Girls in Western Australia Gain Right to Wear Pants and Shorts to School

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Students at a private school in Sydney, Australia. It is unclear how many schools across Australia require girls to wear skirts. CreditMichele Mossop/Fairfax Media

SYDNEY, Australia — Girls at public schools across the state of Western Australia will be allowed to wear pants and shorts to class, no longer restricted to only dresses, skirts or skorts.

The Education Department, in response to a complaint from an 11-year-old student, announced last week that it would amend a statewide dress code to offer girls more uniform options.

Students and parents have long voiced complaints about the policy, but the pushback has gained renewed momentum.

After Krystina Myhre, of Perth, discovered that her 11-year-old, Sofia, could not wear shorts to school, they wrote to the state’s education minister, Sue Ellery, calling for a change.

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Sofia Myhre, 11, wrote to the education minister of her state asking for girls to be allowed to wear shorts or pants to class. CreditKrystina Myhre

“My daughter and her friends have been quite unhappy about it for some time,” said Ms. Myhre, who is also a representative of Girls’ Uniform Agenda, a group that campaigns for girls to have the option of wearing shorts and pants. The rule restricted their movement, she said, making them worry about their body and space.

The dress code made it difficult to participate in athletic activities, Sofia said.

“I think it’s really unfair that my brothers have been allowed to wear shorts, and all through primary school I haven’t been allowed to except when I have sport,” she wrote in her letter. “I really love kicking the footy, netball and doing handstands at recess and lunch. It is annoying doing these things in a skirt.”

Ms. Ellery said that after meeting with the Myhres, she asked her department to ensure the policy was nondiscriminatory.

The change does not apply to private schools, but a number of private schools in Perth said this week that they planned to follow suit. “We are introducing trousers for girls next year, but it’s very much an option,” said Robert Henderson, principal of John XXIII College, a Catholic private school. “It’s certainly not throwing out the traditional uniform.” The decision came after consulting with employees, students and parents.

It is unclear how many schools across Australia require girls to wear skirts.

Girls’ Uniform Agenda is still compiling data. So far, about 70 percent of public high schools and all private high schools in Brisbane, Queensland, mandate wearing a skirt, said Amanda Mergler, a co-founder of the group, but a handful of private schools allow exceptions in the winter. That percentage is likely similar in other states, too.

Such a requisite, Dr. Mergler said, can perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes, leaving girls to believe that they should sit and look pretty, while boys may be perceived as active explorers. Dr. Mergler said she pulled her 6-year-old daughter from one school after a classmate told her she could not use the girls’ bathroom because she was wearing pants. “You look around schoolyards and where girls have had to wear dresses and skirts,” Dr. Mergler said. “They’re sitting down on the sidelines and watching boys run around and playing in shorts.”

One study in 2012 found that when 10-year-old girls wore sports uniforms over skirts, they were significantly more active during recess.

Most education departments let individual schools determine dress code, though they usually have a provision that the guidelines must comply with anti-discrimination policies. In New South Wales, for example, the department states that rules should accommodate the “diverse nature of the student population in the school and not disadvantage any student.” In Queensland, principals are urged to offer a “gender neutral” option.

Because of the ambiguity in language, Dr. Mergler said, schools can claim they are complying with the code by simply providing boys and girls uniforms. Parents in Queensland continue to lobby for an amended policy after an effort to allow girls to wear pants was rejected in May.

In Victoria, a petition to change the policy has drawn more than 20,000 signatures.

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Sofia’s letter pleading for change to the dress code in Western Australia.

Most arguments seem to rest on tradition.

“I think tradition plays a strong part in our schools, and we often want to honor those traditions,” Mr. Henderson said. His school will provide the option to wear pants, he said, but that should be for schools to determine on an individual basis.

“Certainly in private schools, there’s an element of longstanding traditions and parents sometimes thinking, ‘I went to that school and I wore that dress, and I want my daughter to wear that dress,’” Dr. Mergler said. “And the uniform is quite symbolic.”

