them fairly and maintain discipline and control.

yes i am worried

February 12th, 2012
2:56 pm


From the outside looking in, a white parent in DeKalb county, what I see is that schools of choice, be it charter, magnet, etc that have a majority minority population excel as compared to the counterparts in their neighborhoods. This trend repeats itself on the national level as well. I am concerned that we are moving to a place where most minority chldren, if they are in majority minority schools, can only excel in schools of choice. I believe that is because the cultural values of the parents when they make a choice as well as the students.

I am skeptical of using test scores for measuring success, because I believe that cheating is far more widespread than we acknowledge, but for arguement’s sake, you will see a pretty substantial gap between how minority students do at Gwinnett’s all minority schools vs how they do at the integrated school.

The challenge is that the minority is becoming the majority.

I believe that expectations are part of the problem, but they are only one part of the problem.

mountain man

February 12th, 2012
3:01 pm

What kind of racism is it when black students who wish to learn and do good in school are taunted by other black students as “acting too white”. Sounds like black on black racism, or black against white racism, not white racism. Is it racism to say you don’t want white teachers or white administrators, even if they are better, because “they don’t understand the culture”.

Jethro BoWiseaton

February 12th, 2012
3:13 pm

After centuries of racial segregation, civil war, slavery, separate but not equal, still on both sides either black, white, brown, red, or blue don’t understand we are all Americans and if racial ideology and attitudes don’t change we are doomed. Right now the Chinese and Indians are making the necessary educational and infrastructure changes to be the producers of knowledge, technology and innovation while we fight over race issues. Last time I check we all breath air, eat food and drink water. Now we are in the phase of class warfare to get politicians to vote for them and further separate us. Teacher’s inflate grade and kids get the HOPE scholarship and enter college in remedial studies, or flunk out their freshman year. Teachers change grades and want to keep their jobs because they were made to do it. I sat in class next to a guy in a college course that flunked a take home open book exam and he could have searched online for the answers. It’s about critical thinking…………Don’t give me a fish teach me to fish. Black, white, Hispanic, all are the leaders of the future; remember that so when you are in retirement that we need to prepare this generation to be responsible adults regardless of race.


February 12th, 2012
3:13 pm

“One of the things we know is that black and brown children don’t just learn from a teacher, they learn for a teacher. If they feel connected to a teacher, they are much more likely to learn,” she says.”

In my experience, this statement holds true for any student. If they feel connected and respected by the teacher, they are more likely to learn.

Like it or not….teachers are the adults in the room and they hold the key to “connecting” with their students. This doesn’t mean you have to be the “coolest teacher” or their best friend. It just means that you have the responsibility of somehow communicating to them that you value them.

(btw: Ruby Payne calls this “mutual respect”)

You also need administrators who are willing to back up a teacher when mutual respect does not take place and a student persists in disrupting the learning environment.


February 12th, 2012
3:14 pm

“We are making school less interesting and expecting students to learn more and it just doesn’t work that way,” she says. “There is little tolerance for difference, for creativity, or for challenge.”


This is especially true for Title I schools where test scores and AYP have become the singular focus of the school.

Then we repeat this process year-after-year, until we’ve stifled and stamped out every ounce of creativity and enthusiasm. And then stand back and complain that we have disengaged high school students who can no longer think for themselves.

Dr. Craig Spinks/Georgians for Educational Excellence

February 12th, 2012
3:20 pm

Compare ITBS %-ile scores of Black and White GA first graders with one another and with those of Black and White eighth graders. Chances are: (1) that the first graders’ ITBS scores will be much closer together than will the eighth graders’ scores, (2) the eighth graders’ %-ile scores will be lower than the first graders- by a wide margin, and (3) the Black kids’ %-ile scores will have declined more markedly than those of the Whites.


February 12th, 2012
4:01 pm

@mountain man, I was just coming here to post the same thing as you. Yes, there are teachers who don’t expect as much from black students because they believe they “can’t learn”, but there are also black students who don’t want to be labeled by the peers as “acting white”. How can we overcome that? What we need is to stop elevating basketball players and hip-hop artists as role models and, instead, introduce our students to true role models.

Beverly Fraud

February 12th, 2012
4:15 pm

Rich, poor, black, white, etc. Have you ever seen a school suffer when they RESTORED THE DISCIPLINE?


February 12th, 2012
4:19 pm

mountain man

February 12th, 2012
3:01 pm

What kind of racism is it when black students who wish to learn and do good in school are taunted by other black students as “acting too white”. Sounds like black on black racism, or black against white racism, not white racism. Is it racism to say you don’t want white teachers or white administrators, even if they are better, because “they don’t understand the culture”.

Have you seen this “taunting” first hand or just heard about it ad nauseam from Neal Boortz?

A Teacher that Cares

February 12th, 2012
4:30 pm

@ Mrs. Norman – You are “forced” to read to your child, take him to museums, etc.! That is the problem with so many of our parents in the black community. You should be reading to your child, taking him to museums, exposing him to different cultures, environments, etc. regardless of what his teachers are doing! Educating your child is your responsibility too! Too many parents look to teachers for EVERYTHING when it should be a team effort.


