Friday, August 24, 2007

Take a look at the following statements:

1. One progressive educator:
A review of theories, research, and models of the learning styles of Black children reveals that Black children generally learn in ways characterized by factors of social/affective emphases, harmony, holistic perspectives, expressive creativity, and nonverbal communication.

2. Another progressive educator:
There are a variety of descriptions of typical learning patterns of African Americans (Hale- Benson, 1986; Shade, 1989; Hilliard, 1989) which report the students' desire for oral experiences, physical activity, and strong personal relationships (Shade, Hilliard). These patterns would call for classroom work that includes collaboration, discussion, and active projects. The same authors report that mainstream white male Americans value independence, analytic thinking, objectivity, and accuracy. These values translate into learning experiences that focus on information, competition, tests, grades, and critical thinking.

3. Another progressive educator:
Hale Benson (1986) also summarized Akbar’s characteristics of the African American child’s cognitive style and Hilliard’s African American cultural style by indicating that African Americans

• tend to respond to things in terms of the whole picture instead of its parts while the Euro-American style tends to believe that anything can be divided and subdivided into pieces and that these pieces add up to a whole;

• tend to prefer inferential reasoning to deductive or inductive reasoning;

• tend to approximate space, numbers, and time rather that stick to accuracy;

• tend to prefer to focus on people and their activities rather than things;

• tend to have a keen sense of justice and are quick to analyze and perceive injustice;

• tend to lean toward altruism, a concern for one’s fellow man;

• tend to prefer novelty, freedom, and personal distinctiveness;

• tend not to be “word” dependent but very proficient in nonverbal communication (p. 42).
4. Yet another "progressive" educator:
Sharroky Hollie sees the achievement gap yet another way. He is a professor of teacher education at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who focuses on strategies that help Latino and African American students learn. Hollie says the achievement gap reflects a biased education system that doesn't accept behaviors and learning styles common in African American and Latino communities.

For example, he said, an African American student who is talkative and frequently gets out of his seat will be seen as disruptive and defiant in most schools. Instead, Hollie said, teachers should develop teaching strategies that work with the student's social and kinesthetic nature, a trait that could be attributed to his cultural background.
This is all very "progressive," remember, so it would clearly be wrong to suspect that these kind-hearted educators are trafficking in racial stereotypes at all when they say that whites are good at analytical thinking, deductive reasoning, and accuracy, while blacks are better at "nonverbal communication" (whatever that means -- semaphore or Morse code, perhaps?), "physical activity," and "oral experiences" rather than reading.

Still, I can't help being reminded of the sorts of things that racist whites used to say. For example, here's a statement from a 19th-century white man named John Alvord, who was in charge of education for the Freedman's Bureau:
It is probable that the tastes and temperament of the [black] race, which are peculiar, certainly, will lead in special directions. They may not at first excel in the inventive power, or abstract science, perhaps not in mathematics, though we have seen very commendable ciphering in the colored schools. But they certainly are emotional, imitative, and affectionate; are graphic and figurative in language; have conceptions of beauty and song, and already become teachers, skilled mechanics and even artists.

[This quote comes from page 160 of Heather Andrea Williams' wonderful book Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom," published by University of North Carolina Press in 2005.]
The similarity is no doubt just a coincidence.


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