"Black and Brown" vs. White learning?
Manchester School Administrator's 'Racially Biased' Remarks Criticized
By KATE FARRISH | The Hartford Courant
November 12, 2008
MANCHESTER - The local teachers' union has sharply criticized a school administrator for "racially biased" comments she made linking students' learning style to their race.
In a letter to the board of education Monday night, Thomas Alexander, president of the Manchester Education Association, criticized the comments by Diane Clare-Kearney, who also pointed out Oct. 27 that students from minority groups are taught mostly by white women, as "irresponsible and divisive."
"The statement that 'black or brown boys' learn differently is racial stereotyping and an insult to all students of color," Alexander wrote.
On Monday, board members, who had not reacted to Clare-Kearney's remarks when she made them at their meeting Oct. 27, said they disagreed with her comments. They said they received complaints in calls, e-mails, and even in discussions in the grocery store in the past two weeks. Board Chairwoman Margaret Hackett read a statement agreeing with the union's concerns. The district will explore which approaches to teaching work best to close an achievement gap between students of different races by relying on "hard facts and data" from the teachers who work with the children every day, she said.
"As a school system, we will not rely on loose impressions and random generalizations to determine why the achievement gap exists," she said.
Clare-Kearney declined to comment Tuesday. The district's K-12 supervisor for equity programs was recently honored as multicultural educator of the year by the New England Conference on Multicultural Education.
After Monday's meeting, Hackett said board members regretted not commenting about Clare-Kearney's remarks at the time.
"All of us wish we had thought better on our feet" and said something, she said.
Clare-Kearney's comments came during a discussion of a four-year racial imbalance plan she wrote. The district's minority enrollment surpassed 50 percent for the first time on Oct. 1, which means it no longer is required to redistrict to comply with the state's racial imbalance law.
Under the plan, Clare-Kearney, who is black, said teachers will be trained in different teaching strategies for students of color, who, in general, may not learn best with traditional methods. For example, she said, students of color, particularly black boys, generally don't learn well through note-taking, but do better in groups or in hands-on activities.
In response to a question from board member Michael Rizzo, who is white, about why "a black or a brown student can't sit in a chair and learn in a traditional way," she said, "They're more rambunctious. They're late bloomers. ... And look who's teaching them — mostly white women."
Two days after the meeting, she said she had received no complaints and was speaking in generalities backed by research into the learning styles of students of color.
On Monday night, the nine board members unanimously adopted the plan to address racial disparities, which will be voluntarily submitted to the state. It calls for continued training of teachers in "culturally relevant" instruction so students see their lives reflected in the curriculum; more "Courageous Conversations" aimed at changing attitudes about race; and a focus on raising the test scores of minority students.