The lens of whiteness won’t close gaps in BPS
Curricular bias occurs when the contributions of people of color are overlooked or relegated as less valuable
School districts embrace a pattern of revering white authors while ignoring the rich archives of Black authors. As a Boston Public Schools student decades ago, my textbooks did not include the writings or images of authors who looked like me. During Black History Month, my ELA teacher assigned “Black Like Me” by Howard Griffin, a white author. I was perplexed reading about a white man who wanted to know what it was like to be a Black man. This white man began artificially injecting himself with skin darkening compounds, wrote a book that became a movie, won fame, made money, and continued his life of white privilege. I found the book ridiculous and insulting. My teacher thought she was assigning a relevant text. It was not. Luckily, a Black librarian exposed me to James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and other great Black authors. This augmented my poor BPS education and sparked my dream of going to college.
Curricular bias occurs when the contributions of people of color are overlooked or relegated as less valuable. It also occurs when there is a belief that white authors writing about race are preferred over Black intellectuals.
In 2020, BPS continues to drop the ball when it comes to adopting aspirational curricula that promote culturally responsive, high-quality learning for Black students. During a virtual meeting, Jason Sachs, director of early childhood education for BPS, shared that “The Color of Us,” a white-authored book that BPS adopted, was replete with bias. Yet, he stated, it would continue to be used as a core text. Why?
Recently, BPS gutted the ELA Department and furloughed an Afro-Cuban bilingual educator with years of success and a doctorate in Language, Literacy and Cultural Studies. Then, BPS leadership adopted “Wit and Wisdom,” an ELA curriculum published by Great Minds, an exclusively white publishing company. Upon adoption, the district applauded the curriculum as culturally relevant, with a strong social justice theme. This statement fetishizes diversity.
A review of “Wit and Wisdom” reveals less than 40 out of 174 texts are by writers of color; approximately 9% included Black voices. Artwork is exclusively by white artists and features primarily white characters. A unit entitled “The Redcoats are Coming” features “Colonial Voices,” reminiscent of the colonized texts I read as a BPS student.
There is a history of teaching that disregards race and racism. Texts often omit or minimize the atrocities committed against Black and Indigenous people. BPS must interrogate why they chose a curriculum that does not provide a balanced study of cultures and limits the contributions of people of color. BPS must also confront the premise that rigorous curricula is centered on white voices and the myth that Black thought is not rigorous. These views are damaging to Black students and educators who recognize the need for curricula that affirms positive and accurate narratives of people of color.
When the district adopts curricula that perpetuate stereotypes and lack accurate perspectives of Black people, Native Americans, Latinos or other non-European individuals, teachers are burdened to augment instruction with resources that decenter the normative hierarchies that privilege whiteness. Many studies conclude that when districts invest in retaining Black educators, it boosts student achievement. Once again, BPS falls short. BPS leadership needs to adopt a curriculum that is culturally, linguistically affirming, and capitalizes on student strength.
If BPS is serious about eliminating gaps, it’s time to discard the lens of whiteness that pushes the narrative of American racial fiction that was part of my miseducation in BPS decades ago.
Edith Bazile is a former president of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts.