“I’d like to see you as a Black woman,” is what a student said to me after class last week.
I was thrown. What?! That ranks up there with the strangest student comments I have ever received. I mean, I’d kinda like to know what I might look like as a Black woman, too (please let me look like Viola Davis on the recent cover of Variety), but what did he mean?
We had just finished a class discussion on the Marxist perspective of schooling, and I had introduced the concept of “hidden curriculum” as explored through Jean Anyon’s work. The hidden curriculum is the implicit skill set taught within both the enacted curriculum, pedagogy, and the normal routines of school. Anyon’s work studied four elementary schools in New Jersey in the 70’s: a school that served students of the executive elite (very wealthy), elite (wealthy), middle class, and working class schools. What she found was that the pedagogy and curriculum in the four schools differed greatly: that the executive elite and elite schools employed pedagogical methods such as seminars, debates, and other teaching strategies that pushed students to argue, to engage in critical thinking, to debate the teacher and each other, to prove their point is correct. The middle and working class schools employed very traditional pedagogy: sit down, be quiet, read silently and answer questions at the end of the chapter, don’t talk back to the teacher or to each other, do as I say, etc.
In a nutshell, the two upper class schools were preparing students to rule the world. The middle and lower class schools were preparing students to be ruled by those who ruled the world. These things are never said explicitly to the students, of course, but they are there. Very much there.
After this lesson is when the student stayed once the class was over and said, “I’d like to see you as a Black woman.”
When I asked him to clarify what he meant, he said, “If you were Black, you’d be considered an angry Black woman, and I’d like to see how the students reacted to you then. But since you’re White, you can say all those things about society and schools being unequal, and it’s okay that you said that because you’re White. But if you were Black…” (student starts laughing here).
This student directly called me out on my White privilege.
At this point, another student had joined us. He’s quiet and has never initiated conversation with me, but he’s into this conversation. He concurred with the first student and said that there was a Black male history teacher at his school who was just like me (read: educated and angry about injustice), but the students discounted him as just an angry Black man.
The three of us talked–a Japanese student, a Black student, and a White professor–and although it was a simple acknowledgement of race, power, privilege, and voice, we also talked about how we all can use our voices for good and for others. I talked with them about getting and education and using that education. We talked about racism and how to deal with others who discount your voice because of your race. After about 25 minutes, they left and I went upstairs, completely floored by their insight, their candidness, and their willingness to talk about difficult subjects.
If these 18 year olds represent the next generation, watch out world. Something’s coming our way.
[I know I look nothing like Viola Davis, but hey–a girl can dream.]