Harvard Implicit Test - are you calling me a racist?

So far, my cultural competency course at William and Mary has been enlightening and eye opening. While I entered the classroom believing that I had some understanding and meritous opinions on the subject, it turns out that I have just as much to learn about the true meaning of cultural awareness as anybody else.

Never was this as apparent as yesterday when I took my first Harvard Implicit test. Anyone can take a test by visiting the site at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/research. By its own definition, the tests, part of their Project Implicit study, are designed so that a participant has the opportunity to assess one’s conscious and unconscious preferences for over 90 different topics ranging from pets to political issues, ethnic groups to sports teams, and entertainers to styles of music. At the same time, the visitor assists their psychological research on thoughts and feelings.

In short, you can choose a topic. The test comes from being shown a series of two images which may or may not match. Using the “I”and “E” keys, you choose whether the two match or not. The grade is given on incorrect answers as well as time spent answering the questions. There is little time to think as reactions are preferred over conscious thought before answering. The idea is to gauge instincts when comparing two subjects.

I probably should have chosen a safe topic like pets, but instead decided to go straight to the African American -European American implicit attitudes test. During the course of the 10-12 minute exam, I was shown seven series of images with words or phrases such as “European-American,” “African-American,” “Good,” and “Bad,” underneath the images. The objective was to correctly match the image with the saying.

After completing the exam, I was self-satisfied and ready for the people at Harvard to prove what I already felt; that is, Jim McGrath is a culturally competent person with no racial preference, inherent or otherwise. So it was a shocking surprise when this result appeared.

Your Result
Your data suggest a strong automatic preference for European American compared to African American.
The interpretation is described as 'automatic preference for European American' if you responded faster when European American faces and Good words were classified with the same key than when African American faces and Good words were classified with the same key. Depending on the magnitude of your result, your automatic preference may be described as 'slight', 'moderate', 'strong', or 'little to no preference'. Alternatively, you may have received feedback that 'there were too many errors to determine a result'

WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?Who are these people? At one point, I was asked to provide my current zip code (23602) as well as the zip code where I lived the longest (22304 – West End Alexandria, VA). Geez… 22304 has to be one of the most diverse zip codes in America. How did the eggheads in Cambridge, MA miss this piece of the puzzle? Obviously, they’ve never seen my wedding pictures. How dare they??

There was more explanation underneath the results, but the damage was done. Whether I want to blame it on the keyboard or not understanding the exam, according to this group of “experts,” I have a strong preference and it was not expected.

I’m going to take some more of these tests. Right now, I’m thinking that the people at Harvard are a bunch of quacks!

Feel free to look up the site and take an implicit test. If you dare!!


Kimberlyn Schindler Plays Sports for a Greater Purpose

Original version of a story published in the Daily Press Newport News Town Square section, and HRVarsity.com on January 27, 2012.

Most of the articles that I have written for the Daily Press Town Square sections are locally placed in the particular regional section as a wraparound to the Thursday front page. Since the placing is suited to one particular neighborhood (in this case, Newport News), the articles are usually not posted on the internet. This one was posted on HRVarsity.com, the high school sports branch of the Daily Press.

Kimberlyn Schindler is a unique young woman, as I'm sure the story shows. It's worth a read, and my intention is to show it for the readers who may have missed it the first time.

In the world of sports, we are sometimes introduced to athletes who transcend the game in which they compete. As an example, Muhammad Ali recently turned 70. In spite of the fact that he hasn’t boxed in over 30 years, even people who weren’t born when he last fought know of the man self-labeled as “The Greatest.” This could be from the accomplishments of his legendary athletic career, but also because of his work as an ambassador, philanthropist and activist. The image of Ali lighting the Olympic torch in Atlanta over 15 years ago is embedded in the minds of many.
  Such athletes are rare, but not obsolete. At Denbigh Baptist, a young woman by the name of Kimberlyn Schindler has put herself in a unique position – one which combines her athletic talent with a greater humanitarian purpose. You might say a mission, because it will be.

