In a recent article, a Baltimore special education teacher believes that the teachers’ role in fighting racism in education involves uniting students to embrace concepts of love rather than hate. While it is plausible to teach children not to hate, teaching children only not to hat will not render the racial injustices ineffective. Teachers can begin the fight against racism in education by evaluating the differences in verbal communication.

According to the article, it is not enough to just tell them the brutal truth. We must help children find ways to process complex emotions and be change agents in this world. Study civil rights movements by engaging students in a local campaign and find parallels. Show them heroes of all races working together to combat injustice, and point this out explicitly. Have students work on real projects to help in their communities, so they can channel their feelings into positive actions. Allow them to address their confusion. If you don’t provide children with safe places to talk, process, and act, who will?

Race is something that can’t be avoided and it is better understood when discussed honestly. Children are social beings, sensitive, and easily influenced. When teaching sensitive lessons such as civil rights, we cannot step away from the truth, but we must provide space to talk and ask questions. You do not have to be an expert to do this, as there are great online resources to help you facilitate conversations with your students. By providing education that moves beyond the facts, we help promote character traits like the empathy to identify with the humanity in others, the courage that it takes to be upstanders, and the resilience and perseverance to keep pushing when the odds feel against you.

Yes, racism exists today, but we as teachers can defeat this type of hate by uniting our children with the idea that love is more powerful. We can listen to their hearts, explore their fears, and clarify their misunderstandings with the same planning and thoughtfulness put into an academic lesson. They will be tested on this daily.

The problem with most school initiatives designed to fight racism in education is that they want to blame the children and the parents instead of exposing the racial differences and empowering teacher to eliminate racism.

What are some of the verbal communication biases will inhibit effectively fighting racism in education?

Verbal Communication

White Americans’ unfamiliarity with the Black communication style results in a misunderstanding by the American mainstream. The majority of culture in the schools arises because of differences in the communication and interaction system. Lower-class Blacks in the United States do not communicate the same way other American do.

Blacks not only debate the idea; they also debate the person while Whites debate the idea rather than the person debating the idea. Blacks will often probe beyond a given statement to find out where a person is “coming from,” in order to clarify the meaning and value of a particular behavior or attitude. Black students contrast White middle-class communication when they speak over others’ voices and repeat the communication until they are responded to or until they have someone’s attention. Black communities accept the approach that their children use by interrupting others or speaking out of turn, which is an unacceptable school practice, and teachers view this behavior as disruptive and inappropriate. Anglo Americans place a high value on allowing one person at a time to speak to indicate respect for an individual.

Hispanic students use specific language and speech patterns that may inhibit positive teacher-student relationship development. Puerto Ricans involved in the decision-making process may use rising intonation, qualifiers, questions, and hedges. Puerto Ricans make decisions jointly where one person speaks and others join in and respond until the group makes a decision. Anglo Americans value one person speaking at a time to indicate respect for the individual. Puerto Ricans use indirectas, a form of speech, which is an indirect way of making something known. Hispanic students are more likely to participate in group consensus decisions rather than democratic processes.

Most Hispanics and non-Hispanic can carry out multiple conversations without anyone being considered rude or discourteous. Educators assume that a child who is still and quiet has a better chance of learning than one who is noisy and active. White teachers may have difficulties in understanding minority students due to differences in dialect and language.

A great start for teachers to effectively fight racism in education is to begin by becoming aware of the verbal and non-verbal differences.

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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
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