Monday, January 19, 2015

Assumptions & Stereotypes Lead to Poor Practices

Assumptions & Stereotypes Lead to Poor Practices

This essay will remain neutral regarding race, ethnicity, and gender; however, my personal experiences should be sufficient to drive my point home.  Too often people assume their position on a topic is irrefutable although it is not backed by empirical research of any kind.  Many times during my career in education, I have heard it stated that minority students need minority role models in order to succeed.  The assumption is that if someone comes from a similar cultural background they will be better equipped to motivate a student to learn.  My personal case study does not support that premise.

For grades Kindergarten through 2nd, I attended a neighborhood school where all of my peers looked like me, the principal looked like me, and all of my teachers looked like me.  Due to my disengagement and wanderings, my mother chose to have me bused to a school in another neighborhood ten miles away.  The majority (95%) at my new school did not look like me; nor did the principal or the teachers.  This new school was academically two years ahead of my neighborhood school.  I, and the other students bused from my neighborhood, were not labeled incapable of achieving at the same level as the majority; instead, the high expectations for achievement held for the majority were held for me as well.  I needed to repeat the 3rd grade, I was given the extra reading instruction needed, and by 6th grade I graduated on par with the best of my classmates (effectively two years ahead of my neighborhood peers).  Today, those of us who were bused 10 miles away have achieved a higher level of career success than those who remained in the neighborhood schools.

How does what transpired with me in the 70’s and 80’s relate to today?  I now live in a neighborhood on Long Island where half of the population looks like me, and the other half look like another minority group.  All of the board members in the local school district look like the students, and the same can be said for the administration and much of the staff.  Due to self-serving behaviors for many decades by those entrusted with the school district, it is now the lowest performing school district on Long Island, and one of the lowest in New York State.  Similar downward trends are beginning to manifest in a neighboring school district with a similar racial/ethnic mix.  It is not the color of those in charge that is causing these failures, but the frailties of leadership, and the low expectations held for student achievement.

Stereotypes are also used too often to defend a position.  I recently read a brief essay where the author wrote that all school administrators should be required to spend ten years teaching before having the option of becoming an administrator.  This statement was made based on the assumption that too many administrators leave teaching because they were never very good at teaching and/or they want to earn more money.  How about those exceptional teachers who were encouraged to become school administrators?  How about the many examples of exceptional young transformational administrators who achieved improvement in their schools where others failed?  We are all as unique as our fingerprints, and our motivations and capabilities cannot be boxed in by the illusion of time.

If I am a poor teacher who was granted tenure after three years, why ruin another seven year span of student oversight before entering an administrative position that suits me better; not all administrative positions are based on curriculum and instruction.  I might be an organizational genius, and do amazing work in human resources.  I might be introverted, but love numbers, and do wonders as a business administrator.  Whenever we allow assumptions or stereotypes to guide our practices in education, we knowingly or unwittingly contribute to greater educational nonsense rather than enhancing the cause of greater educational knowledge, awareness and impact.

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