Library Hosts Lecture on Teaching Race, Class and Gender
By Robert Schroeder
No one wants to hear they are wrong. Our brains are programmed to practically automatically programmed reject such a claim.
So how does one inform another they may harbor indirect prejudices and biases? That's the question National Louis University's Tema Okun, Ph.D., assistant professor in the National College of Education, explores in her book "The Emporer Has No Clothes: Teaching About Race and Racism to Those Who Don't Want to Know." The book, recently named to the list of books for the 2011 Critics Choice Book Award of the American Educational Studies Association (AESA), will be the feature of a live webcast on Thursday, October 13 from 6-7:30 p.m. CST at the University's North Shore campus public forum room. The presentation is hosted by the National Louis University Library.
Okun's book is the product of 20 years of research and experiences and presents a central, sticky question: are we adequately preparing teacher candidates to teach in the most diverse classrooms featured in our cities? Educators and teacher educators may not want to know the answer.
"I think it is part of our cultural rhetoric and cultural conditioning that tells us we live in a post-racial society," Okun said. "If you don't have racist intentions, it's not a big problem."
Okun says people in general often shun discussing racism because if one acknowledges racism still exists, that could mean an individual's concept of their life as a good person could be called into question. It's easier to simply ignore the question altogether, Okun says. Okun pointed out several common perceptions that indicate a bias that is not hateful or purposeful but still potent. Many Americans, let alone teachers, perceive classrooms full of Black or Latino students as classes that hold "great deficits," that need to be lifted up and molded into some sort of successful model that often emulates classes of people with resources and credibility. Some education experts rue that they cannot transport children out of their communities into a boarding school-type environment, as if abandoning community holds the key answers.
In her presentation, Okun will provide teachers and teacher candidates with tactics for success working in a multiracial classroom, resources teachers can use to better prepare themselves, and an analysis of how American classrooms confront issues of race, class and gender. Okun hopes the presentation can serve as a key professional development piece for teachers serving in the field.
"Research shows that how teachers respond to students is based on race," Okun said. "Regardless of intentions, if we are not in constant conversation about it and how we are teaching, will our students see themselves self-reflected in teaching? "Do we enable them to be seen as full people?"