When she first broached the idea of amending the dress code at her daughter’s school, some parents defended skirts as a way to accustom girls to wearing dresses in the workplace.

“In the real world, women get to choose,” Dr. Mergler said. “I choose today whether I put on pants or skirts, and we want girls to have the same choice at schools.”

As for Sofia Myhre, her mother said that the exercise was a good lesson in effecting change. “I think she yelped in joy actually and jumped up and down,” she said of her daughter’s reaction upon learning the policy would be amended. “She was really excited.”

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Teachers Brace for Tough Discussions After Charlottesville Violence

Educators in the recently rocked Virginia city are pondering how to broach racially charged topics with their students.

By Lauren Camera, Education Reporter Aug. 18, 2017

 

Hundreds of people march peacefully with lit candles across the University of Virginia campus on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, in Charlottesville, V.A., in the wake of violence in the city and against torch-lit white nationalist parade the same campus last Friday night. Students and residents gathered at the university's Rotunda in Charlottesville to sing together for an evening vigil that stood in stark contrast to last weeks torch-lit march of white supremacists.

Hundreds of people march peacefully with lit candles across the University of Virginia campus on Wednesday in Charlottesville, Va. (SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASHINGTON POST/GETTY IMAGES)

If you prompt Nikki Franklin’s former students with the words “the time is,” they’ll reply in unison: “always right to do right.”  That’s the advice Martin Luther King Jr. gave students during a commencement address at Oberlin College in 1965, and it’s the same mantra Franklin tries to instill in her students each year.

“It usually takes me the whole year to emphasize that and teach them that,” says Franklin, who grew up in northern Virginia and has been an elementary school teacher in the Charlottesville City Schools system since she graduated from the University of Virginia in 2004.

 

“The younger grades really do revolve around building the skills that will allow students to identify what is respect, how do you show respect and love,” she says. “In general, we focus on the broader skills that will create good citizens.  “Ever since this weekend, I’m thinking about how that needs to be emphasized more.”

When students in Charlottesville return to the classroom from summer break on Tuesday, a little more than a week will have passed since white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis descended on the city to protest a plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The gathering turned deadly when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring dozens.

 

“I don’t know what students saw, what kind of conversations they’ve had,” Franklin says. “I don’t know exactly what situations will come up. I realize that this year is going to be different. I can’t tell you exactly how.”

 

For teachers in Charlottesville and across the country, the violent rally put an indelible blot on the start of the school year, leaving many unsure of the type of support their students may need upon returning, and uncertain how they should talk about and teach what happened in their classrooms.

Among the repercussions of the events in Charlottesville has been a heightened re-examination of Confederate memorials, as well as buildings named for those who supported the Confederacy. According to a 2016 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, 109 public schools were still named for Confederate icons, about 25 percent of which had a student body that was majority black.

 

But the incident also has reignited a conversation among educators about the responsibility to teach U.S. history without sanitizing the country’s ugly moments – as shameful as they may be.

 

“I think teachers do have a responsibility to bring quality historical perspective to bear on historical issues that’s evidence-based,” says Zach Bullock, chairman of the history and social sciences department at Charlottesville High School, where he’s been teaching for seven years. “That’s more important now than ever before maybe.”

 

Those sentiments are bolstered by revelations in recent years about the content of some textbooks, such as a high school geography book in Texas that portrayed African slaves as an immigrant group and “workers.” A Connecticut school district, meanwhile, last year said it would pull a textbook after a parent complained about a passage that said slave owners “often cared for and protected [slaves] like members of the family.”

“I think what we have to do is help [students] come to good conclusions using good information, good news and certainly bringing a historical perspective to bear on it as well,” Bullock says. “Helping them wade through all of the things they hear and see.”