First, one has to be introduced to Kimberlyn Schindler, the athlete. Currently, the 5-foot-11 senior is playing the center and forward positions for the girls’ basketball team, averaging over 16 points and almost ten rebounds a game for the Minutemen as they stake a claim to be one of the better teams in the VISAA (Virginia Independent Schools) Metro Conference, sporting a 7-4 record (4-4 in the Metro). For Schindler and her teammates, this is a year of transition, as the team has moved from the Division 2 level to Division 3, a drop made in part because of the economic situation which has caused a slight dip in students at Denbigh Baptist.
“I think our team has changed. Last year, we were faster and all of the teams were run and gun. We have changed to become more of an academic team, and have to outsmart teams. It’s challenging in a different way.” Defensive play is a specialty for Coach Steve Fletcher’s team, with opponents averaging less than 30 points per game. For her part, Schindler also averages three steals and two blocks per game.

Kimberlyn signing her scholarship for Liberty
But basketball is not the sport she will be playing in college. Schindler recently signed with Lynchburg’s Liberty University to play volleyball, a sport in which she excels during the fall season. As an outside hitter and right side, Schindler’s tall frame is perfect for sets, blocks and kill shots. In fact, she has recorded over 1,200 kills during her high school career, helping her to earn All-Conference honors during all four years, as well as being the conference MVP twice. Other accolades include making the Division 2 VISAA All-State team on two occasions. On the Liberty University press release announcing the Flames’ six volleyball signings, Coach Greg Hardy notes the power and explosiveness of his star player.

Amazingly, Schindler has also earned all-conference honors as a soccer player, a sport that her father Stephen played for Liberty in the early 1980’s. Her athletic career also includes time as a competitive swimmer.
But to say that Kimberlyn Schindler is just an athlete is like calling the aforementioned Ali just a good boxer. Her goals and purpose in life reach far beyond the field of sports.

Kimberly Schindler, the student and humanitarian is equally impressive. She plans to major in nursing at Liberty. While her choice for a course of study is commendable on its own merits, her plans after walking across the stage to pick up the piece of sheepskin is more inspiring.
Mirroring the Liberty motto of “Training Champions for Christ,” Schindler has plans which transcend those of a traditional nurse.

“I never wanted to go to a secular university,” says Schindler, adding that Liberty was the only college she applied to. Speaking of her Christian beliefs she then explains the plan which will define her existence for many years to come.

“I want to be a nurse and I want to be a missionary. They (Liberty) gave me the opportunity to go into nursing and to work as a missionary during spring break.” Thinking of possible locations for her post-graduate mission, she is also focused. “I am really drawn to Africa.”

For Schindler, missionary work is not a new experience. Last spring, she and about “100 of us” traveled to the Dominican Republic. Through her group at Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Chi Alpha (meaning “Christ First”), she has also been to other cities, and talked about a recent experience in Atlanta, where the group performed at different jails and detention centers, while bringing a speaker to help spread the message.
Seeing inmates stand up afterwards to proclaim themselves to Christ was an eye opening experience for Schindler. “It made me realize how little my life means if I’m just doing things I want to.”

With her plan in hand and goals in sight, there is every reason to believe that Kimberlyn Schindler will continue to use athletics to aid her pursuit of future goals and continue defining the meaning of a life well lived.


Thoughts From A Man on His 50th Birthday

John Sargent was two years ahead of me at Bishop Ireton High School. The first thing I recall about John is that, aside from being a great athlete, he was on the Model UN team. In the late 1970's, our UN team at Ireton rocked, winning national titles. In fact, they went to The Hague and won a World Championship.

John has never shied away from a good debate. His collegiate career took him to the University of Virginia, where he earned a degree in systems engineering. Later, there were three runs for the Virginia House of Delegates. Running against a long standing incumbent in Bernie Cohen, the first two tries didn't go well, but people found John's message and his third attempt was surprising close. Perhaps the fact that John was still in his late 20's scared off some of the older people in Alexandria.

Regardless, John has carved out a successful career, and is now working for the Library of Congress. Today is his 50th birthday. In a moment of reflection, he shared some thoughts. Fortunately, he has agreed to share these here. Being 46 years old myself, they made me think. I hope that you will also. Please enjoy the thoughts of John Sargent, a man reflecting on his 50th birthday.

In honor of my birthday, I've decided to share...

Some of the Truths I’ve Learned in 50 Years…in no particular order
(I started to number them, but I keep adding to the list and plan to continue to do so until the day I die.)

