Enacting HB 1134 Will Be Literally Impossible for Teachers

This past fall I was leading a professional development workshop on problematic systemic practices in education. I started by showing a video of a study where preschool teachers were asked to look at a group of students and decide who was misbehaving. In actuality, no child was misbehaving. The teachers consistently looked at Black boys for misbehavior more often than the other children. The results of the study demonstrated how some teachers unconsciously tend to expect misbehavior in some children over others. After showing the video, we separated into pairs to discuss what we saw, and because the group was uneven, I decided to jump in. I asked my partner his thoughts, and he very confidently proceeded to explain to me how unfortunate it was that Black kids are more violent due to the poor examples they have at home. Keep in mind, we had just seen a video with four-year-old preschoolers, where no one was misbehaving. This teacher saw a problem, not with teachers, but with students themselves and their families. This deficit thinking about Black communities, while horrifying, is something that I’ve heard often as an anti-bias anti-racism (ABAR) educator. And it has devastating effects. We know that Black and Latino students have higher discipline rates than white students for discretionary offenses. We know that often discipline takes students out of the classroom and away from learning. We know that many of the disparate outcomes we see are blamed on the community’s “deficiencies”.

 

I believe in my core that teachers do what they do because they want to impact the lives of all their students. However, not all teachers start out with all the tools they need to reach each student. And some teachers don’t really believe all of their students can achieve at the same standard. The success of students is affected by many factors including how their teachers perceive their ability. So, it is necessary to create safe spaces in schools to have uncomfortable conversations about these hidden ideologies. HB1134 would effectively prohibit schools from requiring or even providing this development for teachers. It would in effect make it prosecutable for schools to require or arguably encourage their teachers to self-reflect on any deficit ideologies they may hold. In the same breath, the bill encourages teacher education programs to increase teacher’s cultural competence and cultural responsiveness. This will never work, the two cannot exist together.

 

Why not? Because to teach in a culturally responsive way, you must be fully aware of the cultural assets your students bring to the classroom and also have sociopolitical consciousness. So, explain this: how is a teacher who believes (consciously or unconsciously) their students of color are deficient culturally and intellectually supposed to leverage their cultural assets? They cannot. How is a teacher who is unaware of the sociopolitical context that influences their students’ lives prepared to adjust lessons based on their needs? They cannot. If teachers are discouraged from being critical thinkers and analyzers of their environment, how can we expect them to teach their students to be critical thinkers and analyzers of their environment? They can’t, and they won’t. It just won’t work. What will result will be more of the status quo and not meeting the needs of our culturally and linguistically diverse kids.

 

HB1134 not only adds an undue burden on our teachers, erodes the confidence communities place in professional educators, and limits the way we talk about history to an incomplete dominant perspective, it will also prevent the growth of our teachers in being able to build true cultural competence and from being culturally responsive. Rather than limiting teachers and constraining their ability to serve their students, we should be investing in ways to pour into them as experienced professionals so they can continue to encourage students to become critical thinkers of a democratic society who are not fearful of diverse perspectives and viewpoints. And even though it is wildly contradictory, HB1134 does encourage teachers to be culturally responsive in their classrooms. They will need opportunities for development to do that.

 

Nicole Carey is the CEO of Indy Equity Collaborative, a DEI consulting firm, and an American Studies PhD student at IUPUI

 

 

 

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