Black students learn less when we don’t believe in their potential – How some schools are improving grades by raising self-esteem of black children and teens

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Note from BW of Brazil: Understanding the Brazilian education system is a key element to understanding how structural racism continuously undermines the black population. Of course, study after study after study show that the non-white population lags behind the white population is nearly every category that measures quality of life. But the question is, why is this? Past reports have shown that, because of the state of Brazil’s public education system, in order for a child to attain a decent education that will prepare him or her for the future, parents must invest in expensive private primary and high schools, schools that are usually far out of reach for the vast majority of the black population. But speaking of the quality of education is just one aspect of the issue. The other is how the black population is treated in the classrooms.

Eliane Cavalleiro’s groundbreaking studies early in the previous decade conclusively demonstrated that teachers take more care and offer more encouragement to white children than their non-white counterparts, behavior that can make or break a student’s perception of his or her ability as well as their desire to put in their best effort. Thus, besides the everyday racist treatment that these students must endure from classmates (see note one) and parents of classmates, they must also deal with teachers who are unprepared or unwilling to deal with the racial issue in the classroom and often times harbor their own racist sentiments. These experiences often lead the black child to give up on school altogether or make them apprehensive of going to school or participating.

As such, because the idea that “we are all equal” is so prevalent in Brazil, educators don’t know how to deal with the fact that society itself puts black children at a disadvantage from the moment that they start the formal education process and without dealing with these issues, many of these children will never reach their full potential. But there is hope. Some educators and schools DO recognize these special issues and have come up with ways to address the problem. Now, how can we make sure that more educators get involved and implement creative methods and curriculums that can help black children to understand that learning is also a “black thing”?

Recent edition of ‘Nova Escola’ magazine asks, “Why do we expect less from her?’ – “Black students learn less when we don’t believe in their potential.”

Education is also a black thing

Research shows that pretos e pardos (blacks and browns) are at a disadvantage. Learn how to end this injustice

By Paula Peres

At age 28, William Victorino de Castro is a dancer and inhabitant of Capão Redondo, a neighborhood on the outskirts of the South Zone of São Paulo. Like every black person, he has the effects of racism on the tip of his tongue: “In a job interview, if the candidates are white and black, from the same place, with the same formation, the white one has more chances.”

In 4th grade, William couldn’t read or write. He repeated the school year four times and was uninterested in school until he left school, in eighth grade, at the age of eighteen, still unable to read. “They told me that if I was going to keep messing up at school, that I leave and give the opportunity to someone else who would benefit better,” he says. As an adult, the hip-hop dancer realized that he needed to go back to school. He enrolled in the EJA (see note two) in 2015, when he finally learned to read and write.

William Victorino de Castro only learned to read and write in 2015

The young man’s case is an example of how racism is present in school: we failed in enrolling black children, to ensure that they remain, and when they don’t leave school, we fail to make them learn. Data collected by the movimento Todos pela Educação (All for Education movement) based on the Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (Pnad or National Household Sample Survey) of 2015 show that, although 54% of the population declares itself being preta ou parda (black or brown) (the two groups make up the black population as a whole), the proportion of pessoas brancas (white people) enrolled in all segments is always higher. In addition, data from the Sistema de Avaliação da Educação Básica (Saeb or Basic Education Evaluation System) of 2015 also show a difference in learning: in the 5th year of elementary school, while 63.1% of white children had adequate learning in Portuguese, 56.3% of blacks had the same performance and 41.5% of blacks learned what they were entitled to learn (see further information in the table on page 14).

The difference can be explained by several reasons, such as the fact that the população negra (black population), in general, is poorer. But there is no denying that there is something in the school routine that also contributes to the construction of these indices.

A study conducted by Paula Louzano, a professor at the USP School of Education, shows that school failure is higher among black students. One example is that 14% of black youth are behind their corresponding grade by more than two years of school at twice the proportion of whites (7%). “We can argue that the schooling process of some Brazilian children is more tortuous than the others,” concludes the specialist.

Color in school

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 91.6% of crianças brancas (white children) aged 4 and 5 years are tended to, while 89.8% of pardas and 87.3% of pretas attend school.

HIGH SCHOOL 71% of whites attend, but 57.8% of pardos and 56.8% of pretos are enrolled.

