There are many controversial issues related to education and racism, none the least of which is identifying the relationship between racism and student achievement (Constantine, 2002). The aim of this paper will be an examination of what attitudes and beliefs impact a students ability to achieve and succeed in the classroom, as well as an examination of what methods must be adopted to combat racism effectively in the classroom.
Racism is an important topic to examine, particularly as more and more school systems within the United States are becoming racially and ethnically diverse (Constantine, 2002). Many teachers, school counselors and even students often feel unequipped to address the needs of students that come from diverse cultural backgrounds (Constantine, 2002). Conflict and chaos in the classroom often results when the needs of racially and ethnically diverse students are ignored.
One critical factor relating to the controversy surrounding racism is identification of racism as a real problem. There are many people that still will not acknowledge that racism is a problem in the realm of education (Constantine, 2002). There are those that would claim that racism is simply a means for certain groups to cry wolf, or gain attention when they feel they are lacking it. However the wealth of attention that has been directed at the subject of racism should be enough to confirm that racism is a vital topic and problem that still exists within the modern day classroom.
Conquering Racism in the Classroom
There have been numerous studies that suggest that racism contributes to low self-esteem and poor student achievement/outcomes (Donaldson, 1996; Constantine, 2002). Because of this it is vital that educators identify avenues for eliminating racism in the classroom. One of the most controversial aspects of racism however is that many teachers inadvertedly perpetuate it, by not recognizing and attending to the needs of culturally diverse students.
Many studies have shown that racist attitudes exist and are particularly strong among educators that don't have a strong cultural or ethnically diverse background (Sue, Arrendondo & McDavis, 1992; Constantine, 2002). It is easy to conclude then that racism is rampant, given the predominately homogenous make up of teachers in most schools. A majority of educators are in fact, white, which may in and of itself lend itself to increased incidences of racism in the classroom. Many educators have self reported that they tend to have racist notions or at the very minimum hold stereotypes about certain students given their ethnic and cultural background, even though socially this is unacceptable (Constantine, 2002).
The question arises then how does one combat and conquer racism in the classroom? This topic has been debated time and time again. Educators are still attempting to develop a solid, uniform and cohesive plan for overcoming racist attitudes in the classroom. Racist attitudes remember, can result not only from inattention but also to miscommunication and misunderstanding in the classroom. Misunderstanding should be quite common in an ethnically diverse setting, because people coming from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences will undoubtedly communicate, interact and even behave differently than what might be considered the 'norm' (Constantine, 2002). In addition, culturally diverse students typically have varying beliefs, values, attitudes and morals that may or may not coincide with those held by other students, faculty and staff.
Thus the idea of multiculturalism comes into play, which many believe is the key to conquering racism in the classroom today.
Multiculturalism in the Classroom
One of the biggest buzzwords in education of late has been 'multiculturalism' (Sue, Arredondo & McDavis, 1992). Multiculturalism is the adoption of attitudes, behaviors and beliefs that are in tune with members of differing cultures, ethnic orientations and races. Multiculturalism has become a staple of society and must be adopted and cherished in the classroom if racism is to be conquered in the near future. Whether or not one is willing to admit it, racism exists in the classroom, whether it is the result of attitudes indoctrinated in the teachers instructing methods or among the homogenous students that fail to recognize the ethnic diversity inherent in the classroom setting (Constantine, 2002).
Constantine (2002) goes on to note that higher levels of racism are associated with lower levels of self reported multicultural competence particularly among teachers and school counselors, which suggests that the less well informed teachers are of multicultural competencies the more likely racism is to exist in the classroom. Multicultural competencies can be defined in a number of ways, but include the methods that people adopt to interact with, understand and partake in different cultures and races. Sue, Arredondo & McDavis (1992) early on in their research suggest that multicultural competencies can be adopted as teachers and counselors begin to become aware of their own suppositions or assumptions, values and even their personal biases toward members of other cultures and races. When one does this, they are according to the authors better able to understand the "worldview" of people who are different from them. At that point in time it becomes possible to start developing strategies and different methods for addressing and overcoming racial issues (Sue, Arredondo & McDavis, 1992).
Unfortunately racism is more prevalent than ever within the school system I the United States, even thought there are those that would argue that racism is an issue of the past. Racism has many deleterious effects on students, including encouraging feelings of low self-worth and depression, and influencing student's achievement (Donaldson, 1996). Students subjected to racism are more likely to suffer from poor grades and bee seen as lazy or incompetent than non-minority students (Donaldson, 1996).
Unfortunately, those that do cry 'racism' are often rejected or criticized for bringing the issue to the forefront (Donaldson, 1996). Many claim that people complaining about racism do so only to get attention or as a means of looking for a crutch, however this couldn't be more false in the eyes of students who are victims of racism (Donaldson, 1996). Racism comes in many forms ... It comes in the form of mistreatment, of abuse and even inattention or inadequate attention from professors and instructors who should be working the most to ensure that minorities feel accepted and understood in the classroom.
Racism will most likely be overcome when teachers and other members of the educational staff start identifying what factors are inhibiting them from achievement multicultural competency. Though the subject is controversial, many in the field do admit that multicultural competency is vital for the livelihood of students and teachers alike. Teachers need to start focusing on becoming more aware of their own biases in order to better understand the needs of an ethnically and racially diverse student base. They can then transform those biases into a better understanding and start identifying what skills they need to not only understand students from a diverse cultural background, but also adopt strategies that will enable students to become more adept at acknowledging, embracing and accepting racial and cultural differences (Sue, Arredondo & McDavis, 1992).
It is not uncommon for students to mimic the actions of those that instruct them; this is particularly the case for young students who model their actions on those of others. Thus if multiculturalism is promoted at an early age, say at the elementary level, there may be some chance that in the near future racism in the school systems can be defeated entirely, as teachers and students start becoming more and more aware of the benefits of an ethnically and racially diverse population of learners.
Though may people argue that racism is a thing of the past, it is still a hot topic among educators and staff in today's school systems. As the world continues to become more globally focused, and as classrooms become more diverse reflecting the culturally and racially diverse population, it is…