Culture, bias, race, poverty, & stereotypes,
Research and ideas to challenge stereotypes

A complete unbiased mind isn’t possible.

The hidden curriculum and culture

Culture is like water for the fish, we are in it and a part of it, but we do not see it.
Felipe Korzenny

We are completely unaware of our culture, until we are taken out of it.

Like fish, we are unaware of cultural, how it controls and impacts what we determine as education, and how we educate. This should cause serious consideration of how a curriculum contains knowledge from the dominant culture and attempts to teach students in a manner consistent with that culture and what that culture values for better and worse. Since none of us can know everything that's important in our world, we can conclude this approach is greatly limiting not only in preparing students for their future, but greatly limiting us in discovering all of our students’ talents and abilities.

Teaching is too often a game of do you know what I (the teacher) know? And of course what I know is, my culture. Not necessarily yours.

Why not saying anything ... isn't a solution. Read:

Don't Say Nothing article

A comprehensive review of culture - The Iceberg Model of Culture


Imagine a tray of candy being passed around a class in school for a holiday. Before the tray circulates the candy is gone. Is it possible the students are caring, empathetic, and following the rules or are they greedy */#\%&* and don’t care about their fellow students by only taking their fair share?

A wise teacher understands the children are obeying their cultural rules and took extra candy, not for themselves, but for siblings at home, as they have been taught, they must not accept anything unless they can share with those at home.


Race as a classification is a product dependent on historical social, economic, and political processes. As such it is a sociopolitical construct, not a biological one.

To equate ancestors from certain geographical areas promotes stereotypes as no geographical area is pure, but populated by ancestors who are constantly mixing across groups and migrating across areas.

There really is no such thing as race.
We are one species - each of us such.
Much more alike than different.
We all come from Africa.
We all are of the same stardust.
We are all going to live and die on the same planet.
A Pale Blue Dot in the vastness of space.
We Have to work together.

Bill Nye

Research that supports early intelligence of Black children

Marcelle Gerber, French researcher, found in 1956, that despite malnutrition, which was thought would cause lower rates of infant development, the developmental rate of native Ugandan infants was much higher than the established norm for Ugandan babies and European children Further they outperformed children who were two or three times their age. At six to seven weeks they could skillfully crawl and sit up by themselves. At six and seven months they could walk across the room, reach into a basket, and retrieve a toy - demonstrating the first necessary change for the development of logic, object-permanence.

In the mid -1960s William Frankenburg and Joe Dodds studied Black American children as young as six months and claimed they had developed significantly more quickly than white children of comparable backgrounds. Twenty years later they repeated their research with a totally different sample of thousands of children and concluded that in the first year of life there were no items the white children were doing earlier than the black children. Even at age four, blacks had an edge in fifteen categories, while whites were better in three.

Phyllis Rippeyoung, in 2006, studied scores of African American and white infants on the Bayley Scale of Infant Development and found black infants got slightly higher cognitive-skill scores and considerably higher motor-skill scores for black than white babies born with the same degree of good health and parents who interacted similarly with the babies. While the black babies would surpass white babies on all aspects of the Bayley Scale the differences between the two groups would even out prior to school at age four or five and then tended to reverse.

Mamie and Kenneth Clark showed two dolls, different only in color, to young black children and asked them questions to which the answers included: The white doll was nicer, prettier, and better to play with. The black doll was bad, ugly, and not as good to play with. When asked which doll looked like them, they hesitantly chose the black doll, for which they had already labeled with negative attributes. Kiri Davis, replicated the study in Harlem with almost identical results in 2006. Kami Henley, again replicated in Louisiana in 2011 with results the same as the original assessment in the 1940s and 1950s.

Stereotype as performance threat

Psychologist Claude Steele, first studied the stereotype threat in 1995. In one experiment he told students the test they were about to take did not typically show gender differences. The results were - no gender-based score differences.

