Octavio Paz reminds us that "life is plurality, death is uniformity.
Every view that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes
a possibility of life." (1985). While there has been a great deal of rhetoric
and certainly some action that as resulted in progress, the American society
continues to be haunted by inequality of its people and widespread failure
to value diversity. Until educators begin to value differences and prize
them as resources for learning, American youth will not experience the
type of learning environment that prepares them to live productively in
a world characterized by adversity (Pine & Hilliard, 1990).
Numerous issues are facing people of color in education. The ethnic
diversity of the student population in American education is steadily increasing,
however there is considerable disparity between the number of ethnically
diverse students and the number of educators who are ethnically diverse.
The need for more people of color to become professional educators is evident.
Concern over this disparity is noted in New Strategies for Producing Minority
Teachers, prepared by the Education Commission of the States:
A Teaching force unbalanced in its representation of the nation's
population is inappropriate at best and has profound implications for the
country. The United States cannot have a functioning democracy without
respect for and involvement of all of its citizens. It cannot afford to
be class oriented, while other countries move toward a more democratic
way of life. To do so would be to deny the contributions of many American
citizens and an even greater number of the world's citizens. (p. 7).
The report goes on to say that by the end of the century only 5% of teachers
are expected to be minority, while one third of the students will be.
The state of Iowa reflects national trends. Even with its limited
minority population of approximately 5%, considerable disparity exists
between the number of minority students and their counterparts in the teaching
force as seen by the fact that people of color constitute less than 1%
of the state's teachers and 2% of the administrators. Various reasons have
been cited as explanations for these trends: demography, poor academic
preparation and performance, pay, absence of a professional support system,working
conditions, and attractive career opportunities in other professions.
Not only is it important to have role model diversity in our schools,
it is imperative that different views resulting from diversity, be considered
when curriculum, instruction, and other decisions impacting education are
made. Fewer than 30% of minority children take courses that prepare them
for a four year college or university, according to the Quality Education
for Minorities projects (Education That Works). For example many districts
continue to "track" poor and/or minority students into low level courses.
(Gursky, 1990). Our failure to provide for widespread success of children
from other ethnic populations is a national disgrace. Students, during
the schooling years, must be in an environment in which they can experience
diversity in people and cultures and thus, understand people from backgrounds
different from their own.
Racism continues to plague our homes, schools, and communities.
Whether it is in the form of subtle overtones in a classroom to more blatant
acts such as cross burnings in Dubuque, racism is alive and well in Iowa.
As Pine and Hilliard (1990) note, "If Americans are to embrace diversity,
the conscious and unconscious expressions of racism within our society
must be identified and done away with" (p. 593).
Many institutions are beginning to address the issues facing people
of color with innovative efforts such as the minorities in teaching program
at the University of Northern Iowa which reaches youngsters at the middle
school level and exposes them to the possibilities of Higher Education.
However, there are so many issues to be addressed. State and national plans
of action to address issues that impact education from the perspective
of people of color who are students, educators, policymakers, and parent
is critical to our growth as a state and nation. With this premise in mind,
the Institute for Educational Leadership and the Minorities In Teaching
Program at the University of Northern Iowa sponsored a working conference
to identify and define critical issues facing people of color in education,
develop options for resolution of issues and build consensus on recommendations
and strategies that better enable policymakers and leaders to develop educational
institutions where all racial and cultural groups share equal access to
learning opportunities which prepare the way for quality lives.
Forty-five school and agency leaders, university faculty, and
recognized experts were invited to the University of Northern Iowa campus.
Individuals were selected based on their keen interest in issues facing
people of color in education, their skills as communicators, and their
enthusiasm toward exploring issues in an indepth and interactive environment.
The purpose of the conference was to establish an agenda for collaborative
action among school leaders and to influence public policy related to the
support of people of color in education.
Each conference participant selected one of six focus areas:
Participants prioritized interest areas and were then invited to write
a position paper on the area to which they were assigned. Papers were submitted
prior to the conference, copied, and sent to participants of specified
- Lack of curriculum that adequately addresses the needs and concerns of
people of color.
- Support and mentoring for people of color in education.
- Coping with and addressing racism in educational institutions.
- Appropriate role models for people of color in education.
- The importance of sensitivity in dealing with cultural diversity in education.
- Expectations and standards of performance for people of color in education.
During the three day conference, the practical knowledge in school
and non school settings was brought into relationship with the theoretical
knowledge of the university; the research of Dr. Barbara Holmes, Project
Director of New Strategies for Producing Minority Teachers; and the teachings
of Dr. Asa Hilliard III, nationally recognized psychologist and historian
and Fuller E. Calloway Professor of Education at Georgia State University.
The result was stimulating dialogue which addressed the complex issues
facing people of color in education. Participants worked extensively in
their focus area groups but did come together periodically to share ideas
and offer input between groups. The insights and ideas which evolved offer
a foundation for future decision making which may be of interest to policy
makers, educators and parents.