To that end, numerous organizations have resources posted online for teachers that are specifically geared toward helping them teach about race, diversity and empathy.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, has an empathy lesson plan. The National Network of State Teachers of the Year recently released a list of books for grade levels that have strong social justice themes, to help teachers create equitable learning environments. And educational development organization Facing History and Ourselves has resources to help teachers “foster humanity” in their classrooms in the wake of tragedies like Charlottesville.

 

“Educators will need to be even more reflective and teach the subject matter around race, character and civics in an intentionally deeper way,” Franklin says. “Every educator can revisit their own practice and find areas of improvement.”

 

On Twitter, the hashtag #CharlottesvilleCurriculum, started by an education writer for The Atlantic, prompted teacher and education organizations to highlight and share useful resources.

 

Many of the guides available stress the importance of case studies and field trips, followed up by conversations that can help students understand how historical events relate to modern ones.

 

In Charlottesville, students visit Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation, where slaves were used to cultivate tobacco and other crops, as early as second grade.

 

“For a lot of kids, that’s the first time they have a school experience with race in a sticky kind of way,” Franklin says, adding that she’s never had the same conversation twice when talking to students about race, diversity and the country’s history of slavery.

“I really let the students, their knowledge, their comfort lead those kinds of conversations, always with me in the background knowing I need to reinforce the parts of the conversation that get us to my students leaving our classroom knowing that love is important, that being a kind person is important,” she says.

Franklin hasn’t yet settled on a lesson plan for how she’ll approach the recent events that put her city and that of her students in the national spotlight.

 

“We have this hard work to do, but we’re going to do it,” she says. “We’re going to lean on each other.”

When Black Hair Violates The Dress Code

 

dress code.

Mai Ly Degnan for NPR

Raising teenage girls can be a tough job. Raising black teenage girls as white parents can be even tougher. Aaron and Colleen Cook knew that when they adopted their twin daughters, Mya and Deanna.

As spring came around this year, the girls, who just turned 16, told their parents they wanted to get braided hair extensions. Their parents happily obliged, wanting Mya and Deanna to feel closer to their black heritage.

But when the girls got to school, they were asked to step out of class. Both were given several infractions for violating the dress code. Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, north of Boston, bans hair extensions in its dress code, deeming them “distracting.”

When administrators asked the girls to remove their braids, Mya and Deanna refused.

The next day, Colleen and Aaron Cook came to the school where, they say, they were told the girls’ hair needed to be “fixed.” The Cooks refused, telling administrators that there was nothing wrong with the hairstyle.

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Mya and Deanna Cook, 16, with their parents, Aaron and Colleen Cook.

Courtesy of the Cook family.

As punishment, the girls were removed from their extracurricular activities, barred from prom, and threatened with suspension if they did not change their hair.

According to Colleen Cook, administrators at Mystic Valley have routinely reprimanded black students for dress code violations involving hair.

Other black girls have been pulled out of class, she says, lined up, asked if they had hair extensions and given detention if they did.

Colleen remembers when one student, who wore her hair in its natural texture, was taken out of class and told that she would need to relax, or chemically straighten, her hair before returning to school the next day.

In defense of their daughters, the Cooks brought in a yearbook to show school leaders the many white female students with hair extensions and dyed hair.

But, the Cooks say, the administration didn’t see that those students were in violation of the dress code, stating those hair alterations weren’t as obvious.

NPR reached out to Mystic Valley Regional for an interview several times without a response.

The Cooks contacted the NAACP, Anti-Defamation League, and the ACLU to file a complaint against the school, calling the dress code discriminatory to students of color, particularly black females.

After much pressure, the school suspended enforcement of the dress code until the end of the year.

Noticing a trend

In recent years, black girls have been sent home for wearing dreadshead wraps and even wearing their hair naturally.

In schools across the country, black student suspension rates are higher than their peers’. In charter schools, kindergarten through eighth grade, those rates are even higher.

In fact, Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, found that, at the highest suspending charter schools in the nation, the majority of students were black.

Though databases for infractions vary from state-to-state, in a recent analysis, half of suspensions in charter schools were for minor nonviolent offenses, including dress code violations.