• I am probably not going to get to compete in the Olympics, the NBA, or the NFL. MLB was NEVER a possibility. I’m still holding out hope to medal in table tennis. (I’m thinking Gold…maybe Silver.)
• My hair is not getting thicker; my waistline is.
• As you age you discover there are pain receptors in parts of your body that will surprise you…regularly.
• It’s important to work to live, not to live to work.
• More often than not, ignorant people won’t change. And because they’re ignorant, logic does not reach them. Life is short. Do not waste time on the truly ignorant.
• Life is hard. If you accept this, then everything is a lot easier. If you don’t every difficulty is a mountain. (Okay, I borrowed this one from The Road Less Traveled, but it’s true.) And no matter how hard I think my life is at times, my trials and tribulations pale by comparison to the suffering of so many others. Remain thankful for the things you have -- spiritual and material -- and not covetous of the things you don't have.
• When you tell a schoolmate at graduation or a departing co-worker at the office that we’ll stay in touch, no matter how much you mean it, life makes it difficult to enjoy the same level of shared time and platonic intimacy that being together 8-10 hours a day, five days a week does. Nevertheless, I always treasure the opportunities to see them or talk to them.
• It is important to set goals, large and small, and to work toward them. It is equally important to re-assess those goals as life events and life experiences unfold. Much of what seemed important in youth can fade in time. Much that was unimportant in youth, can become increasingly important to you with wisdom. Some goals are worth holding onto your entire life.
• I am proud of my country, its history, and the good that it has brought the world. I am thankful to God that I was born here. I am saddened by some of the things my country allows, and I fear what some would like to see it become. I will do everything I can to protect it, defend it, and honor those who made it possible through their blood, their sweat, and their tears.
• Money can’t buy you happiness, but the absence of it can buy you misery.
• I am not perfect. And I don’t like to admit it.
• On a similar note, I am a sinner. I ask God’s forgiveness, am forgiven, and frequently fail again. I expect this pattern to continue until my death. But I will continue to try to improve during each iteration. I think this is the human condition. And for better or worse, I am human.
• I can cause people pain. Sometimes intentionally, especially when I am hurt or angry. If I have done this to you, I am sorry. I may do it again, but I will try not to.
• I can bring great joy to people. Often intentionally. If I have done this to you, I am likely to try to continue to do it. My little secret is that it brings me great joy as well.
• I don’t really understand why I am here, but I think there are many good reasons though they remain largely unknown to me. Every day is a new opportunity to discover these reasons and to make good on the opportunity.
• Nothing sears the soul more than the loss of loved ones. The size of the scar is proof of how much love and joy was shared during our time together here on Earth.
• I had the greatest parents in the world. I am grateful to them more than words can express. And I miss them more than words can express.
• I have the greatest kids in the world. They sustain me (and, yes, sometimes drain me). They are the best things that EVER happened to me in my entire life.
• Sometimes sad, terrible, and tragic things happen to people I love. Sometimes I have words of comfort, but sometimes there are no words. In those times, the only thing I have found to give is my love and prayers for healing.
• Being there with love is generally the greatest gift you can give your child. For adult children, it is the greatest gift you can give to your parents…and yourselves.
• Nothing is more important than the love of friends, except the love of family. Nothing. Except God, of course.
• There is something bigger and better on the other side of this plane of existence. And while I am in no hurry to get there, I know the wonders I’ll behold, the family and friends I will be re-united with, and the great goodness of His light will bring happiness beyond human comprehension


Article review - "But that's just good teaching!"

Sticking with the topic of Gloria Ladson-Billings and her writings, one of her more notable articles has examined good teaching as the key to cultural competency in the classroom. I particularly like the quote from Pewewardy noting that the problem in the classroom is educators inserting culture into education, instead of the other way around.

Last night, for Leadership and Cultural Competency class, we presented our cultural memoir to the group. I may post mine next week, but worry that it has been highlighted on this forum several times in the past. A glance through older posts should help to make the determination.

Gloria Ladson-Billings bases the title of this article on the response that she gives many school administrators and teacher educators when evaluating a classroom situation that successfully shows cultural competence. As opposed to a “magic bullet,” the author theorizes that the success found in classrooms with African-American students is mainly focused on the teacher’s ability to meet the students where they are. In other words, by successfully bringing the topic to them, as she notes by citing a Native American educator, Cornel Pewewardy (1993), who points out the problem as “educators attempting to insert culture into the education, instead of inserting education into the culture.”

She identifies the pedagogy as “culturally relevant” (Ladson-Billings, 1992a) and the purpose of this article is to identify examples which the author found during the course of a three-year study.

