Because of the Kids
Facing Racial and Cultural Differences in School
Jennifer E. Obidah
Karen Manheim Teel
A Review of Because of the Kids
Facing Racial and Cultural Differences in Schools
Dr. Reitumetse O. Mabokela
February 21, 2005
Table of Contents
1) Brief outline and premise of the book
2) Key themes and arguments of the book
3) How this book has helped clarify and enrich the
understanding of history
4) How this book helps the development of a
personal multicultural perspective
5) How this book helps curricular and policy
issues in education.
6) Conclusions/Our thoughts
A Brief Look and Outline
• Description of Study
• Reason for the Study
• Purpose of the Study
• Individual Background of the Participants
• Results of the Study
Description of the Study
• Between the years 1993 and 1996, two women,
one Black and one White, work together to
explore the racial and cultural differences in an
urban middle school classroom.
• African American children made up the majority
of the student population at this California
• This study took place in the confines of Karen
Manheim Teel’s seventh grade social studies
Reason for the Study
• Karen Manheim Teel is a veteran White teacher
in a middle school that over time, saw a change
in its student population.
• Karen, through her doctoral studies, believed that
“low achievement” of urban African American
students was due to inefficient teaching materials
and strategies used by their teachers.
• Karen learned and applied alternative teaching
strategies from her doctoral work, but
experienced continued resistance from some of
Further Reason for the Study
• Discipline proved to a major problem for Karen.
• Karen did not experience these same kind of
problems with her White students.
• At the same time, she was hearing that White
teachers may never be successfully able to work
with African American students because of racial
and cultural differences.
• Karen rejected this concept and thought that a
possible way of improving her teaching was to
find help through the benefit of a respected
African American teacher.
Purpose of the Study
• Karen asked Jennifer Obidah, a fellow teacher in
the middle school, to observe her teaching.
• She also asked Jennifer to give advice on how to
modify her teaching strategies to best serve her
• Through this relationship, the purpose of the
study began with two goals:
1) to improve Karen’s teaching practices
2) to examine the impact of racial and cultural
differences on the teaching and learning that
occurred in the classroom.
Individual Backgrounds of
• Jennifer E. Obidah’s background
• Karen Manheim Teel’ background
Jennifer E. Obidah
• Jennifer was born in Barbados and moved to New York
City when she was an adolescent.
• Her life in Barbados was peaceful and imagined her new
life in the United States to be idyllic.
• Instead, her family struggled financially and her parents
marriage ended. She moved with her mother and brother
to Bedford-Stuyvesant, a more dangerous area of New
• “Life had a dangerous edge. The potential for emotional
explosions was always there. These explosions occur to
serve as salve for the crush of oppressions” (Obidah and
Teel, pg 11).
Jennifer E. Obidah’s Later Years
• Jennifer did not think her neighborhood as one to get out
of, it was simply home.
• Jennifer goes on to attend Yale University for graduate
school, to complete a master’s degree in African
• While there, Jennifer experienced feeling dissimilar from
other Black students due to her background from
Bedford-Stuyvesant. This isolationist feeling plays a part
later in the study with Karen Manheim Teel.
• She goes on to Berkeley to pursue a doctorate degree.
Karen Manheim Teel
• Karen grew up in the 1950’s in central
California. Her mother stayed at home to raise
her family while her father worked in sales.
• Karen’s mother gave much of her time to her
children’s lives, volunteering at school and as a
Scouts leader. Her mother also taught Karen the
importance of self-respect.
• In her neighborhood, there were no threats of
crime or violence and her school years were very
Karen Manheim Teel’s
• Karen goes on to study at UC Berkeley in 1964.
She studied political science and became
engaged. She then finishes a one-year teaching
program and realizes she wants to be a classroom
• She is offered a full-time teaching position
teaching seventh grade world history in the late
summer of 1969. This is in San Francisco,
Results of the Study
• Three perspectives emerged in the teaching framework of
1) Beliefs, intentions and personalities of
individual teachers play a greater role in student
success than materials or texts.
2) Unintentional biases of White teachers
may interfere with the process of teaching and
3) White teachers have great influence over the
education of African American children but
many of them are not prepared professionally
to deal with these circumstances.
Key Themes and Arguments
• Because of Karen Manheim Teel’s self-exploration in her
relationship with her African American students, she
realized she was not successfully educating this student
• Despite Karen’s efforts to use refined teaching strategies
developed in her doctoral program, these were not
successful with her African American population.
• Karen was struggling with utilizing effective discipline
and how the African American students treated her and
• Karen had a fear of being deemed racist if she were to
reprimand these students.
• Karen rejected the notion that White teachers could not
effectively teach African American students.
• Because Karen actively sought assistance in improving
her teaching with African American students, she began a
teaching relationship with Jennifer E. Obidah, a Black
teacher in her middle school.
• Jennifer agrees to work with Karen on the condition of
1) To improve Karen’s teaching practices
2) They would look at the impact of racial and cultural
differences between Karen and her students played in her
interactions with them.
• Karen and Jennifer worked together for three
years between 1993 and 1996 on this study.
• Jennifer observed Karen and her teaching in
Karen’s social studies classroom.
• Jennifer cited circumstances where Karen had
observable discipline problems with the students.
• Jennifer noted situations where Karen was
observably racist in her lessons.
• These experiences pointed toward racial and
cultural differences between Karen and her
African American students.
• Jennifer and Karen anticipated that racial and
cultural differences would have an impact on the
student-teacher relationship and student academic
• Jennifer and Karen did not predict that racial and
cultural differences between them would become
a possible threat to the research project.
