Teacher book study opens dialogue on equity in education


Jason Fontelieu

Teachers had the option to participate in online discussions after reading chapters of “Whistling Vivaldi” by Claude M. Steele.

Jason Fontelieu, Deputy editor

The need for book studies like the one he and 37 other teachers engaged in last semester is oh so real, social studies chairman Tom Maranville said.
“Whether it’s Hispanics or African Americans or females or jocks or artistic people, everyone is always doubting their abilities,” Maranville said. “So we start talking about as teachers, if we say things that we’re not aware of, that could perpetuate this whole stereotype threat.”
Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT) teacher Kim Culberton and assistant principal Angela Berry led the initiative, a
study of “Whistling Vivaldi” by Claude Steele.
“We have to be aware of the stereotypes that exist so we can disrupt the pattern and provide equitable learning opportunities for all students,” Culbertson said.
Berry said the book allowed teachers to examine issues in the school community, including racism, sexism and ableism, which is discrimination that favors able-bodied people.
“Teachers are becoming more culturally responsive in their approach to instruction,” Berry said. “This may mean students are now exposed more frequently to authentic resources, novels, artists, activities or perspectives that may have once been excluded for whatever reason.”
Economics teacher Phil Bressler, another participant, agreed with the danger of the stereotype, familiar with the topic from speeches by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth.
“One of the things [Duckworth] talks about is how we look at students and sometimes, if they don’t perform well, we think they’re lazy,” Bressler said. “We don’t think of the other things that might be hiding their poor performance.”
For more than two months, teachers shared ideas on chapters such as “A Broader View of Identity” and “The Distance Between Us.” The study culminated with a “chat-and-chew,” a face-to-face discussion over lunch.
English department chairman Jason Bowman also notes the need for unwavering efforts to eliminate inequitable conditions here.
“No school is perfect,” Bowman said. “As you walk through the halls, you see certain things happening that definitely convey a sense of inequity.”
Bowman, along with other teachers and administrators, has attended Baltimore County Public Schools’ Office of Equity and Cultural Proficiency seminars. The intent is sincere, he said.
“We are not, as a system and as a society, helping large fasces of our population,” Bowman said, “and there are social inequities that are just not being addressed.”