Educators Key to Racial Affinity


Complex problems require complex solutions.  Ferguson and Staten Island – and the countless other incidents of violent responses by police to citizens of color – are no different.  Multiple efforts are needed to address systematic police violence, especially towards black males.  Equipping police with cameras to monitor their actions may be a good idea, but it is not enough.  Changing police training and protocols – is necessary, but not enough.  Reforming our judicial system – e.g. appointing specialized commissions instead of juries to review cases involving police— are critical, but not enough.  Diversifying police forces and civic leadership—especially in minority-majority communities like Ferguson – is essential, but not enough.  Cultural competency education in schools, colleges, municipal agencies and corporations that facilitates open and honest dialogue on racism and prejudice – is important, but again not enough.

Another key strategy to add to this solutions list is diversifying educators across American schools and colleges. This past fall, Wheelock College’s president, Jackie Jenkins-Scott, and I wrote a commentary for Education Week calling for the need for more teachers of color, citing the persistent, national student-teacher diversity gap—while 48 percent of the nation’s K-12 public school students were of color, only 18 percent of their teachers are of color.  We suggest that increasing teachers of color would have a positive impact on the achievement and retention of minority students, which have become the majority of students in US public schools.

Another benefit that has particular relevance in light of recent events:  teachers of color not only can serve as skilled educators, but also in the role of cultural mediators and advocates, helping to counter negative stereotypes across all students and families.  In other words, they benefit students (and their families) simply by being in classrooms, serving as caring mentors, and steadily dismantling the perceptions, biases, discomfort, and ignorance all students bring with them to school.  And the time that our children spend with teachers is significant.  In fact, children spend on average 1,080 hours per year in school.  This often exceeds how much time they are with their parents.

Yet, today too many white students complete their education—K-12 and post-secondary—being taught and mentored by few if any educators of color.  As a result, an important opportunity to challenge stereotypes and establish greater affinity across racial lines is lost.  And these students are the same that become cops, educators, civic leaders, etc.

Further, once white students leave school, these opportunities often do not surface any more readily. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 75 percent of whites have “entirely white social networks without any minority presence.”  Thus, schools and colleges have an essential bridging role to play – exposing students to diverse educators and mentors with diverse perspectives. In turn, over time, these students will be more likely to lead professional and personal lives characterized by greater understanding and affinity for all members of our society.

Jake-resized-600.JPGJacob Murray is the executive director of the Aspire Institute, at Wheelock College, which seeks to improve education and social services for children and families in Boston.