The High School Journal 87.3 (2004) 1-4
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Playing God With Other People's Children
Gail L. Thompson
The Claremont Graduate University
Several years ago, I conducted a one-day inservice at an elementary school in southern California at which most of the teachers were White and most of the students were Latino. In other words, the demographic makeup of the school was typical of many schools nationwide, particularly in the south, southwest, and western United States. At this elementary school, the teachers seemed to truly care about the students. In fact, they appeared to be loving, kind, and upbeat. But survey data that had previously been collected from researchers with whom I was not affiliated, revealed several disturbing facts about these teachers. Although they appeared to have a positive attitude towards their students, they had very low expectations and offered them a non-challenging curriculum. During the inservice, when I asked the teachers why this was so, they told me that research had shown that many Latino students drop out of school in ninth grade. Therefore, the teachers assumed that it would be futile to challenge them too much. There was a combination of pity and resignation in their responses to my inquiry. They clearly felt sorry for "the poor little things" who had such a bleak future.
Their replies disturbed me then and continue to do so today. Since that time, I have come to believe that on a subconscious level these educators and countless others like them think that they are God. In other words, they think they are the masters of the fates and captains of the souls of certain students. Moreover, they think that they are omniscient and can predict the futures of students. By in large, these students tend to be poor and/or students of color. Research has shown that from the moment many lower-socioeconomic status (LSES) students and students of color walk into their kindergarten classroom for the first time, some teachers make assumptions about their aptitude. Often these assumptions become self-fulfilling prophecies. Soon the tracking (Hacker, 1992; Oakes, 1999; Thompson, 2002; 2003; 2004), and cycle of low expectations (Collins, 1992; Delpit, 1995; Drew, 1996; Thompson, 2002; 2003; 2004) and substandard instructional practices (Collins, 1992; Delpit, 1988, 1995; Hale, 2001; Thompson, 2004) begins, that will largely determine these students' academic fate. [End Page 1]
Although the teachers at the aforementioned elementary school were undoubtedly guilty of the "educational malpractice" that is widespread in schools that are heavily attended by students of color (Hale, 2001; Oakes & Rogers, 2002; Thompson, 2002; 2003; 2004;), the teachers and others like them are not entirely to blame for their deficit mindset. In fact, they represent a system that often "plays God" with LSES students and students of color by failing to equip them with the skills and knowledge that will result in socioeconomic advancement. Like the American public in general, these teachers are continuously bombarded with negativity about African Americans (Chideya, 1995) and Latinos. They hear about high crime rates, dismal high school dropout rates (U.S. Department of Education, 2001), alarming suspension and expulsion rates (Ferguson, 2000; Thompson, 2002; 2003; 2004), high numbers of special education referrals (Hacker, 1992; Kunjufu, 1985; Oakes, 1999, Thompson, 2002), underrepresentation in Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) classes (Ford, 1995; Hacker, 1992; Thompson, 2002), low achievement (U. S. Department of Education 2000), unconcerned parents (Flores, Tefft-Cousin, & Diaz 1991; Poplin & Weeres 1992; Thompson 2002; 2003; 2004), and of course, the infamous achievement gap (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003; U.S. Department of Education, 2000) on a regular basis. In summarizing research about African Americans, Delpit (1988) stated, "People of color are, in general, skeptical of research as a determiner of our fates. Academic research has . . . found us genetically inferior, culturally deprived, and verbally deficient" (p. 286). What educators don't hear enough of is good news about African American and Latino students. One of the reasons is educators themselves are unlikely to disseminate good news about these groups.
Instead, educators who "play God" with other people's children use the negativity that they...