Brown, P. C. (2011) Exploring/ Exploding the Boundaries of Inclusive teaching: Social Class confronts Race and Gender. In Dallalfar, A., Kingston-Mann, E., & Sieber, R. T. (Eds.), Transforming classroom culture: Inclusive pedagogical practices (197-212). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
The author of this article self-identifies as a black woman who was assigned to teach an alternative education program at a predominantly white high school. Many of the students involved in this alternate program struggled with school and were economically disadvantaged, came from broken families and rough neighbourhoods, involved in gangs, or were at one point incarcerated (Brown, 2011, p.199). On the first day of meeting the students, the author introduced herself and asked the class if they had any questions for her which gave students a chance to connect with her. I appreciate that she consciously made a choice to allow students to ask her appropriate questions, signalling a shift in classroom power dynamics where students feel like they harness a sense of power. However, I am wary that allowing students such freedom and trust may result in an awkwardly vulnerable position for the teacher unless she creates and enforces clear guidelines for the types of questions students may ask, rather than letting them say whatever they want.
Inclusive teaching recognizes that every individual plays a necessary role and is equally important as his or her peers (Brown, 2011, p.200). The author had initially assumed that most of the students in the alternate program would be students of colour, and was shocked when she encountered a class of predominantly white male students. The assumption that race and socioeconomic status are tied together is a dangerous one. The author argues that inclusionary practice has often “focused too narrowly on people of colour and people with disabilities [and] needs to be expanded to include youth of all racial backgrounds who have in common socioeconomic characteristics” (Brown, 2011, p.204). Moreover, she argues that the term ‘at-risk’ is problematic and stigmatized, and should ultimately be done away with. Brown contends that the academic failure of these students can be attributed to the fact that the school had not set their students up for success, or encourages and expects success out of them (2011, p. 203). In fact, “many of the teachers in the schools they have attended are unprepared to teach a racially and economically diverse student body” receiving insufficient training to teach ELL students as well (203). The lack of school support for its instructors institutionally builds up issues that affects the teachers, students, and sentiments towards diversity. Further, “to put the least-qualified teachers in classrooms with diverse learners, the system of privilege that benefits those with economic resources and who speak English as a first language will continue to prevail” as schools continue to victimize students and avoid self-examination of their institutional structure (Brown, 2011, p.204).
This chapter is useful as it details the author’s experience in checking her assumptions and re-evaluating why she connected race and socioeconomic status to each other. I appreciate her honesty in recognizing her personal biases, which in turn asked me to self-evaluate what my biases are in the classroom. This particular article acknowledges that schools are institutions, with the power to shape knowledge and social sentiments. They may traditionally pass information through teaching from textbooks, but also implicitly in the way students are treated and supported or how teachers are trained to respond to their students.