PORTUGUESE 37.5% of whites and about 22% of blacks have adequate learning in the 3rd year of high school.

MATHEMATICS 12.2% of whites finish school with adequate learning. Among blacks, they are 5% at the max.

ENROLLMENT IN EJA 36% are black, only 15% are white and 43% do not declare color.

AVERAGE SCHOOLING of blacks from 18 to 29 years: 9.5 years. Among whites: 10.8 years.

Do an exercise and try to observe in your school: in the reinforcement and recovery classes, how many students are black? In the class council, are white students evaluated in the same way as those with darker skin?

Going to college, graduating, getting good jobs, becoming a boss or simply surviving: a lot of it is a big challenge for most Brazilians, but for black students it’s even bigger. The data show that the barriers faced by women and men become increasingly difficult as the cor da pele escurece (color of the skin becomes darker). This information has become more well-known recently, but what still seems hard to see are the obstacles we ourselves have created so that these students’ trajectories are success stories.

Structural Racism

From the beginning of the 20th century the idea that Brazil lived in a racial democracy spread. Unlike the United States and other places where conflict marked the relations between groups of different descendants, in Brazil the supposedly harmonious conviviality between Portuguese, blacks and Indians was proof that there was no racism here. Part of this comparison came from the fact that in the United States there were laws, for example, that forced blacks to sit on the backs of buses. It was enough to listen to black Brazilians to note that our racial democracy was never true.

Para Mirian, as pessoas se incomodam
For Mirian, people are bothered with black men in leadership roles (Thomas Arthuzzi)

From post-abolition works, such as Lima Barreto’s (1881-1922), to songs by rap groups like Racionais MCs, it is possible to see how skin color is central to personal stories. “Brazil was forged in violence against blacks and indigenous people. There is a state organized from racism,” explains Maria Lucia da Silva, a psychologist at the Instituto AMMA Psiquê e Negritude (AMMA Psyche and Negritude Institute).

Here, it is necessary to differentiate between prejudice and racism. The first refers to a judgment made on the basis of some superficial information one has about someone, as in saying that every black is lazy or malandro (hustler/trickster). But racism goes deeper: the structures that make up society begin to organize themselves in ways that put blacks at a disadvantage. Hence comes the term structural or institutional racism.

The invisible manager

The decade is the 1970s. In the classroom of the old first grade of a public school, a child realizes that he is never called by his teacher to go to the board or receive any help in solving an exercise. She was the only black girl in the class. “I didn’t know it, but I was going through the first experiences of racism in my life,” says Mirian Bernardo, now a pedagogical supervisor at the Colégio Municipal Dr. José Vargas de Souza school in Poços de Caldas, Minas Gerais.

This is an example of how the coexistence of teachers with students impacts black youth. A study conducted by USP (University of São Paulo) professor Ricardo Madeira shows that when comparing white and black students under the same conditions – from the same class, from the same socioeconomic level, with a similar school history – there was a fundamental difference between the two groups. Black students were far worse evaluated by teachers than white. The sense of discrimination felt by William, the dancer at the beginning of the story, is not just an impression.

For Valter Silverio, professor of the Department of Sociology at UFSCar, at least part of this result is influenced by the stereotypes that hover over alunos negros (black students). “You have the idea that every Japanese is a good student, and that every black is not intelligent, but a malandro,” he says. These biased views interfere with teachers’ expectations of darker-skinned students. Consequently, they are treated differently and end up learning less. “In study and work environments, there is a deep relationship between racism and daily practices,” says Ricardo Henriques, executive superintendent of the Instituto Unibanco (Unibanco Institute).

Mirian learned to impose her presence wherever she goes to avoid questioning. “We have to show that we deserve to be there, we do not have to explain (this) to anyone.”

Still, Mirian feels the racism of families and students. “I have two black teachers in a school with 52 classes. If I don’t present the teacher, I realize that the family discriminates,” she laments. Mirian suffers something similar in her function. “There were people who didn’t believe that I was the manager of a school even when I said it more than once.”

