So a friend of mine, the Rev. Dr. Shelley D. Best, posted this selfie on Facebook a few months back:
If you can’t read what she wrote to accompany the selfie, it says:
In a room full of folks talking about us (and the educational achievement gap) that don’t look like us… hmmmm …
I saw the original post (back in September) and thought, “Yep,” and then moved on. There’s been a lot of research about cultural competency in the classroom, and the necessity of all of us celebrating the tapestries that are America’s classrooms. But even I, a Caucasian with a deep desire to be a very good teacher, know that I live with limits. I can be empathetic and caring and I will still never know what it is to live in the world as an African American, a Latina, an anything but what I am. I am a combination of my ethnicity, my religion, my gender and my perch on the food chain. And that’s even though I’ve climbed the economic ladder from my origin, no longer cleave to the entirety of my religion of origin, am not that girlie, and my ethnicity is a hodge-podge but I seem to favor more the Irish and the Native.
Regardless, the lessons I learned growing up white in southwestern Missouri are different from the lessons Shelley, who is also a Hartford school board member, learned growing up black in northwestern Connecticut. And when I acknowledge that, both I and my students benefit — or at least, that’s how things have worked out so far.
You can’t tell a person how they should react to something, but the woman framed in the picture behind Best, an award-winning teacher, was hurt to be in the photo, and took her inclusion — from this Sunday Courant story, stripped above the fold across the front page — to be a comment on her (in)ability to teach children who are other than white. Her reaction is her reaction, and despite my snotty headline on this blog post, I’m sorry she felt that way, sorry that she had even a moment of sadness or anger over this. But what about Best’s post was incorrect? From the Courant story, by Vanessa de la Torre:
In a Hartford school system where the vast majority of students are “black and brown,” Best said, most of the people leading the schools, classrooms and curriculum are white. The district, which has tried recruiting prospects from historically black colleges and minority career fairs, has identified three-quarters of city teachers and half of school principals as white.
Nationally, about 82 percent of public school teachers are white, according to a 2013 U.S. Department of Education report.
By the [Hartford] district’s count, there are about 1,400 white teachers in city schools. An additional 226 Hartford teachers are black, 184 are Latino, and 34 are classified as “other.”
As always when it comes to race, we’re missing a golden moment for a good discussion if we’re too intent on protecting our feelings. I would hope the conversation would veer from “But I’m not racist!” to what it means to live in a multi-faceted, multi-cultural world. We could use a conversation like that.