It turns out that graduates think they can benefit from them too. “I was a racist teacher and I didn’t recognize it,” Laurie Calvert wrote in The Education Post last year. “At the time that I taught, I would have argued that I was the opposite.”
“I was a progressive, a Democrat. I campaigned in my progressive town in Western North Carolina for the first Black man to run for the U.S. Senate against a notorious racist from our state, Jesse Helms. I voted for Obama, even volunteered in his office during the 2008 campaign.”
Calvert had an awakening, of sorts, when she joined the Obama Administration as a teaching ambassador fellow at the U. S. Department of Education. In that capacity she had the opportunity to attend diversity workshops her boss, then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, promoted.
“He believed that we should examine ourselves and make sure that the equity we were promoting in education policy was present in us as individuals and in the U.S. Department of Education,” she recalls. “To accomplish this, Duncan’s team brought into the Department a team of racial bias experts to lead his senior staff and political appointees through a series of ‘Courageous Conversations About Race,’ facilitated by Michelle Molitor of the D.C. Equity Lab.”
“The progressive in me couldn’t wait to participate, to have my values affirmed and to be seen as one of the good guys who gets it. Definitely not a racist.”
“From the beginning, though, I could sense something was off inside me. During the first day of training, Molitor taught us to listen to each other’s stories without judgement, which is tougher than it sounds. Then she asked us to describe to a partner a time when we first recognized the skin we are in. Though I hadn’t planned to, I went into a semi-rant about anger I still felt for parents of Black students who had over the years implied that I was a racist.”
“One mother had told me it was ‘insensitive’ for me to show “Glory” in school, that her daughter felt demoralized seeing how African Americans were treated while sitting in a class of mostly White students.”
Calvert served as the Department’s first teacher liaison and remembers the experience as one of personal growth: “Molitor introduced a range of concepts that were new to me: microaggression, White privilege, and the difference between prejudice and racism.”