Specifically, Losen’s research shows that in Massachusetts, the Cook’s home state, black students at charters lose 24 more days of instruction, due to suspension, than white students.

“Having a dress code is one thing, but denying an education for it defies logic,” says Losen.

Zero-tolerance leads to high suspension rates

Dorinda J. Carter Andrews, assistant dean of equity outreach initiatives at Michigan State University, says that black females are more likely to receive harsher discipline than their white and Latina counterparts.

Her research on zero-tolerance policies and their outcomes show that they enforce a marginalization of black girls in schools. Which can, in practice, criminalize their black identity.

“What does a headdress have to do with learning and success?” asks Carter Andrews.

She finds it strange that hair would even be part of a dress code. It’s not a choice, but an aspect of one’s body. Which raises a question: Is a zero-tolerance policy on hair — where students can be suspended without warning — less about a dress code and more about a racial code?

In her research, Carter Andrews has found that this type of policing has a detrimental effect on black girls in schools and how their peers view them, further enforcing negative stereotypes.

Black girls are often seen as being loud or aggressive, and are overly disciplined because of that stigma. Andrews finds that leads to low self-esteem and under-performance in school for these students.

Jamilia Blake, who looks at the “adultification” of black girls in schools, believes stereotypes of black adults are put on black children in schools, and black girls in particular.

Blake sees strict dress codes as a way of targeting certain students without using racial language. By using certain restrictions on hair styles and dress, school officials are enforcing the policing of black youth.

Toward the end of the school year, the Cook twins, Mya and Deanna, were allowed to participate in their extracurricular activities. That was after much upset from friends and supporters and a word of warning from the Massachusetts attorney general to school leaders at Mystic Valley Regional Charter.

Meanwhile, the Cooks continue to advocate for their daughters as the dress code fight goes on. The school hasn’t made any plans, publicly, to change the regulations around hair.

Colleen Cook wants people to know that they’re fighting not just for their daughters, but for the other black girls in the school who have felt victimized.

Mystic Valley has put out a statement in defense of its dress code policy, stating that the restrictions on hair extensions exist so that the school can promote equity. Hair extensions — it reads — can be expensive.

The Cooks believe this experience has helped them realize the world their daughters have to face.

“When our daughters walk with us, they have our white privilege. When they’re not with us, they’re black children,” says Aaron Cook.

Colleen agrees, adding, “I feel like the school is pushing us to raise them as white children, but that’s not who they are or who they’re going to be.”

The Cooks value their children’s black heritage and want them to be proud of themselves at home and at school. They’ll continue to fight to make that happen.

Rainbow Alliance Offers Safe Space For Students

Fordham Observer

From left: Auge, Doman, Muñoz and Francesco comprise the E-Board. (IAN SOKOLOWSKI/THE OBSERVER)

By MOISES MENDEZ 
Contributing Writer

When discussing the LGBT+ acronym, it’s always important to include the “+” at the end. This reminds us that our community doesn’t just include lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. The “+” is all inclusive, encompassing intersex, questioning youth, allies, those who identify as asexual, demisexual, polysexual/polyamorous, pansexual;  the list seems limitless and is added to constantly. When you’re a part of Rainbow Alliance at Fordham Lincoln Center,  you’ll always be included.

At the group’s first meeting, the theme was “Ice Cream and Identities.” Members were served ice cream and talked about all the identities within the LGBT+ alphabet soup. But, before we dove into the fun, we were all asked to introduce ourselves with our name, preferred pronouns, how we identify ourselves, and of course – the most important aspect of who we are – our favorite ice cream flavor. Some used terms that aren’t common but are gaining more attention as people continue to identify themselves as such. One member said that they were pansexual, another member identified as queer. These identities aren’t completely foreign, but are less used than someone identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual.  During this first meeting, the group also debunked the misconceptions surrounding the different identities in the LGBT+ acronym.