The key is in the linking between culture and schooling and the initial literature review gives some quality examples which include an examination of micro-ethnographic studies (Villegas, 1988) and the macro-level social context in which these take place. Irvine (1990) wrote of the mid-level struggle of achieving “cultural synchronization” between teachers and African-American students.

While I agree with the definitions presented by the other educators, my favorite description of “cultural relevancy” comes from Ladson-Billings herself. She views cultural relevancy as the opportunity to gain collective, not just individual, empowerment (p. 160). She gives three criteria: a) the student must achieve academic success, b) students must achieve and maintain cultural competence, and c) students must develop a critical consciousness (p. 160).

Her examples of each are relevant, which make this a useful article. For academic Ann Lewis, who used the social power of the African-American males in her class to have them lead the discussion on issues and ideas which were meaningful. By drawing them into the conversation, the students felt their opinions were valued and they appreciated having a leadership role in the class. This also kept the students from channeling their energy toward non-productive activities.

For cultural competency, Ladson-Billings opens with a concern of the phenomenon behind “acting White,” which creates a burden in classrooms with predominantly African-American students. Her prime example of competence in this section deals with English teacher Patricia Hilliard’s tie-in between classic poetry and today’s rap music, which she uses to help explain rhyme scheme, alliteration and other literary elements to her students.

Finally, the professor examines her third topic of cultural relevancy, which is critical consciousness, or viewing what is learned and developing a broader consciousness of the society around them. After applying the Frierian model to this thought, she gives the example of students who used their classroom situation of working with out-of-date textbooks to work as advocates, writing to the local newspaper editor-in-chief to inform the community of their situation. (p. 161)

Irvine, J. J. (1990). Black students and school failure. Westport, CT: Greenwich Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1992a). Culturally relevant teaching: The key to making multicultural

            education work. In C.A. Grant (Ed.), Research and multicultural education, 106-121.

            London: Falmer Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant

            pedagogy. Theory into practice, 34, 3, 159-165.

Pewewardy, C. (1993). Culturally responsible pedagogy in action: An American Indian magnet

            school. In E. Hollins, J. King & W. Hayman (Eds.) Teaching diverse populations:

            Formulating a knowledge base, 77-92. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Villegas, A. (1988). School failure and cultural mismatch: Another view. The Urban Review, 20,



Looking at Gloria Ladson-Billings and Critical Race Theory

Gloria Ladson-Billings is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. However, she may be better known as one of the foremost voices on the subject of cultural competency.

One of her preferred subjects is that of critical race theory, or CRT. In a 1998 article for Qualitative Studies of Education, she examines its roots and asks the question, “What is it doing in education?”
Before delving into the topic, Ladson-Billings shares a story, as she feels that storytelling is a large part of CRT. In the professor’s story, she had finished the day as a lecturer at an esteemed southern university, and was happy to be in a warm town, as opposed to being surrounded by the frigid winds that blow through Wisconsin. Being a guest in the VIP section of her hotel, she made a decision to visit the private lounge for a cocktail and some down time. While seated on a comfy couch in her business attire, she was startled by the entrance of a southern white man who entered the lounge, saw her and asked, “What time are y’all serving?”

Ignorant? Of course. Realistic? In some parts of the country… absolutely.

I bring this upon reflection because from time to time, people, usually unknowingly, say ridiculous things to me. Allow me to qualify this statement. I am a white male of Irish heritage. My wife Elizabeth is African-American. This is no secret, as one can look on my newly enhanced Facebook page and see that the oversized heading shows a picture of us. But, not everybody we encounter on a daily basis is a Facebook friend, or familiar face for that matter. Among our sphere of influence of people here in Newport News, and even in my hometown of Alexandria, our interracial marriage is not an issue. Hooray for home!

It has been different on the road.

Elizabeth and I were married in November of 2003. Since we are both teachers, honeymoon time was at a premium, so we elected for a long weekend in Ocean City, MD. Unlike the author, we headed north. Ocean City is fun, especially in November when the crowds have left and given the town back to the 7,000 or so citizens, many of whom are retirees from Baltimore and Washington, DC.

