Sixty-two years after the landmark Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision that desegregated America’s public schools, the education system is still struggling with a number of issues in classrooms, including segregation, the opportunity and achievement gaps, school funding discrepancies, improving high school graduation rates, and college enrollment and persistence.
In 2007, Dr. Claude Steele, then the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences at Stanford University, delivered the seventh annual Jacqueline P. Danzberger Memorial Lecture, co-hosted by IEL and the National School Boards Association, on stereotype threat and why understanding it is crucial to leading students to success. In focusing on the importance of social context and social identity—whether it be age, gender, religion, income level, or race—to learning and development, Steele explored the implications of his and others’ research on the achievement gap and suggested possible solutions.
Citing the intriguing life story of former New York Times book editor Anatole Broyard, an African-American who spent much of his adult life passing as a white man to achieve career success and broader opportunities, and research on gender stereotypes and math skills and race stereotypes and I.Q. tests, Steele offered three recommendations for making classrooms places where students feel a sense of belonging:
- Transform classrooms into nurturing environments where “identity safety” is fostered and genuine acceptance of skills and abilities, regardless of students’ identities, are welcomed.
- Make a conscious effort to move away from the “ideology” that ability is limited and that some people have more ability in certain subject areas, like math and science, because of their race, gender, or other identities.
- Creating a truly diverse and encouraging learning space requires more than good intentions; it requires strong leadership and a deep understanding of how identity plays both explicit and implicit roles with regards to student achievement.
- As schools continue to seek and implement policies to celebrate the diversity of students and create learning environments that foster students’ strengths and success, it is important for educators, school and district leaders, and policymakers at all levels to understand the broader implications of identity and stereotypes on all stakeholders in American public schools.
Steele is currently executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California, Berkeley and has previously held administrative and leadership positions at Stanford University and Columbia University.
Read an excerpt from Steele’s 2007 Jacqueline P. Danzberger Memorial Lecture, “Making School a Place Where Everyone Succeeds: Belonging is Necessary for Learning.”
The Jacqueline P. Danzberger Memorial Lecture series ended in 2015.