The members began to uncover some common misunderstandings about sexual identity and gender identity. We talked about the difference between pansexual and bisexual, what being aromantic means as opposed to asexual and various other topics. This meeting consisted of all the members teaching one another and clarifying these misconceptions. For example, one member said, “There’s a common misconception that bisexual and pansexual are the same thing.” This person continued to debunk and clarify why people thought this and educated everyone on the difference between the two.

Lyndsey Auge, FCLC ’19, who just began her first year as President of Rainbow Alliance, talked about what the main objective of the club was. Auge said, “The objective, mainly, is to provide a safe place for students within the LGBT+ community and to have a place that offers an education about different identities, as well as topics within the communities. Aside from being a place to get some education, it also serves as place to build a community and have a family on campus.”

Outside of the general meetings that they hold every Tuesday from 5:30-6:30 p.m. in the Atrium, they have events throughout the school year to expand their safe space to other LGBT+ students and allies on campus. “[One event] we have [is] ‘Cue The Spotlight’ in the fall. It’s an art showcase, in which you can show queer art, if you choose, or you can come and support queer artists. The night can consist of slam poetry, spoken word, music, etc. People have also shown paintings that they’ve done,” Auge said.

Their biggest event of the year is Queer Prom, which, even if you’re not a part of the LGBT+ community, you should be excited for. Auge explained, “At the end of the year, we host Queer Prom, which last year was Rocky Horror-themed. It’s a fun time to listen to music, dance and eat free food. There’s always free food.” Anytime a club mentions free food, everyone knows that students will always attend. Auge also mentioned that the group is looking into a trip to Big Gay Ice Cream downtown in East Village.

In addition to its exciting events planned for the year, Rainbow Alliance is one of the most accepting and inviting groups on campus. You don’t have to be queer to join and if you are queer,  they’ll make you feel proud to be queer. If you need a reason to join Rainbow Alliance, here’s what the president of the club had to say: “Rainbow is an accepting place, it’s a safe space for all to come and be who they are. It can also provide a space to learn about themselves and learn about others.” Auge explained that in Rainbow, you build a sense of family “that you really grow to care about.” If you’re still figuring yourself out, Rainbow Alliance is a safe and comfortable community to utilize.

Safe Spaces: Sanctuaries From Harrassmesnt

The Fordham Ram

The recent bias incident in Finlay Hall underscores the importance of students’ right to feel safe on campus. (Ram Archives)

By Matthew Michaels

Those who argue that safe spaces are part of a liberal agenda propagated by the “PC-police” unwittingly argue for people to feel unsafe. Safe spaces have historically been places where groups of people with common characteristics can join together and feel secure in the environment because they feel insecure in the larger general community. Safe spaces have been misinterpreted and the definition and purpose have been misaligned by the media, but the root issue and purpose remain.

The Fordham community was shaken up by a bias incident almost as soon as the school year commenced. On Sept. 3, residents of Finlay Hall woke up to find a message on their white board that was quite clearly offensive and intolerable. Our community cannot allow vicious attacks like those seen far too often — harassment of a group of people that serves to destroy our community.

As a resident assistant and a university tour guide, I know as well as anybody that Fordham encourages the use of the term “residence halls” in lieu of the near-ubiquitous “dorms.”

The school rightly believes, based on the Latin root of the word, that a dormitory is a mere place to sleep. By contrast, a residence hall is a place to live, to grow and to develop into men and women for others. In other words, a residence hall is a temporary home, and a home is a place where residents feel the utmost security. The development of character Fordham expects from its students cannot occur as long as any of us feel unsafe in our homes.
On tours, I often get the dreaded safety question: “Do students feel safe off campus?” What anxious parents should be asking is if students feel safe from on-campus abuse by those who make up our community. When one person in our community is threatened, we are all threatened. A home ceases to be a home. No person should feel unsafe at home.

Many people do not see the need for safe spaces because they do not feel unsafe. Those people are forgetting about the members of marginalized and historically repressed groups who do not feel safe. If you felt unsafe, you would appreciate safe spaces.

