Discrimination In Schools

How to Minimize Discrimination in Schools

Despite the long-standing campaigns to reform education, there is still discrimination in schools and, unfortunately, it is an unpleasant fact that often the perpetrators are teachers themselves.  It is not that teachers set out to express their prejudices and discriminate against their students because of race, sex, or ethnicity.  Most teachers very much want to do right by their students.  Teachers are not, however, immune from the same and misconceptions that plague other occupations.  So how can we help teachers overcome discrimination in schools?


Raise Awareness about Subtle Forms of Discrimination

Discrimination in schools, as in other walks of life, can often take on subtle forms that may be difficult to recognize.  Often discrimination and its negative affects get mixed up with well meaning intentions.  A teacher, for example, in a school with a heavy immigrant population where many of students do not speak English in the home, might be more prone to placing a student with a non-Anglo name into an English as a Second Language program even though the student may have been born and raised in the United States and have no difficulty speaking English.  Such errors often occur when staff feels pressed for time and is looking to cut corners and although such errors can be corrected, they send the student the subtle but powerful message that they are being judged as members of a group rather than as an individual.

Similarly, administrators need to make teachers aware of how subtle differences in the way they interact with students may imply prejudices based on a student’s racial or ethnic background.  This can happen even when a teacher thinks he or she is providing positive reinforcement.  For example, if a teacher gives too much praise to an Asian student for how well said student has expressed themselves in classroom comments, this may carry the subtle message that the student has defied expectations because of his or her racial and ethnic background.

Put simply, teachers need to assess the latent implication of their comments as well as surface level content.

Incorporate Discrimination Awareness into Evaluations

The only way to ensure that we continue to eradicate discrimination in schools is to create a process by which teachers continue to discuss discrimination in the general course of their jobs.  Waiting until a matter blows up into a full-fledged problem is not an acceptable means of dealing with discrimination in schools.  Instead, teacher evaluations need to emphasize anti-discrimination as a part of the process.

This means that when teachers have their classroom observations, there should be a section of the evaluation form specifically devoted to addressing discrimination related issues and, furthermore, that administrators should train evaluators in how to identify and discuss discrimination related issues.  Evaluators should carry out this section of the evaluation both qualitatively and quantitatively.  Statistics for the instructor’s classroom including racial and gender breakdowns should be included on the evaluation form; in addition, the evaluator should record the amount of attention devoted to specific students according to race and gender.  There should also be a qualitative analysis of the interaction of the instructor with his or her students, looking to evaluate the “climate” of the classroom.

The evaluator should address issues like the Balkanization of classroom distribution in this analysis as well.  Are students of a certain ethnicity sequestered to a section of the classroom?

Furthermore, are gender and cultural issues addressed?  When students wanted to enter the discussion were they allowed to jump into the discussion simply by speaking up (thus favoring students who are more aggressive or more comfortable with English) or did the instructor enforce a hand raising policy and try to include as many students in classroom involvement as possible.

All such matters are important in fostering an anti-discriminatory classroom and in eradicating discrimination in schools.