Stereotype threat related ideas:

  • Stereotype threat appears to function in most settings in which a group feels a stigma potentially related to its performance.
  • Caring about the outcome increases the under performance effect.
  • Chronic experience of stereotype threat appears to lead individuals to misidentify with the domain in which they are experiencing the threat.
  • Desiring to maintain his or her self-esteem in the face of failure can cause a student to be defiant and stupid in class, rather than let the teacher put them in a position to make them look like a failure or call them a failure. They know their friends know they are not dumb and will laugh at the teacher together later.
  • Not wanting to belong or be associated with a dominant group as it will overwhelm group membership to a less dominant or powerful group.

Negative Focuses on Poverty and Children of Minority Cultures

It is not unusual for people to conclude, as Ruby Payne - that a culture of poverty, is an explanation as to why something is wrong with children of poverty. Maybe in their genes or in their culture rather than the way they are treated and oppressed.


I am sure the teacher thought it was encouragement when he asked with a smile, “How in the world did you ever learn how to write?”
He had no clue that he had insulted my community, my family, and my teachers.

This belief provides a scapegoat for poor performing teachers, administrators, and school systems. Poverty, which they can claim in place of poor performance. Blaming parents, their households, their educational backgrounds, because of their poverty. Blaming the victim, not the school, means nothing needs to change.

What Payne labels - culture. Is actually a response to oppression. True culture supports its people; it doesn’t destroy them. A person who drinks and ends up beating his wife, neighbor, or dogs is their response to oppression - not to their culture. There is a difference between culture and a response to oppression.

How can this not cause students to believe they are salvageable and dispensable, because of who they are, their parents, families, or communities? To be unmotivated, because there is no hope. NOT because of POOR teaching.

If they do try and are successful, is it because of them or is it because of the teachers who work with them who are the saviors of the poor?

What is Black

Could it be African American learners are not being taught, because many people equate blackness with inferiority?

Black is thought bad or trouble or evil. White is thought good.

Historical statements related to black inferiority:

  • Thomas Jefferson, 1781 writings on the character of African Americans
  • John C. Calhoun, 1844 speech for why slavery should continue
  • Lewis Terman, 1916 for the American Psychological association in The Measurement of Intelligence, claim of the ineducable black
  • PBS Think Tank transcripts, aired October 28, 1994 claimed equal intelligence for all racial groups is a fiction.
  • William Bennett former secretary of education on Good Morning America, 2005 claimed crime would by reduced with less black children.
  • James Watson, 2007 on winning the Nobel Prize claimed no testing shows equality of intelligence across the races.
  • July 6, 2020 Study finds Future Teachers More Likely to View Black Children as Angry, Even When They Are Not

Negative connotations when using black.

  • Blackly - angrily do something - blackly accuse him
  • Blacken - defame the English language
  • Black death - plague
  • Black eye - a mark of shame
  • Black words - hostile words
  • Black-hearted - accuse of being malevolent
  • Black outlook - pessimistic, dismal
  • Blackguard - scoundrel
  • Black mark - detrimental fact
  • Black-brow - scowl at
  • Black cat crosses in front - bad luck
  • Black deed - evil
  • Black sheep - one who causes shame or embarrassment or to deviate from the accepted standards
  • Black-balled - ostracized
  • Black-list - list of undesirables
  • Black-mail - to force or coerce into a particular action
  • Blackjack - to compel by threat
  • Black lie - harmful, inexcusable telling of untruth
  • Black and white - entirely bad or entirely good
  • Black day - depressing, gloomy
  • Spade a spade - call something undesirable undesirable
  • Calling the kettle black - a bad person saying bad things about bad things

Hurricane Katrina News clippings

katrina new clippings image

Notice the difference in the wording of the captions for the two photos:

Information from The Trouble with Black Boys, by Pedro Noguera

  • This group leads the nation in homicides, As perpetrators and as victims.
  • Have the fastest growing rate of suicide
  • Contracting HIV/AIDS at a faster rate than any other segment of the population
  • Are the only group in the United States experiencing a decline in life expectancy
  • Are the most likely to be unemployed
  • Are more likely to be suspended and expelled
  • Were steadily increasing in enrollment in colleges from 1973 to 1977.
  • Since 1977 they have seen a sharp and continuous decline
  • More likely to be classified with a label that places them in special education
  • Lest likely to be enrolled in advanced placement and honors courses

Do students think teachers care?