A common critique of safe spaces is that it coddles the minds of young adults. But I, and most advocates for safe spaces, agree that all college students should indeed be challenged. Making safe spaces around sexual orientation, religion or race is not preventing students from being challenged: it is preventing them from being harassed. Within the framework of safe spaces, students can simultaneously be safe and challenged. However, people should ever be challenged about something which they have no control over, such as their sexual orientation or skin color.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is one of the simplest and most well-known psychological theories, and it helps support the concept of safe spaces. The hierarchy is a pyramid with the most basic needs at the bottom and each level cannot be reached until the previous one is satisfied. Safety is second to the bottom as one of the most basic needs of the human experience, right after physiological needs such as air and water.

Without safety, members of our society are limited and will not reach other needs, like belonging and self-actualization. The lack of safe spaces would inhibit millions of Americans from reaching their full potential as they are stuck fighting for their own safety, something so many of us take for granted.

Safe spaces are likewise protected by Fordham’s Jesuit value of cura personalis. They promote the well-being of the whole person, mind and body. St. Ignatius would say that safe spaces are required to care for the whole person, and the entire society benefits from them.

The idea of safe spaces is that they provide vulnerable members of community with environments where they can be themselves while advancing the national conversation to progress and be more accepting. Safe spaces do not prohibit anybody’s freedom of speech. They protect people from being verbally assaulted from vitriolic bigots spewing venomous messages meant to incite harm and pain.

Fordham can sometimes be prone to a feeling of exceptionalism, but recent events have proven we are vulnerable to the same issues as any college campus. I have always been impressed with the student response to bias incidents like the one this month. However, condemning hateful actions after they occur is not enough. We must remember that if we do not make room for safe spaces on campus, there will be more incidents, and more students will be targets of hate, leading to a community where far too many are unsafe.

Matthew Michaels, GSB ’17, is a marketing major from Hightstown, New Jersey.

I’m Northwestern’s president. Here’s why safe spaces for students are important.

January 15, 2016

Morton Schapiro is president of Northwestern University.

 

College presidents have always received a lot of mail. But these days we get more than ever. Much of it relates to student unrest, and most of the messages are unpleasant.

Our usual practice is to thank the sender for writing and leave it at that. The combination of receiving more than 100 emails and letters a day and recognizing that the purpose of many writers is to rebuke, rather than discuss, leaves us little choice about how to respond.

But that certainly doesn’t mean we don’t think long and hard about the issues being raised. Some writers ask why our campus is so focused on how “black lives matter.” Others express a mixture of curiosity and rage about microaggressions and trigger warnings. And finally, what about those oft-criticized “safe spaces”? On this last topic, here are two stories. The first was told to me privately by another institution’s president, and the second takes place at my institution, Northwestern University.

A group of black students were having lunch together in a campus dining hall. There were a couple of empty seats, and two white students asked if they could join them. One of the black students asked why, in light of empty tables nearby. The reply was that these students wanted to stretch themselves by engaging in the kind of uncomfortable learning the college encourages. The black students politely said no. Is this really so scandalous?

I find two aspects of this story to be of particular interest.

First, the familiar question is “Why do the black students eat together in the cafeteria?” I think I have some insight on this based on 16 years of living on or near a college campus: Many groups eat together in the cafeteria, but people seem to notice only when the students are black. Athletes often eat with athletes; fraternity and sorority members with their Greek brothers and sisters; a cappella group members with fellow singers; actors with actors; marching band members with marching band members; and so on.

And that brings me to the second aspect: We all deserve safe spaces. Those black students had every right to enjoy their lunches in peace. There are plenty of times and places to engage in uncomfortable learning, but that wasn’t one of them. The white students, while well-meaning, didn’t have the right to unilaterally decide when uncomfortable learning would take place.

