Albert White: Why black students benefit from black teachers

Published: Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 10:32 p.m.

The Jan. 6 article “Schools struggling to fund minority teachers” prompted me to reflect back on my own education attending a segregated school where all of my teachers and administrators were black.

During those days it was purported that we received an inferior education. True enough, we had hand-me-down textbooks that came from Gainesville High School. And we certainly could have stood to have had better equipment and other basic materials that schools needed. But was our education inferior? Not by a long shot.

Over the years, Lincoln High School produced educators, businessmen and women, engineers, scientists, doctors and lawyers, you name it. So how did these successes occur given we were receiving a second-rate education?

The findings in the aforementioned article suggest that black students perform better when taught by black teachers. We had teachers who cared about us and how well we performed and certainly they could relate to us being of the same culture and ethnic group. They believed in us and our ability to learn.

I believe that these attributes are extremely important when teaching kids. They were the closest thing we had at that time to professional role models.

So the findings in this article were not surprising to those of us who attended all black institutions. This is one of several reasons why some of us who attended the all-black Lincoln High School would like to see it restored to a high school.

Do we expect that Lincoln would be an all black school again? No, we do not. That would be absurd. But what we do know is this: Lincoln's legacy could serve as a foundation to inspire its black students attending the school to want to achieve at a higher level and be successful.

The rich history of Lincoln High and the successes of the hundreds of graduates who left there could send a message to not only the black students, but all of its students that they can be anything they want to be. Attending Lincoln could serve as motivation for our children.

I liken this to freshmen who attend schools like Harvard. From the time they are accepted into that institution, they feel special given Harvard's rich history and reputation. Lincoln could have an identical effect on black students if they were aware of what Lincoln represented to this community. It's all about pride.

So yes, we expect that black students would perform better when their teachers are black. Just as we expect that white students would perform better under a white teacher. However, because we live in a diverse community, it is important that we all learn to interact and communicate with all races of people.

After all, diversity is about valuing our differences and similarities.

However, I believe that our schools —elementary, middle and high — should have a representative number of black teachers that will provide black students with someone they can relate to and understand their challenges. This could make the difference in our students being successful or being left behind.

Albert E. White is president is the Lincoln High School Alumni Association Inc.

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