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The importance of Black educators

Mar. 1, 2018
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I’ve probably had about 60 teachers in my "career" as a student, and I can count on one hand the number who were Black. Interestingly, the fact that I had enough to count actually makes me privileged compared to other students across the country. Sickening. 

According to a study co-authored by Johns Hopkins economist Nicholas Papageorge, “low-income black students who have at least one black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate high school and consider attending college.” Similarly, “having at least one black teacher in third through fifth grades [will] reduce a black student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29 percent.”

Naturally, having Black educators positively influences Black students; by acting as role models, these teachers serve as proof that if you’re Black (and especially if you’re Black and male), you’re not solely destined for a life in prison. Studies show that students of other races also benefit from having Black educators. High school is a time for students to begin to mold their own perspectives of the world and compare and contrast those perspectives with others’ outlooks. Yet if students come to school every day and are taught by the same types of people, with similar perspectives, their minds will never fully open. These students will either get to places of higher education with more diverse students and faculty and experience major culture shocks, or, should they wind up at a homogenous school similar to their high school, continue through life with their closed-minded perspectives.

As a society, we take advantage of what our teachers have to offer. When you think about it, many of the positions that we take on controversial issues are based on the historical context that we’ve picked up from our teachers in school. So think about having a white teacher teach African-American history. Can you imagine the limited perspective that teacher would provide?

This is not the fault of individual teachers, as many teachers get their curricula straight from textbooks. The problem is that these textbooks are often written by white men. So not only is there limited information about things such as the women’s rights movement and the civil rights movement, or really any minority group-affiliated movement, but the small portions that are about these movements are often quite inaccurate. A Texas textbook states: “Some slaves reported that their masters treated them kindly. To protect their investment, some slaveholders provided adequate food and clothing for their slaves. However, severe treatment was very common. Whippings, brandings, and even worse torture were all part of American slavery.” Look at the last two sentences. Who contributed to the “whippings,” “brandings,” and “worse torture?” By removing the nouns associated with these actions, one might not understand that the slave-owners were the masterminds behind this violence. This provides a thoroughly skewed sense of history.

So much of what this country teaches about African Americans (let alone the fact that barely any high schools teach students about African history) is antithetical to the purpose of teaching, which is to broaden the perspectives of students. But there is no room for sugar-coating in the classroom. Another sentence in the same textbook reads: “Families were often broken apart when a family member was sold to another owner.” Again, by simply using the passive voice instead of the active voice, the (white) authors of these textbooks were able to minimize the role of slave owners.

I’m not saying that having all Black educators would be a cure-all. There still remains the major issue of the white authors of the textbooks. What we need to do is be more inclusive of Black people as a whole. And this does not just apply to high school educators: it is crucial that we integrate Black educators into the school system as early as daycare and preschool, so that by the time students get to elementary, middle, and high schools, they will already have experienced Black educators. Most importantly, perhaps, it’s crucial that there be more Black educators in college. College is a time for people to broaden their perspectives, and for people to get out of whatever homogenous bubble in which they may have grown up. But if the faculty in college is not diverse, let alone if the student population is not diverse, then what perspective are these students gaining?