February 12th, 2012
4:34 pm

This type of argument is infuriating. EVERY comprehensive study — whether by the conservative AEI or liberal Brookings — indicates that the biggest factor in determining educational succcess is the presence of two parents. PERIOD. School funding is part of the solution, but the absence of two parents is a much, much more important issues. Approximately 70% (SEVENTY) percent of black children are born to single mothers in the US today. This is not racism — there is a major cultural problem, and no one’s talking about it. Better schools are not the ultimate answer.


February 12th, 2012
4:38 pm

Bill Cosby, a black man speaking about his own race. has said it in the past what is wrong with students today. It has also been proven that a black student, when taking a seat test, is leaned over by the teacher and the teacher uses an encouraging word as you can do it, that the student makes better scores. Today, white or black, parents are not at home & encouraging their children that they can excel IF they pay the price of studying and practice. Recently, in a sermon to his congregation, Creflo Dollar said that kids are only wanting to become a star or celebrity. Most students will not become either; one still has to earn their way in life by work and study, in the classroom or athletic field, regardless of race.


February 12th, 2012
4:48 pm

@ mountain man, Dr. Craig Spinks, irisheyes, and Fred: I noted some important research findings on an earlier blog-thread on Feb. 8, that I’ll repeat here. Forgive me if you’ve already seen it….

In the mid 1990s, educators across the country began to realize the phenomena you describe (black students who do well in school taunted as being “white”}. But the data showed that this was mainly true for young black males, not young black females. Something happens around the 3rd or 4th grade to many young black males that causes them to turn off school. That’s the time period when truancy begins, grades drop, and disciplinary troubles begin.

It could not be only due to racism, since it wasn’t true for black females. It did not seem to be due to the onset of puberty or gang influence. What was it? Across the country, on the average, young black men have lower graduation rates than any other ethnic group. Young Hispanic males also tend to have low rates.

A general consensus has formed that it’s due to the schools, in a systemic way (it’s the nature of our schools, in other words). As set up, they are most conducive to young women learning. Often young men, not just black ones, do not feel the same way. For some, family and culture can counteract that. But many young black men who are poor don’t have that advantage.

K-12 schools are mostly run by females and taught by females. The learning that’s stressed is taught in a way that’s congenial to females. Males like action narratives, and they simply seem wired to learn differently. I have noticed that myself, even at the University level. Thus researchers have concluded that for many young black males, school really seems *female* though they say “white.” Other factors why this might seem to be true come out of the days of slavery and Jim Crow.

In 2002 the Georgia Board of Regents began the African American Male Initiative to try to deal with this problem, and the AAMI is still ongoing. To find out more about the subject, visit http://www.usg.org/aami.


February 12th, 2012
4:52 pm

Sorry! The correct web address is http://www.usg.edu/aami.


February 12th, 2012
4:57 pm

Thank you Maureen. However, my comment at 10:51am today of ‘Justin Bieber rocks!’ is still in moderation.That hurts my feelings. What do you have against Justin Bieber?

Maureen Downey

February 12th, 2012
5:05 pm

@Digger, Nothing except his haircut, but I try to limit mention of him to once a day and I already claimed the slot for today.

Mattie Patterson

February 12th, 2012
5:22 pm

This much studied effect has been called the Pygmalion Effect. I first read of it many years ago in Psychology Today, but reognized it immediately from personal experiences. It applies just as much in any culture or country. Another instance of it was demonstrated by a woman with here brown eyes vs. blue eyes experiments.

Ditto Sheets

February 12th, 2012
5:32 pm

I watched with dismay as my child’s teacher passed around a photocopied piece of paper to all the students, gave a one sentence instruction, then sat her butt down at her desk and ignored the kids. Quality of instruction matters.

However, if children must have teachers that look like them than most white kids in Atlanta wouldn’t succeed — because in Atlanta, especially at the elementary level, most teachers are black. Those white kids learn from black teachers. Those Asian kids learn from black teachers. So, the author’s claim that black childrne can’t learn because they are being taught by white teachers isn’t true. Black students are taught by black teachers and those black teachers are managed by black board members. So, the claims of the author aren’t true for the Atlanta Public School System. What is true in Atlanta is there is a very poor overall quality of teachrers. There are some notable exceptions but my children have been taught by ditto sheet making teacherse who pass out a piece of paper, tell the kids to “circle the right answer” and then sit their butts down at their desk and ignore the kids. That won’t work and whatever my children don’t learn at school I have to teach them at home.

Some things they learn incorreclty at school I have to undo at home. That really ticks me off.

Is there racism in schools? Of course. Schools are a relection of our society but Dr. King grew up with racism and he succeeded and was educated. I grew up with racism and sexism and I learned and was educated. Racism cuts both ways as well. There are black teachers who discriminate against white children as well as white teachers who discriminate against black children.

There is an issue with low performing students who are black but racism can’t explain away it all. I would like to hear a black author address the common and hurtful experience many bright black children have when they do well in school — other black children ridicule them by saying they are “acing white.” Now, Dr. Proud Black Man will tell you that they do that to “fit in” but so far no one has addressed the issue of why is it that black children don’t “fit in” if they are smart and educated? WHy is an education considered a “white thing” and most importantly…

How can we as a society ensure that ALL our children grow up with the attitude that education and learning is a good thing?