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Advancing and Advocating for Social Justice & Equity

Should I see my students as the same?

How many times have you heard a teacher say: 
“I don’t see color in my classroom, I treat all of my students the same.”

What about the statement: 
“We are all just people and my classroom is one big melting pot--race is not important.” 

Simply put, students are different; race is one component that establishes such difference. As a consequence, the acknowledgment and consideration of race is imperative. Yes, race talk creates discomfort, anxiety and can, at times, yield conflict (Lee, 2012; Singleton & Hays, 2008); however, race talk is necessary in order to facilitate a critical multicultural, culturally responsive educational experience that supports academic success for all students.

Acknowledgment of difference is pivotal in order to create an effective learning experience in which you work to connect the students’ immediate community to the classroom. To do this, teachers need to invest in learning how to talk about race (Lee, 2012; Pollock, 2004), as well as understanding how and what they feel about it (Singleton, 2013; Singleton & Hays, 2010). Markowitz and Puchner (2014) conducted a qualitative study in which they found that preservice and in-service teacher participants, both White and those of color, believed that “good people are not only free from racism, they also do not notice race” (p. 74). This study, and other scholarship (See e.g. Pollock, 2004; Singleton & Hays, 2010) suggested that, most of the time, teachers believed that it is better to ignore race rather than acknowledge it. Lee (2012) writes, “Many individuals have been taught that in polite society, it is not okay to acknowledge difference” (p. 49).

But this is a misguided belief that directly impacts teachers’ ability to manipulate their instruction to respond to culturally diverse learners. When a teacher assumes a “colorblind” philosophy, essentially the teacher is “preventing [herself/himself] from knowing something about that student’s culture and community--and an important part of the students….If a teacher is insisting on being colorblind, then the teacher is putting herself in a position of saying, ‘I don’t know about the kid’s background, I don’t believe that’s really important, and I’m not going to learn about it’” (Miner & Peterson, 2014, p. 43). Yet from students' perspectives, ethnic identity is very important, although students may well struggle to connect their ethnic identity with an academic identity (Alvarez McHatton, Shaunessy, Hughes, Brice, & Ratliff, 2007).

Truly effective teaching requires recognizing and responding to differences, especially racial differences (Lee, 2012). With certainty, the avoidance of race significantly impacts the way teachers teach, as well as the way students learn. The concept of “color-blindness” can perpetuate deficit ideology, in which teachers’ initial approach and ongoing interaction with students is based solely on perceived and stereotyped weaknesses rather than strengths (Gorski, 2011). Colorblindness also supports hegemonic curriculum and race privilege in the classroom, as “othered” cultural knowledge is often subverted by the dominant voice and knowledge. With all of this information in mind, it becomes clear that the answer to your question is no, you should not view all of your students as the “same;” your students are different and those differences should be considered as you develop curriculum, consider pedagogy and plan instruction. In fact, research shows clearly that students of color achieve at higher levels when they are able to connect their racial or ethnic idenitity with an achievement identity, and all students benefit when they learn to verbalize how we are similar and different, and express curiosity about others in a respectful manner

In a journal entry, reflect on the following questions:
  1. How am I thinking about race, in general, and its place (or absence) in my classroom and curriculum?
  2. Am I using my students’ lived realities to build a culturally relevant learning experience in my classroom?
  3. How would any disregard I have for my students’ race and ethnicity impact equity in the classroom?
  4. Is my curriculum and pedagogy undergirded by privilege? Have I built a space in my curriculum for students’ voices, cultural knowledge and cultural capital to guide learning?

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Alvarez McHatton, P., Shaunessy, E., Hughes, C., Brice, A., Ratliff, M.A. (2007). You gotta represent: Ethnic identity development among Hispanic Adolescents. Multicultural Perspectives, 9(3), 12-20. 

Griner A. & Stewart M. (2013) Addressing the achievement gap and disproportionality through the use of culturally responsive teaching practices. Urban Education 48(4), 585-621.

Gorski, P. C. (2011). Unlearning deficit ideology and the scornful gaze: Thoughts on authenticating the class discourse in education. In R. Ahlquist, P. Gorski, & T. Montaño (Eds.), Assault on kids: How hyper-accountability, corporatization, deficit ideologies, and Ruby Payne are destroying our schools (pp. 152–176). New York: Lang. 

Lee, N. (2012). Culturally responsive teaching for 21-century art education: Examining race in a studio art experience. Art Education 65(5), 48-53.

Markowitz, L., & Puchner, L. (2014). Racial diversity in schools: A necessary evil? Multicultural Perspectives, 16(2), 72-78.

Miner, B., & Peterson, B. (2014). Diversity vs. White Privilege: An interview with Christine Sleeter. In W. Au (Ed.), Rethinking multicultural education: Teaching for racial and cultural justice (pp. 39-46). Milwaukee WI: Rethinking Schools.  

Pollock, M. (2004). Colormute: Race talk dilemmas in an American school. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Singleton, G. E. (2013). Courageous conversations about race. 

Singleton, G. E., & Hays, C. (2008). Beginning courageous conversations about race. In M. Pollock (Ed.), Everyday antiracism: Getting real about race in school (pp.18-23). New York: The New York Press. 

For more information regarding colorblind ideology and colorblind racism, please refer to the following scholarship: 

Au, W. (2011). Rethinking Multicultural education: Teaching for racial and cultural justice. Milwaukee WI: Rethinking Schools. 

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2010). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism & racial inequality in contemporary America. 3rd Ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.