In a recent article, youth across Pittsburg are meeting to develop strategies for eliminating institutional racism. It appears that the target audience for improving racism has been inappropriately chosen. Eliminating institutional racism will need to include the efforts of teachers to ensure success. According to the article, Pittsburg youth take on institutional racism, local activists have organized a conference style meeting to assist Pittsburg youth to better evaluate the realities of the impact of racism. The organizers plan to focus on the School to Prison Pipeline to help organize change in the community. It appears the activities outlined by the Pittsburg organizers are equivalent to activities associated with Black history month and demonstrations that have recently proved ineffective for the transition needed to eliminate institutional racism.

How is institutional racism prevalent in schools?

Institutional racism refers to racism perpetrated by government entities such as schools, the courts or the military. Institutional racism results in negatively impacting the majority of people belonging to a certain racial groups.

In schools, institutional racism has an adverse impact on minority students such as Blacks. It has resulted in what is now called the school-to-prison pipeline.

The term “school-to-prison pipeline” is a phrase that is used by educators, education reform activists, and organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Justice Policy Center, Advancement Project, and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), to describe a widespread pattern in the United States of pushing students out of school and into the American criminal justice system.

The school to prison pipeline begins in preschool. Even though Black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment, they also represent 48% of preschool children receiving more than one out-of school suspension. Alternatively, White students represent 43% of preschool enrollment but only 26% of children who receive more than one out of school suspension. The pattern of institutional racism continues through high school. Black students are three times more likely to be expelled from school when compared to White students. White students are suspended at a rate of 5% while Black students are suspended at a rate of 16%.

The differences of arrests and referrals to law enforcement are an indicator of continued institutional racism. Black students represent 16% of student enrollment, while they represent 27% of the students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest. In comparison. White students represent 51% of enrollment, while they represent 41% of the students referred to law enforcement, and 39% of those arrested.

What strategies will help to eliminate institutional racism?

Teaching Black students requires creating a culturally compatible classroom that concentrates on developing motivation rather than classroom discipline and management techniques and the teaching process of handling material as well as content. Teachers can reach all of their students when they understand the ways in which culture influences the educational process. How students perceive and react to their classroom instructions may be more important in terms of influencing student outcomes than the quality of teaching behavior. Black students will continue to carry their own culture into the classroom, and they will continue to misunderstand their middle-class teacher as profoundly as she or he misunderstands them.

Students who find their culture and learning styles reflected in instruction are more likely to be motivated and less likely to be disruptive. In order for culturally different students to succeed in the classroom or school, students are required to assimilate by giving up their learning style preference that results from the teacher not modifying their instruction. Schools and Black student conflict develop from expectation differences related to student learning styles. Teachers who perceive that students have the same cognitive learning style—field dependent or field independent—are more likely to give better grades to those students. Good teachers adjust their teaching to serve populations that are culturally and linguistically diverse, which includes incorporating culturally responsive pedagogy by adjusting teaching strategies according to individual learning styles.

When teachers realize that learning takes place across cultural media, then teachers adapt teaching to fit student needs. When teachers refuse to customize their instruction to fit student cultural and learning style needs the result can develop a classroom environment that is diametrically opposed to the students resulting in continued institutional racism.

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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.

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