The July 17 "Can Whites Teach Blacks?" [Page 1] was misleading.
Cultural differences, not race, were "at the heart of the Hartford
school system's most wrenching incidents this year."
The reporter used a small section
of an article that I had written stating that "there is nothing wrong with white teachers.
I had them, respect them, was the only black in an all-white high
school." I spent only three years in that high school. I can
also recall a time when Hartford had its first black school teacher,
principal and so on.
The article also stated that a "white principal did not make
it through the school year in a mostly black neighborhood after
she hired all white teachers, setting the tone for a racially charged
atmosphere that seemed to worsen every week." This statement
is partially true, but it was not just because the principal happened
to be white, but mainly because she came into a unique situation.
The school, in a predominately black community, was the first
in Hartford designated by the federal government as a Blue Ribbon
School. At that time, it had a black principal and many of the
teaching staff were black. It brought pride to the black community.
The black male principal retired and was replaced by the white
female principal. She brought in all white teachers to replace
retiring black teachers. It was not a question of whether she was
capable, or whether white teachers could teach blacks. It was a
case of racial pride that was suddenly erased in a community where
this type of ethnic pride was needed to inspire and encourage others,
especially the young students.
Another misstatement was that "a black principal in the district's
most troubled school attributed her school's woes, in part, to
white teachers being culturally out of tune with black students." This
principal will sincerely tell anyone that some of the best teachers
at the school are black, Hispanic and white, as she has told me
many times. The issue is that some of the teachers, of all races,
who are sent directly from suburban backgrounds and teaching, are
culturally out of tune with these urban students. This is not a
racial statement but a fair assessment. The majority of these students
live in one of the state's most disadvantaged communities. There
are extreme cultural differences that some of these suburban teachers
are not used to. Because of that, some of these kids are labeled
as bad, disrespectful and even placed in special education classes.
In the article, Jack Hasegawa,
chief of the State Office of Educational Equity, remarked that
the special education designation provides financial resources
to get extra help. Yet school systems use this designation to
increase financial resources at the expense of students. The
Hartford school superintendent stated that "the district
may identify more minority students as needing special education
than it should," but then he goes on to state that "it
isn't a racial determination." If not, then what is it?
No one is addressing the real problem - the problem communities
that these students come from. Just as it is more factual that
poor-performing communities are the major reason for schools being
labeled as poor-performing schools, so is it misleading to try
to allege that white teachers cannot teach black students when
the real issue is diversity training, cultural differences and
the need for students of any color to see, and have, role models
and mentors who look like them.
Let's stop playing the race card and get on with the business
of providing quality education in all of our schools and not placing
all our efforts and resources into magnet schools and private schools.
Let's not continue to confuse racial pride and cultural differences
Thirman L. Milner
The writer is a former mayor of Hartford.
Although Courant reporter Rachel
Gottlieb interviewed me at length and quoted me directly in the
article "Can Whites Teach Blacks," the
spirit of which I spoke was not conveyed. When asked if white teachers
are able to have success with children of color, I answered "Absolutely!" From
there, I was clear in stating that I am a successful product of
the West Hartford Public School system and only had white teachers
growing up. Of course, white teachers can teach successful black
As for having an "ease between a black parent, teacher and
student," this doesn't disqualify quality white teachers from
being successful with children of color (and their parents) who
want to learn. Both inter- and intraracial relationships need the
art of communication and convenience of accessibility. Quality,
willingness, communication and accessibility are just the beginning
ingredients in the recipe for a successful teaching and learning
As an advocate for diversity and inclusion, I do not condone segregation,
separation or isolation. I support the diversity of a student body
with the demographics of the teachers, faculty and staff reflecting
those they serve. It is essential that students see leaders who
look like them, but also that they have access to other leaders
who may contribute a different view, culture or style that may
broaden their horizons and enrich their learning experience. These
are key components needed to reach our goal of having the aforementioned
ideal environment where all children are more apt to learn and
all teachers are more successful with teaching.
In elaborating on my quote that was used in The Courant's article,
I hope that it is clear that children's successes can be bountiful
when we provide the opportunity. Our children deserve it, and we
owe them our earnest efforts.
The writer is chairwoman of the West Hartford Initiative on Racial
and Ethnic Diversity.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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