Teaching Black Girls - Angela Christie

Teaching Black Girls:
Resiliency in Urban Classrooms
Venus E. Evans-Winters
Created By: Angela Christie
With support from Jill Boisvenue, Allan Case, Chad DeKatch
“Teaching Black Girls focuses on how
students succeed and focuses on
resiliency and resiliency-fostering
factors in the lives of three Black girls,
growing up and attending school in an
urban neighborhood.”
(Evans-Winters pg. 4)
Why this focus?
• “Current theories of development, intelligence,
curriculum, and pedagogy have been devised
from the experiences of what has been
discovered to be best for White middle-class
boys.” (Evans-Winters pg. 7)
• “African American girls were also absent from
the school resiliency literature….not many
research studies were available that focused on
the positive outcomes of African American girls.”
(Evans-Winters pg. 3)
Evans-Winters suggests
“There are several reasons why Black female adolescents
are absent from the literature. Compared to black
males, black females have fewer behavior problems.
African American girls’ behavior are least likely to affect
others; thus research and the resulting reform efforts
tend to focus on Black males. Another factor is that
White women have dominated the women’s movement,
which means their research is conducted on themselves
or white adolescents. Last, researchers tend to assume
that white females and Black females have similar
socialization processes…By ignoring or subsuming
Black girls’ experiences within White girls’ or Black boys
experiences, we overlook the inimitable experience of
the Black girl.” (Evans-Winters pp. 9-10)
Evans-Winters major arguments are that AfricanAmerican girls have largely been ignored as a
focus of study within resiliency research and that
through her research she demonstrates a
confluence of factors that contribute to this
resiliency – including discussion of the
oppressive simultaneous interaction of racism,
classism, and sexism that create the need for
resiliency – juxtaposed with the support
mechanisms of community, individual action,
and education as a means for social change.
Theme Reflection
When conditions are right, i.e. stressors and
supports are amenable to each other, a
power exists that a person can take the
stressor experience and learn from it to
create a positive change in their being.
This power is referred to as resiliency.
Common application of Resiliency
• In respect to objects, resiliency is defined
with relationship to buoyancy; having the
ability to bounce back to its original state
after encountering adversity or obstacles.
• In respect to social behavior, resiliency is
defined as “successful adaptation despite
risk and adversity.”
(Evans-Winters pp. 110)
Resiliency in terms of
Teaching Black Girls
Evans-Winters discusses resiliency in terms of the
oppressed female African American culture.
Her theme reflects an adaptation of the definition
of resiliency and from a Black feminist
standpoint. She highlights that, “after living
through and recovering from a stressful or
traumatic experience, the goal may not be to
return to its original state, but to learn from
experiences from stressors and to adopt a new
state of consciousness.” (Evans-Winters pp. 110)
Metaphorically Speaking
Consider resiliency in people or more specifically, African American
girls to the resiliency in sand. When sand is struck by lightning in
the right conditions it is not ruined, but transformed from its original
state of being to a new an improved state of being. This new state
is stronger and even more beautiful with new uses and benefits.
“Mother Nature makes glass each time a large amount of energy is
released during a sufficient period of time at the Earth's surface,
provided that the soil composition is suitable for making
glass…Glass (a glassy object, to be exact) that is made as a result
of a cloud-to-ground lightning discharge is called a fulgurite (from
the Latin "fulgur" which means lightning). Fulgurites come in a great
variety of forms and can be viewed as nature's own works of art.”
Vladimir A. Rakov, PhD. "Petrified Lightning from Central Florida," (1997-1998)
From this perspective of resiliency we
• What are the resiliency-fostering factors
that are necessary for success of African
American girls?
In other words…
• What are the lightning bolts or stressors
that can negatively impact Black girls to
deter them from success?
• And what are the right conditions or
support that is necessary to bring out
resilience and in turn create a positive
Framing the perspective
“We need a framework in order to
understand how structural forces and
context-specific social conditions
negatively and positively influence
schooling experiences…the need for
theory-building that has practical
implications for curriculum, policy, and
(Evans-Winters pg. 11)
Stressors versus Support
“African American communities do have a tradition
of supporting education,” (Evans-Winters pg. 28) so we must
first look at what the stressors are and where
they come from.
Evans-Winters addresses the historical context of
structural and social implications in the lives of
Black girls because she has found that, “the
most competent and resilient minority female
students possess a race, class, and gender
(Evans-Winters pg. 44)
Race, Class, and Gender
Support of Education
“This study reminds educational researchers
to consider the interconnectedness of
individual agency, community forces, and
larger social structures and, in addition, the
aforementioned effects on students’ school
experiences and outcomes…African
American students’ frame of reference
reaches beyond the ghetto.” (Evans-Winters pg. 33)
Resiliency in Context
Resiliency is fostered through several interweaving factors and that many explanations
for resiliency are exceedingly simple in their diagnosis and do not take into account
individual accounts. Such grand narratives do not examine the local levels of
consciousness and the support generated by the confluence of individual, community,
and society.
