We write as academics who study the impact of culture on human development, educators who strive to provide equitable educational tools and environments, and advocates devoted to expanding the field of child growth and development, to join our voices calling for social change to address the longstanding violence and inequities of systematic racism and discrimination particularly within achievement gaps. Racial achievement gaps monitor the equality of educational outcomes.
As our Country’s economy moves forward, we fail to propel our quality of life or general overall individual well-being with it. Researchers have found that “the persistence of the educational achievement gap imposes on the United States the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession” (McKinsey & Company 2009, 6). Many areas of achievement gaps go unnoticed that affect people of color. Access to quality education is key to creating a successful life. Unfortunately, quality education is not a need met for many people, particularly African American people. This is known as an educational achievement gap. As a result, the capabilities developed in homes and communities are overlooked and children’s strengths go unrecognized by parents and teachers. To create a shift in the educational achievement gap, we must first understand the role of culture in development. For example, increasing exposure to diverse experiences will stretch perspectives and challenge beliefs. We do understand that not everyone may have the opportunity to have interactions with diverse cultures along with the experience of representing culture. Therefore, we must raise our expectations within our communities and as a society by creating spaces where we can be exposed to different cultures and perspectives.
Our capabilities are developed and influenced by our interactions with our environment which rewires our brain circuitry. These interactions have a large influence on children’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. This is also known as culture. Culture imprints the way we learn and interpret our environment and the meanings of events. Culture also shapes the way children identify with, imitate, and begin to internalize their caregivers’ attitudes, values, ways of expressing themselves, and approaches to solving problems. As a result, this creates a foundation for social, cognitive, and emotional characteristics that determine differences in decision-making skills and morals.
Building successful learners requires accurately identifying characteristics that show strengths and potential. For example, many African Americans are not fully aware of the many strengths developed that have enabled their communities to survive despite deep hardships such as persistent racial wealth gaps, limited access to quality education, psychological distress, and limited community resources. The lack of understanding of Black culture creates social distance between African Americans and White Americans and is a deterrent to change. Future educators who understand Black history, culture, and continued injustices encountered by this population can better understand their children’s behavior. As a result, strengths and potential will be easier to identify and unpack.
What can educators and communities do to bring a deeper understanding of African American children’s behavior to provide education that ignites their full potential?
Create spaces of diverse perspectives: A recent report from Johns Hopkins showed that Black students who had one Black teacher by the time they reached third grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college, and those with two were 32% more likely. We, at Moving Mountains Tutoring and Mentoring Services, are striving to hire a diverse array of teachers, particularly Black, indigenous and teachers who are people of color. We believe this will bring needed experiences to the classroom that will create areas of growth within our educators’ and students’ perspectives. Educators’ representation of student racial demographic builds a stronger connection of engagement, sense of security, and self-identity.
Help facilitate conversations to understand the culture. Listen : The classroom is an excellent way to create space to talk about race, ask questions, and learn how to initiate these conversations. “Edjustice” is a valuable resource for accessing different methods that may work best for your classroom:
- Discussing race racism and other difficult topics with students
- Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools – Schedule and Resources
- Classroom activities, Circle Scripts, and Promoting Positive School Climate
Understanding structural disadvantages: As educators, we need to understand the structural disadvantages in which African Americans have experienced and still experience today. Reading articles such as “Race in America” provide an overview of these types of disadvantages:
- Institutional Racism
- Structural Racism
- Systematic Racism
Create and set your example: Our example at Moving Mountains Tutoring and Mentoring Services, used is to maintain one-on-one targeted sessions along with small group tutoring. We believe that this provides us with a better opportunity to teach at the child’s proficiency level and help close the ongoing educational achievement gap. Our small group tutoring services provide a powerful collaborative environment where we are able to better guide students through team building and developing communication skills and conflict management. Our goal is to create a deeper understanding of behavior by understanding differences in perspectives and culture.