VIDEO: One of the Greatest Threats to Our Black Students Is the Teachers Who Don't Believe in Them

Slowly education activists of every stripe are warming to this reality: There is no way to improve education without putting key stakeholders—students, parents and educators—at the center of all we do. For Black and Brown communities understanding that truth is even more critical to future success. The potential of Black children is always in jeopardy when their fiercest champions—Black parents and Black educators—aren’t at the front of public education policy debates. That being so, I am grateful to Education Post for the opportunity to spend a Saturday morning last year in Chicago engaging with students, families and educators about a range of school issues. Now, Education Post has released videos from that day. For me, it’s a major contribution to the weather-worn back-and-forth between supporters of traditional district schools and school reformers, which too often is really just an exchange of talking points in service of predetermined policy positions. The Belief Gap Sometimes it's the simplest words that have the most impact. When one mother said “I had a teacher that told me 'your kind won’t amount to anything,'" it struck a chord. I remember a particularly rowdy day in eighth grade when our teacher lost control of her classroom. Exasperated, she said “you are one of the most ignorant group of Negroes I’ve ever seen.” That was followed by a few remarks of why our kind never make it out of the hood. Our kids receive far too many of those messages from educators, and it causes them to internalize self-doubt and question their ability. That is one of the greatest threats to Black education. It's a malignant gap between what people in education and politics believe Black youth are capable of academically, and what Black youth are capable of in life. That’s the belief gap, and it’s the father of all other gaps. Believing that their race, family, or community automatically diminishes their ability is a compounding worldview that weakens their confidence, motivation and resilience. From what I heard from students in Chicago, they rarely get the benefit of assumed intelligence. If we aren't fighting that problem, we're not fighting enough. The students in Chicago said many of the same things I’ve heard from students in locations as diverse as Seattle, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. [pullquote position="right"]Students know when they are being shortchanged. They know when a school is shuffling them from grade to grade with no expectation for them to reach their potential. They know when worksheets and classroom movies are taking the place of actual teaching. More than anything, they are better evaluators of teacher efficacy and disposition than we ever acknowledge. They want more demanding work. They want safe school schools where adults have things under control. And you don’t have to tell them, they very well know the implications of not succeeding in school.
Photo of focus group participant.