Now for the story from Northwestern. For more than four decades, we have had a building on campus called the Black House, a space specifically meant to be a center for black student life. This summer some well-intentioned staff members suggested that we place one of our multicultural offices there. The pushback from students, and especially alumni, was immediate and powerful. It wasn’t until I attended a listening session that I fully understood why. One black alumna from the 1980s said that she and her peers had fought to keep a house of their own on campus. While the black community should always have an important voice in multicultural activities on campus, she said, we should put that office elsewhere, leaving a small house with a proud history as a safe space exclusively for blacks.

A recent white graduate agreed. She argued that everyone needed a safe space and that for her, as a Jew, it had been the Hillel house. She knew that when she was there, she could relax and not worry about being interrogated by non-Jews about Israeli politics or other concerns. So why is the Black House an issue in the eyes of some alumni who write saying that we should integrate all of our students into a single community rather than isolate them into groups? I have never gotten a single note questioning the presence of Hillel, of our Catholic Center or any of the other safe spaces on campus.

I’m an economist, not a sociologist or psychologist, but those experts tell me that students don’t fully embrace uncomfortable learning unless they are themselves comfortable. Safe spaces provide that comfort. The irony, it seems, is that the best hope we have of creating an inclusive community is to first create spaces where members of each group feel safe.

I suspect this commentary will generate even more mail than usual. Let me just say in advance, thanks for writing.

The Real Reason Black Kids Benefit From Black Teachers

Photo

CreditK. L. Ricks

For black students, having even one black teacher can make a huge difference. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which found that that black boys who had a black teacher during their elementary school years were less likely to drop out of high school. It also linked the presence of black teachers to kids’ expectations of attending college.

I wasn’t surprised to hear this. I’m one of a small fraction of black teachers in my district. I know that, as much as many would like to think that good intentions and talent are the only important qualities for educators, students respond differently to teachers whom they can relate to.

The week before the study was released, I showed my ninth graders a film about Kalief Browder, a black teenager who was arrested at age 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack, spent three years on Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime and died by suicide after his release. I was moved by the impassioned mini-essays about police brutality and stop-and-frisk my students produced and the honest experiences they shared. I realized it’s not just that my students live these topics every day. It’s also that they are teenagers who have seen me interact with law enforcement during our trips off campus. They trusted me because they knew I lived them as well.

The fact that my skin color matches that of my students doesn’t give me any superpowers as an educator. But it does give me the ability to see them in a way that’s untarnished by the stereotypes, biases and cultural disconnects that fuel inequality and injustice — like the outlook that made Trayvon Martin, carrying Skittles, appear dangerously suspicious to the man who took his life. Like the assumptions that studies show make people see black boys as less innocent than their white peers.

I’m connected to them because of our shared racial identity. But it’s more than that: I’m familiar with the world they inhabit. I can see their charms and challenges, without the filters of “minority” or “urban” or “at risk.” And I show them, through the pizza I order for their birthdays. Through the full days without schoolwork that I offer them from time to time because life is hard and we all need a break. Through teenage comedy that I laugh at with them, before reminding them not to make said jokes in certain settings. Through the pictures of my wife I show them — my wife, who looks like us.

To be clear, many of my nonblack colleagues see our kids’ incredible potential just as I do and are powerful advocates for them. The ability to treat students like people and love the mess out of them doesn’t rely directly on race.

Still, we live in a world of zero-tolerance policies, where students are kicked out of class for the “insubordination” of refusing to move to a different desk or for drinking juice, and where everyday misbehavior can elicit a call to the authorities. I find myself wondering, have the adults responsible never wanted to sit near their friends? Did they not drink juice in high school? Can they not see younger versions of themselves in our kids?

Black students need teachers who understand that they’re capable of the full range of anxieties and insecurities, greatness and success, hilarious moments and generous surprises. The amount of melanin in my skin is neither necessary nor sufficient for this: It’s not a magic formula. But I can remember a time when I looked and sounded like my students. That helps me see myself in them, and all they’re capable of. I hope they can see themselves in me.