We are living in a monumental moment in time. The unjust deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many others call for greater social justice and equity in our society. While many institutions of higher education and educator preparation programs are talking about equity in education and the need for actionable change, having a deep passion and a meaningful, verbal commitment to social justice is not enough. We cannot move the needle forward in creating a more equitable education system until we address the root areas where change needs to happen—implicit, institutional, and systemic biases.
The data is clear. We live in a more segregated society now than the past 30 to 40 years. When students are segregated in elementary, middle and high school, they may not have any meaningful interactions over a long period of time with people who are different from them. When students graduate from high school and enter into a teacher preparation program, they could potentially complete their entire program without ever having a faculty of color.
Candidates have not adequately learned about racism in America, and they do not possess the context to understand the frustration and anger that underrepresented minorities feel. Students may be offered a gratuitous multiculturalism course in which they superficially learn about diversity, but do not learn about critical race theory, cultural responsiveness and proficiency as a standard part of the curriculum. They may never receive the opportunity to confront their own implicit biases, and then are placed in a classroom full of children with cultural backgrounds that they simply do not understand. From the lens of the children in the classroom, they do not see a teacher who looks like them or that they can relate to, and therefore, they are not drawn to pursuing a career in education.
Colleges/schools of education must critically reflect on the implicit, institutional and systemic biases that exist at their institutions. They first must identify the problem in order to measure it. If from the beginning you do not believe there is a problem, or if white fragility prevents this critical reflection, then it’s a nonstarter. Our teacher preparation programs must take a hard look at why it’s difficult to recruit underrepresented students in a profession that is predominantly white. Those who sit at the table must ensure there are successful trajectories for minority faculty and address the bias in the search processes, annual evaluations, promotions and the opportunity for tenure.
We need to examine why white doctoral students are provided opportunities disproportionately more frequently than black doctoral students to perform research in coordination with a faculty member as a part of their training. This privilege enables white doctoral students to receive invaluable research mentoring, leading to opportunities to present and publish research articles. However, in order for black doctoral students to do these things, they must do so outside of their 20 hours working in the administrative office.
Such disparity impacts the pipeline for faculty of color on tenure tracks at research universities that inform the field. Ultimately, this means we don’t have a capacity for scholars who have lived experience to research the issues impacting underrepresented populations in teacher preparation programs.
In today’s world, students are finding their voice to challenge these issues and push for change. Curriculum and admissions standards are controlled by the faculty at most universities, and at the end of the day, they are the ones who must have the will to make the necessary changes in what and how we instruct students. If faculty have the resolve to change the implicit and institutional biases that lead to the underrepresentation of minority candidates, then we can move from performative social justice speak to actual, deep, critical reflection, action and social justice within teacher education programs.
Andrew Daire joined the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education in 2016. Combining an academic and clinical background in counseling and psychology with expertise in research, Daire’s style of transformative leadership emphasizes personal and professional development, and motivating faculty, staff and students toward excellence, innovation and impact in their work every day. A big supporter of community engagement, Daire believes research and instruction are at their best (and most innovative) when focused on serving the public.