Discrimination exists on many different levels and is both conscious and unconscious. It has also existed from the time the first colonists arrived in America and decided to make it their 'own'. They did so through conquering and oppression. The European culture of the colonists became the mainstream culture almost immediately. This included the 'Protestant ethic', which emphasizes hard work and the accumulation of property. It also includes the use of discipline and authority in child rearing (chapter one, page 9). This was in total disagreement to the Native American practices and became a focal point for change when the education system began to be concerned with the Natives. The need to 'force' the non-mainstream culture to conform to the established mainstream is the primary means by which education contributes to the development and preservation of bigotry and prejudice.
The education system in the United States has a long history of ethnic segregation, both formal (adjudicated by law) and informal. It has been argued that segregated programs are based on the idea of de-culturizing the student, rather than incorporating the culture in question into the learning experience. This is done through a program designed to eliminate the native language and culture. For instance, there have been times when the education system has eliminated or simply ignored the laws concerning attendance, especially in the case of Mexican-American farm workers' children who were needed to work in agriculture during planting and harvest seasons (Spring, 2003).
Part of the educational program includes observance of national holidays and certain celebrations. Another of the ways the education system has contributed to bigotry has been to exclude, dismiss and, on occasion, denounce holidays and celebrations particular to minority cultures. Schools have also had a tendency to use textbooks, examples and parameters of control based on mainstream American (white) culture and exclude material and, or, information pertinent to the child's own cultural experience and, or, background. Joel Spring has provided a list of the methods used in deculturalization that includes segregation and isolation; forced change of language; curriculum content mirroring mainstream culture; alternative culture not allowed and the use of teachers from mainstream culture (page 90).
It can also be argued that racial bias exists in teachers' assessment of students' academic abilities and, in a 'catch 22' ironic twist, that the negative perceptions of teachers influences students' academic performances to the detriment of the student. Teachers (especially if they are not of the same cultural background or have not had any training) bring their own perspectives, biases and prejudices into the classroom setting. Difference is often defined as a shortcoming and, or, impediment to learning, rather than as a tool for greater understanding. Without meaning to, the teacher may have expectations of minority students that are based on the mainstream cultural norms. Paulo Friere (2000), suggests that teachers have taken a 'narrative' role in the education process. That is, the teacher provides information that the student must somehow absorb, interpret and integrate into their own knowledge base. They are then expected to 'prove' the knowledge has been achieved by narrating it back to the teacher in some form or another.
Discipline in a school setting is, unfortunately, often based on racial prejudices and misconceptions as well as academic performance. Making policies that allow for leniency based on ethnic origin is as bad as punishing someone because of their origin. The answer would seem to be to develop a clear and concise policy that would apply to the indiscretion rather than to the individual and to have a system for re-evaluation and arbitration. Legislation has been mandated that schools attain unitary status in their treatment of students. There are a number of changes to the current system that could be implemented specifically in order to address racial, religious or ethnic biases.
Education can contribute to the overcoming of racist, bigoted, and hate-inducing ideas in society through a number of direct and indirect means. For instance, it has been the habit of the education system to provide classes that are specific to ethnic minorities. Many of these, such as Black history, were implemented with the idea of decreasing discrimination by providing a different perspective. It now seems more plausible that a different strategy is appropriate. Rather than identify classes…