Is this a look of hostility? Concentration? Daydreaming? If you are a white teacher, you may think he’s angry. Research suggests that black boys are more likely to be seen as hostile, even when they are not. Researchers at North Carolina State University found that preservice teachers were more likely to accurately identify emotions of white adults than black adults and three times more likely to see a black expression was angry when it wasn’t. The results with videotapes of misbehavior in classrooms also showed strong racial bias. Black boys were seen as much more hostile than whites.
My personal experience certainly confirms this. And Wake County, the largest school district in North Carolina, has very clear data that shows a wide racial discrepancy in out-of-school suspensions. Black students missed 65% of days suspended in 2015, while white students accounted for only 13% (black kids make up only 24% of the district’s population).
This implicit bias, as it is termed by researchers, has been a troubling issue throughout my entire career. (I’m still teaching after 47 years….) I’ve participated in weeks of staff development on this topic and felt that the sessions were more likely to empower teachers to speak with “political correctness” than to change hearts and minds.
One potential solution may be the use of this type of research protocol in developing racial equity sessions in schools. Trainers could provide this tool as a benchmark for personal assessment and growth. At the least, it could delay a teacher reaction to student behavior long enough to clearly understand student intent. That kind of focused observation would benefit many special needs students, too, especially those on the autism spectrum.