Vestibular as militancy

It was difficult to find a space in the agenda of vestibulanda (college entrance exam student) Lilith Passos, 17, to do the photo session for this text. In the morning, she attends classes in the 3rd year of high school in a public school in São Paulo. In the afternoon, she attends classes in a cursinho pré-vestibular popular (college entrance exam prep course for the popular classes) and, on Saturdays, she participates in a specific preparatory course for students who, like her, want to study theater in Higher Education. On that Tuesday, her morning classes had been canceled. Even so, we had little time.

For Lilith, age 17, studying to enter the public university is also militancy (Tomás Arthuzzi)

The afternoon’s commitment belonged to another important part of the young woman’s life: militancy in the movimento negro (black social movement). Days earlier, a colleague had been assaulted by restaurant security guards and a group of young people would return to the scene to protest in front of the facility.

In the last year, militancy activities have been a little at the side of Lilith’s routine. It’s because vestibular pressure demands more dedication. And, for her, being approved is all about fighting racism. “I think a lot about who has access to public universities,” she says, referring to the low presence of preta and parda people in the environment. “Occupying this space is also my struggle,” she says.

Believing a lot

IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, note the level of attention you offer to your white and black students.

LISTEN to your preto and pardo students and teachers to learn how your relationship with the school can improve.

ENCOURAGE your black students to share knowledge with the class and lead group projects and activities.

CONVERSE about career, dreams and plans with students. What do they want to do when they finish basic education?

CHANGE THE CURRICULUM to insert contributions of Afro-Brazilian culture to society.

SHOW EXAMPLES of successful pretos and pardos in their areas of expertise.

The motivation of Lilith to conquer this space is a great differential so that she in fact has a chance to be approved in the vestibular. But this is only possible for two reasons: the belief that she herself has in her capacity – the so-called self-esteem, but this time not restricted to physical characteristics – and the support of adults and colleagues who also believe in her potential.

The situation, as we have seen, is not the same for most students. To overcome this problem, one must bring racism to the center of the debate. In the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro, in the district of Acari, a school named after an Angolan queen developed a project to promote Afro-Brazilian culture and also to help students reflect on their own identity.

CIEP 173 Rainha Nzinga de Angola (CIEP 173 Queen Nzinga of Angola) has 678 students, of whom 360 are black. “They didn’t recognize themselves as blacks in the census that we do annually, they said they were morenos,” says Tania de Lacerda Gabriel, director. The students associated identificação negra (black identification) with something bad. Jokes and nicknames about color were frequent, and when asked why they didn’t take the Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio (Enem or National High School Exam), they justified: “Essa prova é coisa de branco” (This test is a white thing).

Tânia and the pedagogical coordinator Isa Mirian da Silva Santos elaborated a project that moved the curriculum and the relationships in the school. Teachers were trained to address Afro-Brazilian content and deal with racism. “The goal was for everyone to understand that being black is not a coisa ruim (bad thing). They came to think that whites and blacks learned in different ways, and we showed that, biologically, there are no differences. “Such open debates offered new insight to the students.

Two years later, the results. Students’ self-esteem improved, many have started wearing their natural hair, and the annual census already shows that students have more security in indicating their color. “Raising self-esteem is the overriding issue. Today, we realize that they têm orgulho de ser negros (are proud to be black) and this has increased their interest in school,” summarizes Tânia.

In the classroom, the daily treatment also has an effect: to encourage them to take the Enem or to formulate a life project, to demand that they strive and to guarantee all the support to advance in their learning makes all the difference. In the end, the work of educators is a powerful force against racism.

Source: Nova Escola via Geledes


8-year old student Jamilly was the victim of racist taunts in November of last year.
  1. In a story reported back in November, an 8-year old black child named Jamilly from São Paulo’s eastern zone, was the victim of a racist attack from other children. Jamilly was surrounded by a group of students that, while calling her “fedida” (stinky) and “cabelo duro” (hard hair)”, cut her hair saying they needed “bombril”. Calling cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) “bombril” is a common racial insult throughout Brazil and it refers to a popular brand of a steel wool scouring pad used for cleaning pots and pans.
  2. Educação de jovens e adultos (EJA or Youth and adult education) is the mode of education in the stages of primary and secondary education of the Brazilian public school network and adopted by some private networks that receive young people and adults who have not completed the years of basic education at the age appropriate for any reason (among which mention is often made of the need for work and participation in family income since childhood). In the early 1990s, the EJA segment also included initial literacy classes. Source
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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