Percentage of students who replied with - “My teachers support me and care about my success in their class”

  • black males 20 percent
  • white males 54 percent
  • white females 71 percent

Ideas related to Black culture: from Lisa Delpit

The first great civilization in Ancient Egypt - Kemet, had Seven principles or its moral system: Truth, justice, harmony, balance, order, reciprocity, and righteousness. From these was derived an overarching African notion of responsibility of the individual to the group.

  • Believe the cosmos is divine and that humans, are a part of the cosmos, who also have the potential to become divine.
  • Believe the goal of education is to assist individuals in their quest of divinity or perfection, by fostering a deep understanding and guided practice of the principles of what is correct.
  • African tradition includes - Intellect, Humanity, Spirituality, and Being an Integral part of a social group. - I am because we are.
  • Africans assume that people have the mental capacity to achieve. To them impediments to learning are character deficiencies rather than mental deficiencies.
  • Believe that you motivate people by whatever means are deemed appropriate to improve his or her attitude.
  • Believe there is no doubt that all humans are capable of learning.

Animals and humans have been teaching their young what they need to know to survive. Not one mother tried to find out whether her bear babies or her cat babies or her human babies had the capacity to learn – they just taught them what they needed to know.

Is middle class status necessary for educational success?

Hart-Risley data found that low-income children heard many fewer words than children of professional parents. SO WHAT? Remember correlations are not causal or do not show cause.

Asian and Native American cultures consider too much talk directed at a child as - child abuse.

Some people associate being poor with not being successful in school. Yet many poor people - Lincoln and poor black children in the pre-integrated South were regularly educated to levels that enabled them to enter universities and graduate successfully. Likewise in other places around the world - Asia.

We do not need to fix the language of the parents or devise a preschool intervention to fix children, or is it necessary to dumb down teaching, or to require children to read before they can learn.

We waste poor children’s time on activities that have no real relationship to intellectual development or by waiting for students to be ready. Children can learn to decode language and read with minimal teacher intervention (40 hours).

Teachers should read aloud complex, thought provoking material, well above the students’ current reading level and engage them in discussions that promote analysis and critical thinking about the information and to advance their learning of vocabulary encountered.

After the emancipation proclamation Blacks pursued learning because they told each other this how you asserted yourself as a free person; how you claimed your humanity, how you prepare yourself to achieve and lead your people. Your ancestors sacrificed too much for you not to do your best. It is a far cry from - Get a job.

Different types of skills are not equally valued in the school setting.

Consider these two different skill sets:

  • Traditional basic skills which are one aspect of the current culture of the middle class (counting, reading, computing basic operations, memorization of trivial facts...)
  • Learning how to tie a shoe, go to the store to make purchase for your family, taking care of a younger sibling, caring for a pet, negotiate your neighborhood and interact with a variety of people socially.

History from integration and Katrina recover?

  • Before 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education, there were few avenues of employment open to highly educated African Americans. Therefore, Black teachers and principals could get jobs in the segregated school system and were often more highly degreed than their white counterparts.
  • In 1954, about 82 000 black teachers were responsible for teaching 2 million black children. Eleven years following Brown 38,000 black teachers and administrators in seventeen southern and border states lost their jobs. And 90 percent of all Black principals lost their jobs in eleven southern states.
  • In 1964, in Florida there were Black principals in all 67 school districts. 10 years later, only forty districts had black principals.
  • In North Carolina Black principals dropped from 620 in 1967 to 40 in 1971.
  • In Kentucky there were 75 black principals in 1954. In 1968 there was one.
  • A National Education Association study of Mississippi found: Black educators being dismissed, demoted, and pressured into resigning when school systems were desegregated: blacks being replaced by whites without regard to qualifications.

