It is time to end racism in instruction
The time has long since passed for providing instruction, either in a traditional classroom setting or online, that is at a bare minimum culturally relevant. More important is historical accuracy.
It is hard to put into words how much everyone and everything has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of teachers, students, professors, and parents have transitioned from traditional classroom settings to online instruction. For some, the transition to online instruction has led to a greater appreciation for highly-trained educators. The transition of online instruction has also resurrected discussions about the digital divide in America. While the mode of transferring knowledge is critically important, the material must be historically accurate. One need only look to two seemingly unrelated events to support this claim.
Many educators have made a good faith effort, some Herculean efforts, to create opportunities for elementary-aged students to stay intellectually engaged during the stay-at-home orders. This has included the use of popular websites and apps like Brain Pop for science and social studies. Unfortunately, assignments on the site, which include short movies and quizzes fail to communicate the ugly truths about the roles of race and racism in the American Revolution, the Constitutional Convention, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Not everyone has the benefit of at-home instructors that can fill in the missing pieces given their expertise or lived experiences. Through funding from federal agencies, several school districts revised their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curriculum to ensure instruction is more culturally relevant than in the past. Among the intended outcomes are that more Black and brown students will have greater access to computing courses and complete them successfully. The promotion of culturally relevant pedagogy is great but hampered by historical inaccuracies across the curriculum.
The general unwillingness to account for race and racism throughout American history and in contemporary times has led to persistent racial disparities on a host of sociological outcomes that are only exacerbated events like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession, and now, with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is manifested in the treatment of Black journalists during White House Press briefings about efforts to “flatten the curve,” and when the leaders refer to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” It is no wonder that reports of anti-Asian sentiments and anti-Asian violence appear more prevalent than the days and months before the pandemic.
The dangers of the nation’s failure to address the legacy of race and racism were also evident in a reported tweet by a coach at an elite football program where the majority of the student-athletes in the university’s highest revenue-generating sports are Black men. The tweet and support for the coach who posted it point to the dangers of promoting historical myths and inaccuracies.
According to news reports, the coach tweeted an image of a noose (which historically signal a lynching). Although the tweet was deleted and the coach said he did not mean to offend anyone, fans are coming to his defense. Most of the fans, who are almost all white, support the coach and do not consider the tweet offensive. As is often the case, many posted comments stating that Black people are taught to see race in everything, even if race is not an issue. The fact that the coach still has a job and that no official statements condemning his tweet, or racial offensive actions at other institutions, may be read as support for the coach’s and the fans’ racial ideology. At least one Black male student-athlete has decided to “vote with his feet” and entered the portal transfer. He views the tweet in the appropriate context of lynching as do the Black professors at the institution who expressed their concerns about the comments.
What many scholars consider historical lynching was extremely violent and was one of the nation’s earliest forms of domestic terrorism. Lynching was religious and ritualistic and meant to send a message to the person upon whom physical harm was enacted and to the broader community. The messages were different for Black and white people. For Black people, the message was that they were subhuman, inferior to white people, and relegated to the bottom of the social structure. The message for white people was that they were chosen and superior people to all and that it was every white person’s duty to maintain the racial status quo. My colleagues, Drs. Finley and Gray, and I, have written about white virtual mobs, historic lynching, and high-tech lynching, as a way to expand our understanding of technologies and the use of technologies to enforce social systems that remain separate and unequal.
The time has long since passed for providing instruction, either in a traditional classroom setting or online, that is at a bare minimum culturally relevant, but more importantly, it must be historically accurate. Truth-telling about how America became and remains a nation so deeply divided by race and racism and the material and nonmaterial consequences of that even amid a global pandemic should move the pendulum a bit closer towards justice at such time that the nation emerges from these latest threats. We must start school-age children in the hopes that they become more civically engaged and culturally adept adults.
By Lori Latrice Martin, PhD