Beverly Daniel Tatum’s new book is an accessible and engaging take on a broad range of issues regarding race and education, from the history of school resegregation to culturally responsive teaching practices and inter-racial friendships. Written as the inaugural volume for a collaborative lecture and book series sponsored by Beacon Press and Simmons College, Tatum’s work tackles where the political and the personal meet for educators. The book addresses why it is particularly important for educators to examine their own prejudices and have honest dialogues about how racism is manifested in classrooms.
A powerful section of Tatum’s book looks at how system-wide practices, such as racist intelligence testing, and interpersonal dynamics, such as teachers’ lowered expectations of students of color, are negatively impacting students’ school performance. While many authors have written about these issues, Tatum connects the theories in a way that clarifies the serious reform needed today in education. She then suggests ways that individual teachers can take action to reform their practice, such as being clear about standards for evaluation and building a system for all students to receive help so that none are stigmatized for doing so. But she does not leave it at that. Tatum immediately connects individual action to a call for system-wide reform.
The stories and case studies included throughout the book help bring the theory to life. In one instance, after describing the effects of teachers’ lowered expectations on students of color, Tatum looks at a professional development initiative that requires teachers to examine their beliefs about race and how this impacts their teaching practice. She tells the story of one white teacher who developed higher expectations for a struggling Puerto Rican student while improving their inter-personal relationship. Consequently, the student’s performance improved. The coursework as well as this experience helped open the teacher’s eyes to the impacts of institutional racism in her school. Tatum’s straight-forward examples of how teacher education and teaching practices can be transformed are a clear call to action for those involved in all levels of education.
Tatum suggests that “relationships across lines of difference are essential for the possibility of social transformation…Genuine friendship leads to caring concern. Caring concern leads to action.” While I believe her that friendships can be transformational, and they have been in my own life and identity development, most of my teaching experience has been in the schools Tatum describes as increasingly segregated. She acknowledges that because of segregation, most students do not have opportunities to form cross-racial friendships until they get to college, however many of my students will not go to college or will attend segregated community colleges.
Despite my frustration with this aspect of the book, it’s a reinvigorating read. Personally, I hope to take her ABC’s of creating an inclusive environment (affirming identity, building community, and cultivating leadership) into the classroom this coming fall.