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How Does Race and Social Class Affect Your Education

Education in the formalized setting of classrooms and school districts is still the process of human being teaching other human beings about the world around them. It is hardly surprising in this context that every aspect of the teacher's and student's personality and mental make-up is a factor in the process of education. So issues such as race and class play a part in the way education is imparted and absorbed.

Social class is a persistent reality that defines the way any one of us approaches life. A teacher may set out to make students learn the study skills needed for math in a given class but if the classroom is an economically weak neighborhood and the worksheets refer to problems with people spending enormous amounts on luxury goods, one can readily see the disconnect between student and lesson here. In this case, the worksheet may well distract a student from learning the intended skill for that day.

Race is in some senses a more overt marker and in that sense is probably more likely to be registered in the way it influences education. A student of Native American heritage in a middle school social studies classroom is likely to raise issues about the Westward Expansion, if he or she has heard a story of their tribe in a different context. While a teacher has to make every effort to teach historical facts with impartiality, it is not always easy to play to the role of objective observer and personal prejudices are hard to avoid. The United States has a rich a colorful history of races coming together and yet unfortunately this has not always been a harmonious process. While it is tempting to teach future generations to not dwell on the injustices of the past, this can be unfair to different races. Depending on the age level of the children, it is best to deal with the unpleasant aspects of our national history also because otherwise children from racial minority families may well fret about the glossing over off reality.

Race and social class also affect education in other ways. Very often people from a racial minority group or a lower income family do not have a family history of higher education. If the parents or grandparents have not had access to education, the child that comes from such a family is not likely to have had anybody read to them or even have had to opportunity to be exposed to many books. As all educators know, this can be a disadvantage when these children are placed in a class where many other children have had tremendous exposure to the written word. They may seem like slow learners even though all it really means is that they are getting a late start. The teachers have to be aware of these crucial differences and ensure that these children do not label themselves as weak or poor students. An encouraging environment and a little focused help can go a long way in helping disadvantaged students catch up and this needs to be handled with empathy and sensitivity. It makes sense to create teachers resources that cater to different levels and also to have assessment rubrics that factor in such details.

While education should ideally be untouched by race, class or gender, it is an unreal expectation. We live in a world defined by these elements and so our educational process should factor these in when the plans are drawn-up early in the year. To not acknowledge the role of race and social class may leave a teacher feeling unprepared even if he or she has meticulous lesson plans. A good teacher should have the ability to be responsive to students who are dealing with situations influenced by racial differences or evidence of social distinction.

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