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Privilege and Status: Why to talk about this in a math or science classroom

  
As a former high school teacher and a current teacher educator, I often think about the ways that teachers have to navigate and talk about issues of race.  These issues, some might say, don't align with math and science curriculum and have nothing to do with our work as educators, but I disagree.  So much of what we encounter as teachers comes from outside of the classroom. Students exist and are influenced by things that take place outside of our classrooms and very often don't check anything at the door. Further, I think it is inequitable to ask our students to check things at the door. Students should be able to exist as their whole selves in school, especially since the majority of students spend so much of their time there. However, privilege and status threaten the ways that students are able to fully exist and thrive in our schools and classrooms.
Privilege in this use refers to systemic rules and policies that favor or promote one student over another. Status refers to the "perception of students'  academic capability and social desirability" (Horn, 2012,p.21). This blog was actually sparked by another blog I read that likened White Privilege to being a bike rider in a world built for cars. I wonder who and what our classrooms and schools are built for and who experiences these settings as dangerous or difficult to navigate. Without considering the cultural and systemic influences on our classroom norms and the ways that our students engage with them, we can easily limit students' engagement without even noticing it. Further, without recognizing and surfacing counter-stories to the ideas that we hear that are not true, we silently perpetuate them.  For example, on old lie that was told is that males and Asian students are better at math than females and students of other ethnicities. But the truth is that no one gender or ethnicity is better at science or math.  We are all able to excel in these subject with appropriate access to support and high quality instruction. There is difference in the preparation that necessarily shows in the assessment and that is where we need to focus our effort. 
There are a host of important ideas that need to be shared in science and mathematics classes to support students in successfully navigating end-of-year assessments, but different ideas need to be shared to help students engage as members of the classroom.  Existing as an outsider of a classroom might result in students never being able to fully access the ideas that are shared there. I think that talking about privilege and status in science or math classes makes these phenomena public, which gives teachers a way to combat the negative messages that students might bring into the classroom with them. How are you participating in this conversation?

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09-09-2014 10:31

John, Thanks for your comment.
This blog is not entirely about assessments but more about the awareness that the ways schools are set up result in privilege for students who are better able to navigate them.
However, some of the important ideas that I think should be shared about assessments are:
1) They do not define smarts. They are a single measure at one moment in time of one ability to communicate what they understand academically using a singular medium. Therefore, assessments should be viewed and used formatively. With this view in mind, assessments then need to be given and graded in such a way that students know what they understand and what they need to continue learning about. Teacher that are interested in adjusting the inequity in their classrooms might also structure time to teach students how to use an assessment that is returned in order to include their students into the community of learners that have and take advantage of this skill.
Ultimately, I meant this blog as a conversation starter to learn about the ways that teachers are working to become aware of and counteract the influence of privilege in their contexts.

09-09-2014 07:38

Perhaps you should provide some particulars about your claim. That is, what are some of the important ideas that need to be shared in science and mathematics classes to support students to navigate assessments.? I am not sure what point you are trying to make here.