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University Relations

Feb. 15, 2008 Communique

Education dean applies black history lessons to today

Portrait of Dean NealSchool-segregation might have been declared legally dead 54 years ago but racism in the educational system is alive, La Vonne Neal, dean, College of Education, said at a Black History Month-themed presentation for University Club members this week.

Employing a backdrop of telling statistics, scholarly texts and the strains of 1970s soul singer Teddy Pendergrass to make the point, Neal said “culturally responsive teaching” is key for the next generation of  black Americans to gain an equal education and economic empowerment.

There are still “ways of thinking or assumptions that prevent educators from believing that their students of color can be successful learners,” said Neal said, citing experts in the field of school leadership, Kathryn Bell McKenzie and James Joseph Scheurich.

African Americans account for 1 percent of all dentists, teachers, and engineers but comprise 84 percent of the NBA and 67 percent of the NFL. These statistics underscore the warnings issued 75 years ago by Carter G. Woodson, author of “The Mis-Education of the Negro.”

“If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action,” Woodson wrote in the 1933 book that challenged black Americans to demand more from their formal educations.

Woodson, who founded what now is known as Black History Month, was the second black to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard.

Neal also cited the findings of Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary, whose “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome” described the crippling obstacles of slavery as a factor in black American “survival behaviors” and the inability to access societal benefits.

Culturally Responsive Teaching can be defined as defined as using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them.

Neal’s presentation to the University Club is available as a PDF.

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