Part 1: An Important Conversation–Race and Pedagogy at PSU
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: January 23, 2020

At a professional development session this week, College of Education (COE) faculty analyzed the recurring theme of a “nice white lady” teaching and rescuing students of color.

The group watched a MADtv skit parodying an inner-city school with a diverse student body in which a narrator proclaims: “Only one thing will make these kids learn: a nice white lady.”

COE faculty members gathered Tuesday for a diversity, equity, and inclusion training led by Chezare Warren, Ph.D., a nationally known researcher in the area of urban education and culturally responsive pedagogy. Warren, an associate professor at Michigan State University, asked the faculty to peruse a relevant reading before the session. After the video, he asked the group: “How did the reading/video make you feel and why?”

The educators discussed the damage of the stereotypes around students of color and the white educators who must “save” them, as in the films Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers. Then, Warren noted three things schools do need in their educators: a sense of shared humanity (what unites us as people); an ability to negotiate good intentions (using informed cultural perspectives to connect with marginalized races rather than rudderless good intentions); and empathy.

“You can’t call yourself empathetic if what you’re doing is not producing the outcome that meets the other person’s needs,” said Warren, who was a math teacher and school administrator for Chicago Public Schools.

To clarify how teachers can hone their empathy, Warren discussed how he’s heard white teachers attempt to connect with students of color using only negative experiences, such as the death of a loved one, rather than more positive shared experiences. Warren added that, while it is important for an educator to demonstrate empathy with students of color, that teacher must also help them achieve academically.

“The first tenet of culturally relevant pedagogy is academic success,” he said.

To offer the gathering further cultural context of the significant antiblack racism in the United States, Warren shared a clip from an NBC News video of an interview with iconic Civil Rights Movement leader Martin Luther King Jr. The interviewer asks King why African Americans have struggled to overcome barriers. King’s answer includes that African Americans came to the United States as slaves and have been dehumanized: “It’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself up by his own bootstraps.” Warren said that this history of slavery haunts African Americans, impacting how they are treated and viewed.

“Slavery has set us on a course and a trajectory in this country,” Warren said.

He explained that we cannot forget the negativities of the harrowing past of African-Americans, but we must also remember to focus on the rich opportunities still ahead.

“What would it be to tell the story of our persistence and possibility, rather than all the ways we have been oppressed?” Warren said. “I think it’s important that we tell these stories.”

He’s done his fair share of storytelling around issues of race as the author or co-editor of two books: White Women’s Work: Examining the Intersectionality of Teaching, Identity, and Race and Urban Preparation: Young Black Men Moving from Chicago's South Side to Success in Higher Education. He’s also earned accolades in education.

He is one of two education scholars in the country to receive the 2019 National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine/Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship. While earning his doctoral degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he was honored with the Abraham Lincoln Fellowship.
Upon graduating, he began a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, during which he co-led the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study.

At the end of the professional development, Warren encouraged dialogue, saying it is better to risk offending others than it is to sit in silence and cement potentially unenlightened views.

“We often don’t think about sexual identity or racial affiliation, and we just need to have more of these conversations,” Warren said.

Photo 1: Chezare Warren, Ph.D., presents at a professional development session for faculty of the College of Education this week. Photo by Jillian Daley

Photo 2: Faculty of the College of Education listen to Chezare Warren as he begins the professional development session on Tuesday. Photo by Jillian Daley

Look for Part II of the "An Important Discussion" series soon: the student perspective.

To share stories with the College of Education, email Jillian Daley.