Using Different Lenses to View the Student of Color/White Achievement Gap

By: Tsahai H. London Sandrock


Just imagine that you are invited as a special guest to another country with a completely different culture. You look forward to the experience with joyful anticipation.

You are intelligent and socially adept in your home community. You are brimming with confidence. You are well liked. You now arrive in your host culture. Everything suddenly becomes eerie.

You sense people looking at you strangely. They begin to ask why you are so different in your demeanor. Why, for example, are so loud, even though this is the way you have always spoken. Your diction seems to annoy them. Nothing you do seems to please them.

You begin to lose your confidence. The problem would be easy to diagnose if the locals were the only ones who seem to know how to get along without problems or criticism. But you notice that here and there are invited guests like yourself, some even from your own country getting along without difficulty, blending in the host culture, ambling happily about.

You try with all your might to fit in. You succeed in imitating some behaviors but just do not know how to do so completely. You cannot go back to your country now. You are stuck for several years. Now all you want to do is cope.

You are tired of feeling inept, out of place, and worse yet ignored. You resort to taking matters into your own hands. You become cynical,critical, and distrustful of everyone. You laugh at them. You defy them. You curse them out.

In turn they ban you from social events for days on end. You are now bent upon dropping out of this strange culture even to your own detriment.

Now imagine you are an average student of color in the average American classroom.

Anglo Students in School Culture
Unarguably, Anglo American students, for the most part, go to school with a very definite advantage by virtue of their finding it relatively easy to align their home values with those they find in schools. Similarly, students who already share the values of the school, regardless of race or cultural origin, find it much easier to adapt to the school culture. So a major component of the school success formula has to do with dexterity in adapting to school culture. These are the students who do well.

For these youths, the possibility is quite high that their parents and teachers have similar interpretations of how the school should conduct its business. They would pretty much agree on expectations and roles of students, parents, and teachers They may not share the specifics of school policies. However, they may accept the school’s right to decide how discipline should be dispensed or basic philosophy of the relationship between authority figures and students. Parents and schools are in unison. These parents are more likely to reinforce in their children that they should go along with the the school’s way of doing things.

Students coming from these home environments are situated in an advantageous position in that they instinctively know how to work with the teacher to get to stated goals of their classes. They know how to play the school game because they get constant game tips from family, friends and the community.

Students of Color in School Culture
On the average, students of color in American schools just do not seem to fit comfortably in the school environment. They somehow find it difficult to align their home values with those of the school. For many of them, key support systems do not frequently share the school’s interpretations of what the school culture should be. Too often, at least one area - parents, peers or community - is not philosophically aligned with the school culture.

For the most part, parents and sometimes the community support the school culture. However, in numerous communities peer influence is predominantly counter to school culture. And for many students of color, it is this group that seems to have the most powerful influence on their value system, as it pertains to school. Hence, they lean most heavily on the side of their peers’ interpretations, meaning they hold strong values that are counter school. They interpret the cultures - theirs and the school’s- as oppositional. They feel obliged to choose sides and much too frequently choose that of their peers.

Could it be that simple? Were schools to teach all students, as a prerequisite, how to embrace school values, would more of them start thinking,acting, becoming more like students? As students learn to embrace the values of the school, they will feel that they belong there. They will be more inclined to take on the full mantle of scholarship to the varying extents of their capabilities.

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