Monday, October 18, 2010

Racism and the Achievement Gap

Chris Webber:
Weissglass, J. (2001, January). Racism and the achievement gap. Education Week, 20(43), 49-72.

I chose to write on this article because I had heard that Mr. Weissglass had spoken very well at the UN conference against racism which was held in South Africa earlier in the decade. Weissglass begins by stating how disappointing it is that the world’s richest country has failed so miserably in reducing the achievement gap between white students and students of color. Weissglass contends that since schools are the “primary formal societal institutions that young people encounter” schools are very responsible to ensure that all racism is countered. If schools fail to do so the deepseated racism that is present in American society will simply be perpetuated.

Although Weissglass seems to disagree with standardized tests because they tend to favor Caucasian children, he did offer some interesting ideas on the tests themselves. Weissglass mentions that although eugenic ideas and organizations tended to disappear after Nazism ended with the defeat of Germany in WWII…“the ideas persist, often in subtler and more sophisticated forms, and affect our society and our schools”.

The article explains that Caucasian teachers who have been able to close the achievement gap in their classrooms have themselves overcome the effects that racism and the stereotyping of others had on them. Well intended teachers, hard work and an excellent curriculum will not according to Weissglass close the achievement gap as effectively as communities where “it is safe enough for the invisible to be made visible, where whites can listen to people of color talk about how they and their ancestors have experienced racism, and where people of color can listen to whites talk about how they saw racial prejudice in operation and how it affected them”. The article suggests that as teachers we should set up “healing communities” where people can talk about their experiences with racism. It also says that teachers who are uncomfortable with this should consider how fruitless reform has been so far and that they should “risk new approaches” in dealing with the achievement gap.

This article is very relevant to my practice as a teacher as I always saw the issue of narrowing the achievement gap as something that had to be sorted out with either the government or school district in which I teach. This article made me think about what I can do as a teacher to help rectify the problem.

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