On the second day of our honeymoon, we decided to venture to Fenwick Island, Delaware, a mere six blocks away from our home away from home off Coastal Highway. My parents had mentioned a restaurant called “House of Welsh,” so we figured that it might be a good idea to stop in for a liquid refreshment and maybe some dinner. That idea was trounced three seconds after entering when twenty pairs of eyes belonging to the elderly all-white clientele assembled in the lounge bored a hole right through my wife and I as we bellied up to the bar. It wasn’t a scary feeling, and it didn’t necessarily upset us. It was just… weird.

But it didn’t stop. We ordered a couple of drinks and tried to make pleasant conversation with the barkeep. After two minutes we realized that our beverages were not going to be finished because the level of discomfort was too high. After giving each other a knowing glance, I put a bill on the bar (didn’t bother asking for the check) and we left.

This was hardly my first experience with racism. Coming from a diverse town like Alexandria, Virginia, I was surrounded by people of many cultures and it was just the way we grew up. Our experience in the 70's was significant enough to become the subject of a movie in "Remember the Titans." However, it is certainly my most memorable experience, and I guess you could call it, my CRT moment


Community-based teaching activities for Black History Month: Reprinted from July 2011

I was untimely the first time this article was posted, as it made an original showing on the Wall last July. At the time, I promised to repost in February. As mentioned during the first posting, the point here is to for teachers  to think of Black History Month types of activities as more than something to occupy the month of February. If teaching and communicating go hand-in-hand, then the best way to reach students is to meet them with topics they are most interested with. This is not to suggest that every research project has to be about Lil Wayne and Ice-T, but the four objectives stated here are particularly useful guidelines.

In order for a community-based curriculum for Black History Month to be successful, there are several objectives which must be addressed, not only during February, which is officially Black History Month, but throughout the year.

The four main objectives of a successful program are 1) embracing community involvement, 2) raising awareness to African-American issues, 3) educating about the past, from slavery through the Civil Rights movement, while preparing for the future, and 4) developing a program which will continue to grow and prosper after the month of February. Any flourishing curriculum program will include elements of history, sociology, community service, and to a lesser degree, event planning and business management.

There are several existing programs worth reviewing as examples of successful community–based curriculum ventures. The organizations may have possibly started in February, but developed into worthwhile and successful year-round entities.


In the Pittsburgh (PA) region, a volunteer organization called RAMP (Raising Achievement in Monroeville and Pitcairn) has embraced the concept of community involvement by forming a group dedicated to closing the academic achievement gaps which exist between subgroups of students. According to their mission statement, this is created by raising achievement in their students while creating an environment that believes in them. Within their organization, they have created several programs including community gatherings, tutoring sessions and incentive programs which reward students for raising their report card grades by one letter grade or more.

Arthur Ashe Children’s Program

In Washington, DC, the Arthur Ashe Children’s Program, named for the late tennis star and human rights activist, serves over 450 at-risk students in 20 DC schools, combining academics with athletics and life skills. The program reaches students from early elementary through high school and includes student projects which topics such as “The Marketing of Tennis Apparel,” “How to do Stock Analysis,” and “Pollution and the Environment” Combined with a strenuous tennis instruction session along with a Reading is Fundamental (RIF) literacy program, the programs, run through the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation, boast a 100% college acceptance rate for its seniors who have worked through the WTEF Center for Excellence.

History Lesson at the Apollo Theater

In New York City, Columbia University’s Oral Research Office and the Apollo Theater Foundation have joined forces to document and preserve the history of the world-famous theater, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2009 and is known as a centerpiece of the Harlem Renaissance movement. The Oral Research Office has produced more than 150 hours of interviews with Apollo performers such as Smokey Robinson and Leslie Uggams, while also interviewing important black community leaders in Harlem to develop a program which also integrates the history of theater as well as the Harlem neighborhood into one curriculum program.
Columbia has also added three online resources. MAAP, short for Mapping the African-American past, combines interview material with photos and maps among its archives. The Amistad Digital Resource has been developed to assist teachers, while Columbia’s Black History Month Web site looks back on the university’s initiatives and work in research projects as they relate to recent African-American history.

Community-based curriculum starts at school

Successful curriculum programs take advantage of the school as a community learning center, available for all members of a neighborhood. Forming its building blocks toward the young school age student, but looking to develop lifelong learners, there are many resources available to build a curriculum for Black History Month. For example, at Scholastic.com, an entire section of its website is dedicated to lesson plans, activities and instructional guides for the teacher to use for planning purposes. Lessons include “All That Jazz” and “Black History Math Hunt.”