• These differences almost did end the project, but
their efforts to comprehend and resolve these
differences deepened their teaching relationship
and ultimately, their friendship.
More on Relationships
• Karen lacked use of and consistency of discipline in the
classroom. Karen would at times develop plans that were
culturally insensitive to her students. This would result in
student antagonism toward Karen.
• When critiqued by Jennifer, Karen was sensitive to her
comments, at times causing feelings of anger.
• Karen would internalize the negative feelings, or sort
them out with another co-worker before approaching
• Jennifer would prefer to openly communicate the
• Jennifer finds that Karen’s sensitive reactions are
similar to hers during her first year at Yale.
Clarification, Enrichment, and
Understanding of History
• Karen’s childhood experience in the 1950’s was
seemingly without political conflict or introduction to any
other culture than her own.
• Karen’s parents were not particularly involved in civil
rights, and she herself does not become more involved
until the end of her college years studying political
• Through this ignorance, we see examples of Karen’s lack
of cultural understanding in her lesson plans.
• Karen’s lack of understanding results in “Why you call
me a barbarian?”
“Why You Call Me A
• Karen had prepared a lesson on six groups of people who
lived during the Roman Empire. The students were
assigned various roles and asked to problem solve
scenarios during the fall of the empire.
• The various roles included barbarians, common
people/farmers, emperors, nobles, soldiers, and
• Students were upset by some of the roles assigned, such
as a student named Sam who is affronted with the
connection that Romans were prejudiced against the
barbarians because they looked and behaved differently.
In response, Sam demanded, “Why you call me a
barbarian?” (Obidah and Teel, pg 49).
• Karen responds to this interchange by saying,
“I thought the students would think the role
playing was fun. I never expected this approach
to insult them. I have been trying to think
through and explain how I could have been so
oblivious to my students’ feelings, which come
from their history of slavery and oppression in
this country. I think that since I grew up without
that personal history on my mind, it did not occur
to me that this role playing might be offensive”
(Obidah and Teel, pg 51).
Clarification and Enrichment
• In another example found in Karen’s classroom, Karen
misses a learning opportunity for herself when she fails to
identify home language usage in her classroom.
• During this activity, one of Karen’s students states that
his student group is “raw” when describing their power in
a game. Karen does not understand this terminology and
thus ignores it.
• Jennifer later points out that Karen missed a learning
opportunity for herself in that moment.
• Additionally, Jennifer tells Karen that because the
students were using home language, the students were
fully involved and comfortable with Karen.
• These examples from the text clarify the need for
teachers to understand student African American
cultural roots and home environments to learn
better interaction with them.
• They also clarify that African American students
want their White teachers to ask about their
culture, such as way of life, vocabulary, and
• These examples clarify that we should not
assume that African American students
automatically give respect to authority; rather it is
Development of a Personal
• Reading this text, sheds distinct light on Black and White
• The inclusion of personal biographies in the text on
Jennifer E. Obidah and Karen Manheim Teel
demonstrated the impact of individual histories on
• The book evokes many emotions while reading through
the vignettes of both a Black educator and a White
educator and their interactions with one another.
• The group members, as White educators with experience
teaching African American youth, the text taught
invaluable lessons. These include the value of personal
histories and their impact on children.
Multicultural Lessons Learned
• Reading the text provides White educators the
opportunity to be more keenly aware of African
American history in all interactions with students.
• We learned that home language usage in the
classroom is not a negative circumstance, but
potentially positive, as it means the student is
comfortable in their classroom environment and
with their teacher.
• This text emphasized the importance of getting to
know your students as people, and not simply as
students. Teachers do not have to distance
themselves to have authority.
Help for Curricular and Policy
Issues in Education
• The study by Jennifer and Karen clearly identify that
textbooks and new materials are not the solution to
improved student achievement.
• Their study clarifies that revising teaching strategies
alone are not a solution.
• Strategies can be revised but must be combined with
caring about the student as a person, as is understanding
• Only when White teachers understands the needs of the
African American students will they understand that
current curriculum may not be written for the African
American student in mind.
Needed Policy for
• This study showed the need for field experiences
to prepare pre-service teachers for work in
sometimes radically different settings from which
they are accustomed.
• Teachers must also learn to engage in self-
reflection to understand their own cultural biases.
• Jennifer and Karen both believe that a classroom
in a teacher preparation program would be a
positive place to establish collaboration such as
Community Efforts in Needed
• Jennifer and Karen admit that despite the
recognized need for more skilled and effective
teachers in the urban classroom, teacher
education programs are still ineffective in their
• Jennifer and Karen suggest community mentors
of teacher candidates would improve the
candidate’s knowledge of future students
(Obidah and Teel, pg 103).
• Ultimately, the differences between Karen and
her students effected the way she was teaching in
the classroom, their attitude toward her, and their
• Collaborating with Jennifer Obidah provided a
relationship that allowed a perspective Karen
could never understand with her guidance. Karen
fully acknowledges this fact.
• Although their relationships was strained at
times, their commitment to the children and the
process of the study was the factor that held them
• It is imperative to understand the whole of a
student to teach the student effectively. This
means learning and understanding the individual
child, his culture, personality, and abilities.
• We must learn from this study between White
and African American populations. What is
learned here can only apply to other cultural
groups as well. Would this not improve teacher-
student relations, allowing for true learning and
improved academic performance to occur?
• Obidah, Jennifer E., and Teel, Karen
Manheim. Because of the Kids.
Teacher College Press, New York, NY.