Egbo, B. (2011). What should pre-service teachers know about race and diversity? Exploring a critical knowledge-base for teaching in 21st century Canadian classroom. Journal of Contemporary Issues in Education, 6(2), 23-37.
This article is based in critical race theory, which contends that elements of racism and prejudice are embedded in society and social institutions like schools. Egbo applies critical race theory by challenging dominant discourse of race/ racism in relation to education by examining how educational theory and practice are used to subordinate certain racial and ethnic groups (2011, p.24). Considering race in the conversation about respectful classroom climate is necessary because we are confronted by its difference everyday; it is used to manipulate and sort out who has privilege and power which is often unrecognized having been engrained in society. Teachers may choose not to engage in issue about race because the topic is too contentious. This acceptance of the status quo can be seen as a form of racism. Dysconscious racism accepts norms and privileges of dominant group based on an “impaired consciousness” that distorts ways of thinking about race as normalized (Egbo, 2011, p.26).
As such, Egbo stresses a need for racial and cultural literacy for teachers (2011, p. 28). Indeed, racial and cultural competency is necessary is in cross- cultural societies (like BC’s) and needs to be valued as a priority. For example, teachers would benefit from learning about using proper language use in the classroom when addressing students. Undoubtedly there are social norms that have permeated even the way we talk to reflect certain biases and implicit opinions that may affect the way our students comprehend what we say.
Further, Egbo recognizes the importance of self-reflexivity in teacher practice (2011, p.28). In order to cultivate a respectful environment in the classroom, the teacher must come to terms with who they are as an individual in the space, and what identity they project to the class. Some reflection questions in “understanding the teaching self” include (Egbo, 2011, p.29):
- How does the teacher’s personal history intersect with their practice?
- How can teachers understand their own values to empower themselves that will inform their practice?
- What is the teacher’s positionality when working with students?
- Are there experiences as a teacher that are relevant to the experiences of the students?
- What are important issues to self and students? How does race impact these issues?
A more traditional perspective may view the function of schools as vehicles for education that merely produce uncritical citizens. Following this school of thought, teaching becomes a neutral activity facilitated by an apolitical teacher. Conversely, a different critical pedagogical practice views teachers as agents of change. Their practice is done within a transformative context with the opportunity to interrogate and challenge pedagogies that privilege certain kinds of knowledge and individuals. What kind of approach will we, as teacher candidates, implement in our classrooms?
Yes, it may be easy to engage in discourse of silence / dysconscious racism as a safe way to avoid controversial conversations in the classroom. However, the earlier teachers begin to engage with these issues on their own accord, the more comfortable they can become in voicing their opinions and creating a safe classroom space for discussion. Luckily, UBC’s teacher education program recognizes the necessity of these conversations. I very much appreciate that all pre-service teachers, regardless of their teachable subjects, are required to take a social justice- oriented class that pushes teacher candidates to evaluate their personal convictions and their identities as teachers as they enter the classroom. I am also grateful that in my own work with the community, I’ve had opportunities to engage with topics of race and ethnicity, diversity, inclusion, and redress- all areas that I am deeply interested in. As an individual who highly values social justice, this background has helped me gain insight about how to critically respond to such issues. I know what it feels like to be victim of inequality, racial or otherwise, an experience that takes form in microaggressions to macroagressions. So I am more wary. The challenge now is how I will bring my experiences and learned insights into the classroom appropriately in my interactions with students and the rest of the school.