Race, Culture, and its Effects on the Classroom

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Claudia Sanchez
Staff Writer

“It wouldn’t be appropriate for school to teach us about being black, it might exclude someone,” said one of the boys Christy Byrd interviewed while researching for her doctorate.

Byrd’s work focuses on race and culture in schools. Students are not really taught about their race while in the classroom. When she asked students what it meant to be black, and if they learned it in school, the students admitted that no, it was not.One student answered the question by saying, “My mom teaches me about it. I’m black and I’m proud, that kind of stuff.”

The “Learning about Race and Culture in School: Student Perspectives” event was held by Byrd, a UC Santa Cruz psychology professor, whose research is based on teenagers and how they form their identities through school. The event focused on showcasing Byrd’s research and showed how schools are a highly important part of someone’s cultural and racial development.  As a professor and psychologist, Byrd looks at her research through both an educational and a psychological lens.

The students interviewed by Byrd were from the Michigan area, where she got her doctorate. The students from a Detroit high school showed Byrd a unique perspective about students, race, and their academic standing. Her research focuses mainly on school racial climate, which she says, “is a general way of describing what the school is like, and how it’s different from other schools.”

According to the students in this Detroit school, in which the demographic is mainly African American with a significant Latino population, the students separate themselves by race, to an extent. They were cordial, but not particularly friendly to the students of different races. The students also identified the mainly Caucasian teachers as teachers that did not segregate their students and treated them equally.

Multicultural education is an important part of Byrd’s work, especially in how it is developed and what it looks like in practice. Her work raises the question of what students think about when they learn about diversity in the classroom. It asks who is represented in school textbooks, and how that affects student’s perception of themselves.

Byrd also provides solutions to a lack of multicultural education. Schools need to learn to interact with other races in a positive way. This can be achieved by hosting diversity fairs, celebrating holidays not celebrated by most American. These activities create a calm and positive environment to introduce people to cultures.

Byrd also feels that schools should teach about the negative side of multiculturalism. She says, “Give students the opportunity to learn about oppression, this will empower them to attack injustice and oppression.”

Byrd said that “schools need to show that connecting with students of other racial backgrounds is good. [because] it’s an opportunity to raise happiness positive interactions.”

“Parents teach their children about their culture and race, while school teaches children about other cultures. Hence it is the school’s responsibility to teach about other cultures by their curriculums or activities,” said Bryd.

Providing students a multicultural education, would set up what Byrd calls “mainstream socialization.”

One of the boys she interviewed describes mainstream socialization in the United States as freedom. He says, “We’re free we make things our own, like pizza,” he later adds that, “Schools don’t explicitly teach American values, it’s up for our interpretation.”

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