Most teachers are white and middle class

Even the new teachers, fresh out of education school, are white and middle class. So what?

Well, check out the students, and notice the drama: the kids are increasingly poor and non-white, come from widely disparate cultures with their languages and dialects of English. How prepared are you, Mr. White Middle Class American Teacher, to listen to and dialog with these poor children of color?

This article the NCTE linked to describes the work of Dr. Ametha Ball of Stanford and Pittsburgh’s Duquesne College. Dr. Bell helps white middle-class teachers understand “African-American English.” One of the interesting interpretations of the oblique and proud public statements African American students are wont to shout out in the classrooms of white teachers goes back to slavery days. From the article:

One common form of expression among African-Americans is “signifying,” which she described as making an indirect, often sarcastic comment that seems to have a different surface meaning.

Among black teens, she said, “someone may say, ‘I really like those shoes you have on. Where’d you get ’em?’ and everyone will start laughing because they may know they came from Kmart or Wal-Mart.”

This kind of indirect speech might have developed when slaves wanted to convey one meaning to each other and different one to their owners, she said. “I believe it was [African-American novelist] Richard Wright who said ‘We speak our tongue in front of the lords of the land, yet they don’t understand exactly what we are saying.’

One of the things this white middle class teacher needs to do is incorporate forms of literacy like the interspersed subjective and objective narratives of African-American story-telling.

It could be part of the “action plan” I need to develop during this “Ethics and Foundations of Public Education” class.

photo courtesy of WILL, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois

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