More recently after Katrina

  • New Orleans - Teachers for America (TFA) doubled the number of TFA teachers to 500 in the 2009-2010 school year and in 2010-2011 the numbers increased even further.
  • Paul Vallas, then head of the New Orleans Recovery School District “surplussed (read “dismissed”) 150-200 veteran teachers to make room for more TFA and TeachNOLA (a similar local program) positions.
  • Lance Hill refers to the program as “Bleach for America”.
  • Supported by research by Howard Nelson who found. The teaching force in New Orleans was 73% African American prior to Hurricane Katrina, and is now only 56 percent African American.
  • New Orleans writer and activist Kalamu Ya Salaam call it - welfare for the well-to-do.
  • The more desegregation a state experienced, the fewer black educators they end up with.

If we are serious about equity and justice, then we have to undo any model that obliquely serves to replicate a racist past.

Carter G. Woodson in the Miseducation of the Negro in 1933 claims. When people of color are taught to accept uncritically texts and histories that reinforce their marginalized position in society, they easily learn never to question their position. And. When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. He will find his - proper place and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.

Suggestions for Change

Guidelines from two sources, instructional suggestions, and examples:

Pedagogy That Works from Pedagogy for poverty by Martin Haberman

  1. Whenever students are involved with issues they regard as vital concerns, good teaching is going on.
  2. Whenever students are involved with explanations of human differences, good teaching is going on.
  3. Whenever students are being helped to see major concepts, big ideas, and general principles are not merely engaged in the pursuit of isolated facts, good teaching is going on.
  4. Whenever students are involved in planning what they will be doing, it is likely that good teaching is going on.
  5. Whenever students are involved with applying ideas such as fairness, equity, or justice to the world, it is likely that good teaching is going on.
  6. Whenever students are actively involved, it is likely that good teaching Is going on.
  7. Whenever students are directly involved in a real-life experience, it is likely that good teaching is going on.
  8. Whenever students are actively involved in heterogeneous groups, it is likely that good teaching is going on.
  9. Whenever students are asked to think about an idea in a way that question common sense or a widely accepted assumption that related new ideas to ones learned previously or that applies an idea to the problems of living, then there is a good change that good teaching is going on.
  10. Whenever students are involved in reading, polishing, or perfecting their work, it is likely that good teaching is going on.
  11. Whenever teachers involve students with the technology of information access, good teaching is going on.
  12. Whenever students are involved in reflecting on their own lives and how they have come to believe and feel as they do, good teaching is going on.

Factors to create excellence in culturally diverse classrooms.

  1. Provide quality teachers and good teaching, especially for children whose future is dependent on success in school (students of low-income and diverse backgrounds).
  2. Recognize and build on children's strengths.
  3. Recognize the brilliance of poor diverse children and teach them more content, not less.
  4. Use instructional methodologies that include critical thinking that incorporates or allows for the discovery of the content’s structure and provides all children access to basic information to learn the conventions and strategies essential for success in American and global societies.
  5. Provide children with the emotional self-efficacy to challenge racist societal views and motivate them to achieve their own competence and worthiness as well as their families and communities.
  6. Use familiar experiences and metaphors from the students’ world to connect what students already know in context of their real experiences to provide rigorous instruction of school knowledge with different types of media that connects new information to the cultural framework children bring to school in a manner that assumes the children are brilliant and capable.
  7. Create a sense of family and caring in the classroom.
  8. Monitor and assess students' needs and address them with a wealth of diverse strategies.
  9. Honor and respect the children's home cultures.
  10. Foster a sense of children’s connection to community, to something greater than themselves.

Instruction Must Challenge and Increase Self-efficacy

Philip Uri Treisman developed a workshop which was referred to as an honors workshop and provided challenging problems, often beyond the actual course material in which the students were enrolled. Therefore, the students were not labeled remedial, but as advanced. Even students with limited preparation, math SAT scores in the 300s, excelled. Treisman believed they realized no one knew everything and worked collectively to provide the information each needed for understanding. The success of the model has continued into the 2000s, with universities around the country replicating its effectiveness.

