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Debbie O'Leary
School of Education

Learning Matters

Education tips from Indiana University

In order to bridge racial differences and issues of power in the classroom, African American elementary students use embodied metaphors and physical gestures to express their frustrations. A yearlong ethnographic study showed students in an all-black 5th grade classroom in Houston dealt with their white male teacher's disciplinary actions by shrugging their shoulders, walking out of the classroom, and other dismissive gestures which, according to Barbara Korth, assistant professor in curriculum and instruction, are used to express self determination. "Issues of inequality in race and power were worked out through physical rather than verbal responses," said Korth. If the teacher told a student to sit down, the student would walk out of the room just to return a few minutes later and sit down as told. According to Korth, students were in effect saying, "You don't have control over my body. I do." Students would also imitate the teacher's white characteristics when he was out of the room, and when he spoke to them, the message was inevitably misinterpreted based on racial barriers. "Neither the students nor the teacher ever spoke about issues of race throughout the school year," she added. "Therefore, students were left to their own devices in how they interpreted the teacher's messages." For more information, contact Korth at 812-856-8142 or by e-mail at

Exposure to cross-racial or cross-social status experiences helps future teachers develop a greater comfort level and increased sense of civic engagement and responsibility, says Monica Medina, lecturer in teacher education at IUPUI. "When our students walk into schools, they assume students will come dressed like they are with hats and coats and socks, etc. They are surprised when they see kids who aren't dressed appropriately." Teacher Education students at IUPUI take classes within an urban school setting in order to interact with students of differing abilities and cultural backgrounds. Medina, who teaches a class titled Diversity and Learning, which addresses issues of oppression, inclusion, and collaboration, says the objective is to open up dialogue based on readings and experiences in order to "challenge their beliefs and assumptions about teaching and learning." An integral part of the coursework is a research project examining the community of the school district where students plan to teach. Students look at hospitals, education resources, transportation, economics, politics of the community, housing and how space is used, history of community and population characteristics, protective and social services, and local media influences. "The research helps students begin to make sense of how resources might be lacking for certain demographics," says Medina. "As students go out into the community, talk to people and collect the data, they develop a different perspective that isn't necessarily a deficit perspective or based on stereotypical assumptions." The result has been an increased number of students wanting to teach in the Indianapolis Public School System "and staying there." It has also been rewarding for the children in the professional development schools they work with. "The kids love having our students come into their classes," Medina says. "It provides them some valuable one-on-one time with an educator, plus our students are closer to their age, so they may feel more of a peer-related bond." For more information, contact Medina at (317) 274-6834 or by e-mail at

Unintentional racism is pervasive in the mental health system. According to Charles Ridley, a professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology and licensed psychologist, ethnic minority clients compared to their white counterparts, are more likely to receive an inaccurate diagnosis, terminate prematurely, receive an inappropriate or less preferred treatment, be assigned to a junior rather than senior professional, and report greater dissatisfaction with their treatment. But, said Ridley, much of this unfair treatment is unintentional. "Many people equate racism with racial prejudice and bigotry," he said. "They understandably believe that the unfair treatment accorded to individuals from minority groups is attributable to devious motives, bigotry, and hatred. Actually, a great deal of unintentional racism is motivated by a desire to be helpful." Ridley cited examples of unintentional racism that often occur in therapy sessions. In pseudo-transference, the therapist tries to address a perceived problem without establishing a working alliance with the client, and the client views the line of questioning as stereotypical. "The therapist, however, is in a position of power and is socially sanctioned to make a judgment about the client that carries weight and has serious consequences. In observing the agitation of the client, the therapist mistakenly judges the reaction as a psychological disorder when in reality it is a healthy response to an unhealthy stimulus. All along, the therapist thinks he or she is doing the right thing." Pseudo-transference is one of several therapist actions that results in African-American males, more than any other group, being assigned the diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia. "Statisically, the prevalence of this diagnosis to this population is highly improbable," said Ridley. It was also found in a recent study that Caucasian therapists, but not minority therapists, avoid any discussion of race with their minority clients. The therapists probably did not want to offend their minority clients or appear as multiculturally incompetent. "Here the intentions are not malicious, but their professional behaviors are counterproductive," he said. "As long as therapists 'play it safe' regarding their anxiety, they cannot help clients adequately deal with their anxiety and psychological presentation." For more information, contact Ridley at 812-856-8340 or by e-mail at

An education historian has examined the differences in memories retained between Blacks and Whites who survived a Texas race riot in the midst of World War II. Throughout the summer of 1943, Beaumont, Texas experienced rapid population growth, housing and food shortages, and forced workplace integration. These circumstances were already causing racial tensions when a white woman lied about being raped by a black man. Approximately 4,000 people rioted resulting in the mobilization of the State and National Guard as well as the Texas Rangers. Many blacks were assaulted, three people were killed - two blacks and one white, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage was reported. Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Professor Donald Warren, who grew up in Beaumont, remembered the race riots, but wondered how other citizens of the boomtown would recall the fateful days of June 15 and 16. Warren interviewed whites who worked in the Pennsylvania shipyard in Beaumont, the riot's genesis, asking what, in general, they remembered about life on the home front during World War II. "The subjects talked about the many patriotic acts they participated in, but not one of the subjects remembered the race riots," he says. When Warren reminded them of the riot, they were shocked that they had forgotten. The results were much different when he asked black citizens the same questions. According to Warren, blacks were haunted by memories of terror, but also of how they protected themselves during the riot. Historians had often reported that blacks were passive during the Beaumont riot, but according to the subjects Warren interviewed, they were anything but passive. "They fought back in very clever ways, arming themselves and working to help each other escape dangerous parts of the city," he says. Witnesses recalled that one of the black men killed was an army inductee who was waiting at the bus terminal. He was beaten and killed by the rampaging mob as police stood by and watched. "It was a jarring contrast between what happened and what was supposed to happen during the patriotism of World War II and our democratic crusade across the world." For more information, contact Warren at (812) 856-8379 or by e-mail at