Saturday, December 17, 2016
Jesus Loves Racists, Too (Part 5)
How White Churches Teach about Race
I introduced the concept of public pedagogy in part 3. If you have not read that post, and the others that came previously, please take the time to do so. In my last post, I left you with the question of “how do White churches teach about race if the topic is likely not broached?” To explain this, I will now introduce the concept of the hidden curriculum.
In order to effectively discuss the concept of the hidden curriculum, it is helpful to first distinguish between it and what is termed, the formal curriculum. Formal curriculum can be defined as what is explicit, known, and officially recognized as being taught to students (Portelli, 1993). This is known by both the teachers and students, and anyone else, such as a parent, who inquires. In schools, an example of the formal curriculum could be the Common Core Standards; it is an officially recognized list of skills and topics children are expected to be taught by grade level.
The hidden curriculum, however, can take many forms. It can be hidden from the students, but known by the teacher, hidden from the teacher, but known by the students, or it can be hidden from both (Portelli, 1993). The hidden curriculum can be manifested in four ways: 1) unofficial expectations or implicit but expected messages, 2) unintended learning outcomes or messages, 3) implicit messages arising from the structure of schooling, 4) created by the students (students and teachers have different ideas about what is necessary) (Portelli, 1993). An example of the first unofficial but implicit expectation is the concept of respecting and obeying authorities. Most curricula do not explicitly state “child will learn to obey authority,” yet when children fail to do so, they learn they should after facing the negative consequences for failing to do so. There is an expectation that they will not only learn to respect authority in school, but that this knowledge will transfer to larger society and they will eventually become law abiding citizens.
The next form of hidden curriculum is unintended learning outcomes or messages. A great example of this can be found in Vorbeck’s (2008) work on other kinds of families. By only teaching about the nuclear family and assigning work with the underlying assumption that all students come from one, the unintended learning outcome students may have is that other types of family are less legitimate. Third, implicit messages arising from the structure of schooling can be described by the testing obsession that has taken control of most of the nation’s schools. To refer back to my example of the formal curriculum, although the common standards are meant to be a guideline of what is being taught, the high stakes test associated with it sends the implicit message that the test is more important than the learning, or that the purpose of learning is to pass a test. Therefore, if there is no test, there is no need to learn it; intellectual curiosity is unintentionally dimmed.
Lastly, the idea of hidden curriculum created by the student is when the students have different ideas about what is necessary than that of their teacher. A teacher may assign a list of books for students to read in order to write an essay. Although the stated purpose of this assignment is to practice and improve writing skills, the teacher may have a hidden curriculum from her students for them to also learn about another culture through the reading. The students, however, may decide reading the list of books is not necessary to write the paper because they can use a tool such as Spark Notes. Although they are able to complete the writing assignment, they miss the opportunity to learn about culture.
How then, does this concept apply to how PWCs teach about race? In my last post, I talked about how at the church in which I grew up, we had a Black History program where we would learn about the contributions of African Americans. This is an example of a formal curriculum. In the predominantly White church I attend now, however, race is rarely mentioned. The omission of the subject of race in our highly racialized society has the potential to send many messages about race that may be unintentional. Regarding the hidden curriculum of race in PWCs, based on my research and experience, what is taught about race in many churches falls into the categories of unintended learning outcomes or messages and implicit messages arising from structure. The lack of attention given to other cultures and the non-recognition of the racism endemic to our society reinforces White normativity [the idea that White culture defines what is normal and right in society. Everything else is aberrant] (Edwards, 2008) and teaches colorblind racism [this is a difficult concept to explain in a sentence, so I recommend reading chapter 2 of this book, but in short, for this context, I will describe color-blind racism as ignoring systemic racism while being complicit in it and/or benefitting from it] (Bonilla-Silva, 2014).
The idea of hidden curriculum of implicit messaging arising from structure is supported by some research studies that have been done. A study on implicit association found that racially homogenous contexts led to a significant increase in pro-white/anti-black bias (Soderberg & Sherman, 2013). If the result of this study is applied to churches, the hidden curriculum with regards to structure is revealed. Pro-white bias is reinforced by racially homogenous contexts. This means that pro-white/anti-black bias is being taught (though not purposely) through the racial composition of White monoracial churches.
Other studies have used measures of social distance such as residential preference and attitudes toward interracial marriage to find the correlation between religious affiliation and racial attitudes. Evangelical and mainline Protestants were found to have the strongest preference for same-race neighbors when compared to Catholics, Jews, and other faiths (Merino, 2011), and Whites who attended multiracial churches were found to be far more likely to be comfortable with the idea of interracial marriage than those who attended monoracial churches (Perry, 2013). These findings, although not causal, show there is a contribution by monoracial churches to the social distance between races present in society today.
So this is the part that gets uncomfortable. Taken together, I am making what will be a painful argument for many. Through the hidden curriculum, many PWCs as a site of public pedagogy, may actually be unintentionally teaching racism!
Thanks for reading. The End.
Just kidding. This was a super long post, though. In my final post, I will fulfill the second portion of the title of this series. As a reminder, the title was: “How Predominantly White Churches Can Move from Teaching Racism to Teaching about It.” I hope you will join me as I complete this series in my final post.
Bonilla-Silva, E. (2014). Racism without racists: Colorblind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America (4th ed.). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Edwards, K.L. (2008). Bring Race to the center: The importance of race in racially diverse religious organizations. Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, 47(1), 5-9.
Merino, S. M. (2011). Neighbors like me? Religious affiliation and neighborhood racial preferences among Non-Hispanic Whites. Religions, 2¸ 165-183.
Perry, S. L. (2013) Religion and Whites' attitudes toward interracial marriage with African Americans, Asians, anf Latinos. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 52(2), 425-442
Portelli, J.P. (1993). Exposing the hidden curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 24(4), 343-358.
Soderberg, C. K., & Sherman, J. W. (2013). No face is an island: How implicit bias operates in social scenes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(2), 307–313. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2012.11.001