The difference between challenge and remediation

  • In a challenge students have less to fear since the work is difficult, success is a credit to your ability and a setback is a reflection only of the challenge.
  • Remediation makes failure more fearful as failure is a reflection on your inability as all tasks are assumed simple. It crushes self-efficacy.
  • When students are valued and challenged and provided support to facilitate their learning, they are likely to succeed.
  • You cannot value students as intellectual beings without challenging them.
  • By participating in the “doing” they are joining the intellectual club. They come to feel membership in the guild of scholars and thus become more identified with the school or university.

More projects and activities

  • Bill Bigelow and Linda Christensen used historical concepts as a starting point to explore the relationships of students’ lives to the forced Cherokee Indian removal. Different roles were presented through role-plays that portrayed Indians, Plantation owners, Bankers, and Members of the Andrew Jackson administration. Students were able to gain a deep understanding of the forces that combined to push the Cherokees west against their will.
  • Oral history project - Stone Mountain , Georgia
  • Cosmetology - Mathematics of black hair design, the science of hair product ingredients
  • Design, manufacture, and market sneakers with a cooperative company
  • Drama High
  • A history curriculum - On love affairs
  • Study of traditional African cultures
  • Asian and Africans along the Silk Road
  • A video discussion on the roots of Chicago jazz as a jump off point to deeper investigations
  • Discussing the book Monster by Walter Dean Myers. Focus question: Is Adolfo (the main character) a monster or is he not?
  • Other books to spark critical thinking and to discover what students know. What Is Invisible in the Child before Us., James Collier and Christopher Collier. With Every Drop of Blood: A Novel of the Civil War. New York: Laurel Leaf, 1992. Walter Mosley. 47. New York: Little, Brown, 2005. Walter Dean Myers. The Beast. New York. Scholastic, 2003.


Book cover

Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for other People's Children. Lisa Delpit. (2012).

Human and civil rights training resources available through NEA on Bullying and Sexual Harassment, Cultural Competence,  Diversity,  English Language Learner Culture & Equity,  Safety, Bias, and LGBTQ Issues,  Minority Leadership, Social Justice,  Women's Leadership

Activity A Future Star: Challenging Stereotypes of Diversity
By Paul Hernandez and Karla Loebick


The term diversity came about with the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. It has been expanded to include race, gender, sexual orientation, physical appearance, belief systems, thought styles. socioeconomic status, and rural urban geographic locations, and more.

Build a background scenario for an up and coming boxer, ask students to brainstorm how to promote him, share their ideas, expose the boxer as Mexican, debrief.


  1. Introduce by saying. Some Americans consider boxing a sport, nicknamed: the sweet science, others consider it a barbaric display of violence. The fact is boxing is very profitable.
    2012 - Floyd Mayweather ($32 million) vs. Miguel Cotto ($8 million) + undisclosed millions paid to the fight’s promoters.
  2. Present information. Authors suggest a PowerPoint presentation with the following information:
    • The Next Big Thing.
    • 45 wins, including 33 by knockout, and one loss.
    • 25 years old,
    • A future super star
    • Three pictures of the young boxer. Source for images.
      1. a shirtless young man posing during training.
      2. after a fight holding up silver gloves
      3. non-athletic apparel in a non-boxing setting

    Saul Alvarez image

  3. Ask students to answer the question: How can we promote him to maximize his earning potential as a boxing super star?
    1. Class discussion and brainstorming... briefly share ideas
    2. Show Video of Emilio González Márquez conversó con Saúl "Canelo" Álvarez begin at 39 seconds to capture the voice of a man speaking in Spanish run video till after Saul speaks in Spanish for awhile.
    3. Present following Boxer Bio and
      • Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez,” (Canelo is Spanish for cinnamon and I explain this to the class), the name of the boxer.
      • Born and raised in the city of Guadalajara, in the Mexican state of Jalisco.
      • Both of his parents were also born and raised in Mexico.
  4. Discuss the Social Construction of Race by asking .... .So? What do Latinos look like?

Activity source Thought & Action 99 The NEA Higher Education Journal 87-100 with activity description on page 94-96

Additional activities




Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes
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