The position papers in each focus area are preceded by a consensus
report written by the group's facilitator. Because time constraints prevented
development of a conference report, these reports represent the views of
the participants within each focus area and are not necessarily shared
by all conference participants. While the reader is encouraged to read
the entire monograph to gain detail and understanding, the following recommendations
are presented to highlight the outcomes of the conference:
Pine and Hilliard (1989) point out, "to become moral communities that are
supportive and caring, schools need to model empathy, altruism, trust,
cooperation, fairness, justice, compassion, democracy, and celebration
of diversity" (p. 599).
- Cultural factors must be incorporated into school curricula, including
historical and present treatment of racial and ethnically diverse groups.
Educators must also reflect cultural sensitivity in their interactions
with students, parents, colleagues, and community members.
- School policies and practices should be reviewed for discriminatory language
and action taken to eliminate such language and policies.
- Develop political action committees and support legislators who actively
support the diverse population in our state and nation.
- Formulate programs and activities to ensure that all school personnel are
culturally sensitive through culturally specific inservice training; assessment
and modification of inservice training; and inclusion of cultural sensitivity
as part of teacher administrator performance evaluations.
- Use available valid research on cultural sensitivity and apply it effectively
- Develop and implement policies that:
- Require public office holders to demonstrate sensitivity to the acceptance
of diverse cultures.
- Require local boards of education to develop policies designed to increase
and maintain appropriate role models for children of color in schools.
- Lead toward implementation of effective processes for hiring and retaining
people of color.
- Provide rewards and incentives to organizations and educational institutions
exhibiting a high level of sensitivity to multicultural issues.
- Require the implementation of procedures for monitoring hiring and retention
- Provide increased opportunities for people of color to participate in he
decision making process.
- Enforce sanctions against institutions and organizations that perpetrate
actions and behaviors that denigrate others.
- To eliminate racism in educational institutions:
- State and federal government agencies must devote funding specifically
earmarked for scholarship that seeks factual and unbiased research focused on inclusion of all people and their contributions in curriculum.
- It is the responsibility of the university community to join together for
the reexamination and rewrite of an inclusive historical review of man's
- State governments must mandate that school districts utilize the "new"
curriculum and provide incentives for early adoption and penalties for
schools or agencies slow to address a curriculum focused on inclusion.
- Funds must be used to encourage institutions of higher education to reconstruct
teacher education programs.
- School districts must develop a perspective that guards against distortion
of the contributions made by various ethnic groups and the invisibility
of people of color in education.
- Help children understand and use mentors as necessary throughout their careers.
- Build a network of support and mentors in schools and communities for both
students and minority teachers.
- Improve teacher and administrative inservice and staff development programs
that adequately address curriculum needs and concerns of people of color.
- Enforce monitoring and accountability measures to ensure that adequate
curriculum addressing the needs and concerns of people of color are met.
- Make the recruitment and training of minority teachers a national priority.
- Make educating all children a national priority, providing the financial
resources necessary to achieve this goal. Eliminate the need for admissions
requirements which discriminate.
- Revise the concept of "achievement" to eliminate barriers to success, such
as time limits and rigidly defined settings for learning. Make access to
education more flexible, providing for leaves of absence from formal educational
- Require an ethnic studies course of all teachers in training or infuse
this content into the required curriculum. Develop assessment instruments
and practices which show evidence of multicultural knowledge and skills.
- Use assessment for the diagnosis of student strengths and weaknesses as
they relate to professional requirements. Assessment should be seen as
a tool for developing student potential, rather than a tool for predicting
success in school.
- Make admission requirements for schools of education bias free. Requirements
should be multi-faceted, including both cognitive and non-cognitive elements.
- Validate people of color as people by having colleges of education subscribe
to multicultural journals, encourage students to experience other cultures
through cable television and movies, arrange exchanges for faculty and
students at institutions or in communities where other cultures are numerous
and require experiences where students of different social or ethnic groups
The challenge for schools is to instill in students a value for
all people regardless of color. The monograph on issues facing people of
color is education offers new insights into developing acceptance, support
for and celebration of diversity.
- Education Commission of the States. (1990). New strategies for producing
minority teachers. Denver, CO: Author.
- Education that works: An action plan for the education of minorities.
Quality education for minorities project. Cambridge, MA: QEM, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, January, 1990.
- Gursky, D. (1990, May). On the wrong track? Teacher Magazine,
- Hatton, B. R. (1988, January). A game plan for ending the minority
teacher shortage. NEA Today, 6(6), 66-69.
- Hilliard, A. G. III. (1989, January). Teachers and cultural styles
in a pluralistic society. NEA Today, 7(6), 65-69.
- Paz, O. (1985). The labyrinth of solitude. New York: Grove.
- Pine, G. J., & Hilliard, A. G., III. (1990). Rx for racism: Imperatives
for America's schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 593-600.
back to top