Evans-Winters addresses the racial marginalization of African Americans in the drafting of
the constitution which set a precedent for today’s institutionalized racism. “White
supremacy predated the Constitution, but the moral compromises made in the
Constitution and the justifications of those moral compromises solidified White
supremacy in the minds of White Americans.” (Evans-Winters pg. 24) She then
addresses several theories that fail to take context into account and addresses the
phenomenon of many Black girls being taught by White teachers. The explanation of
the binary uses of the non-contextual theories and their oversimplification through
grand narratives that don’t account for individual experience are amplified. EvansWinters reminds the reader that interconnectedness is imperative when examining
resiliency and that binaries and modernist perspectives discount this complexity
through oversimplification. She goes on to discuss resiliency in greater detail and
credits a “dual conscious,” in itself a binary, as a major factor to resiliency in Black
Resiliency in Context cont.
Evans-Winters explains the path of the social context of the subjects
which she is later going to be working with. Her study took place in a
town she called "Haven." In Haven, the community has dealt with
much segregation and desegregation issues overtime. EvansWinters looks, “at the historical practices that have contributed to the
social inequality between Haven's African Americans and European
Americans and threatened the educational resiliency of Blacks." (pg.
52) The social inequality trends between 1940 and 1990 have
contributed to continued lack of rewards, opportunities, and mobility
factors found still today. With all of this research as a foundation,
"...we begin to look at what supports to African American female
students buffer the possible negative outcomes associated with
race, class, and gender inequality." (Evans-Winters pg.66)
The ethnography Evans-Winters conducted was framed
with the notion that “we have to look at how larger
historical forces and social structures affect [black girls]
families, communities and schools as their individual
choices” (Evans-Winters pg.23) “The six students [chosen] were
viewed as resilient because they were aware of how
race and class (and in two cases gender) affected their
education and career opportunities but nonetheless were
high achieving and optimistic about their life
chances…resilient students do not wholeheartedly
believe in the dominant ideology of making it and are
race, class, and/or gender conscious.” (Evans-Winters p.35)
Nicole, Zora, and Yssis
Evans-Winters writes of each of these girls experiences and tries to understand the
relationship between the girls' resilience and their families, schools, and
communities. Each girl has their own story but a common theme between each of
them is obvious. In some way, shape or form their success can be traced back to
outside factors.
In Nicole's case, her family is one of her biggest support systems despite the
fact that she was raised by her grandmother, "What is central to Nicole's educational
story is that she completely redefines the traditional notion of family so it fits her idea
of family support." (Evans-Winters pg. 93)
In Zora’s case, school may not have been the most interesting place for her,
but she excelled in extracurricular activities. JROTC provided her with an opportunity
to prove herself as a leader and furthered her education. "In Zora's case JROTC may
be a strong factor in her character building, in turn, fostering educational resilience."
(Evans-Winters pg. 113)
In Yssis’ case, she knows that her community is not the best place to find role
models but uses that to her advantage. "Yssis is very conscious of the lack of
resiliency portrayed by individuals in her community. Thus, she has made a
conscious decision not to be actively involved in her immediate neighborhood."
(Evans-Winters pg. 126)
From the Field
Through the ethnography, Evans-Winters states that she has a different view of resilience
from most scholars and researchers: She states that she is “observing and theorizing
from a unique standpoint, which allows [her] the opportunity to view resiliency in its
various states.” (pg. 132)
She has witnessed resilience in:
• Teenage mother who decides to leave school and seek out paid labor with the hopes
of providing adequate childcare for her child.
• Pooling resources in a group of women living together.
• Toughing it out in a hostile learning environment with hopes of improving one’s
chances in life.
She narrows the focus of resilience to:
• African American female students and its application to the school environment.
• “Out” former educational research and in the end, “confront more pressuring issues
like equal educational opportunities for adolescent mothers.” (pg. 132)
She proves resilience in terms of:
• The stressors of race, class, and gender are intersecting and cannot be separated
into different divisions or categories that differ widely from or contradict each other.
Evans-Winters (pp. 131-132)
What We’ve Found:
Stressors vs. Supports
•Family-caring female
role models
•High crime/poverty
•Community programs
that complement
•Underfunded schools
•Racism, sexism,
•School provides
activities and
academic support
•Goal oriented
•Grades are important
•Participation in school
•Low mobility
•Seeks help and
The impact of context on educational experiences: The bidirectional flow of
stressors, supports, and qualities of resilience. (Evans-Winters p. 133)
So Now What?
How can we use this information to assist in
recognizing and supporting the resiliency
in the teaching of Black girls?
Support Systems
Family, community, and school support are
directly related to school resilience. All
three aspects need to be available for
students to draw from simultaneously in
order to “buffer adversity.” (Evans-Winters pg. 135)
Most resilient student’s were “more adept
at blurring the boundaries between family,
community, and school.” (Evans-Winters p.136)
Family Support
In Terms of the Resilient Black Female Student:
Any family member who is a main source of
– Generally a female caregiver who fits into the
category of “main support”
– Does not necessarily need to be a biological parent,
or even a two parent, heterosexual living situation
– Provide a sense of love and care that show that the
student’s educational accomplishments are important
– Support or assist in completing homework
assignments or studying for tests
– Monitor school participation
Community Support
In Terms of the Resilient Black Female
– Offers temporary job opportunities
– DCFS (Department of Community and Family
– Provides mentors
– Provides programs that offer some type of
direct or indirect support to students’ families.
– Provides gender specific activities
– Provides a safe space
School Support
In Terms of the Resilient Black Female
– Provides extra curricular activities that support
long term goals
– Provides at least one adult whom the student
feels positive about
– Provides tutoring/academic assistance
– Provides stern but understanding teachers
Self Support
In Terms of the Resilient Black Female Student:
Individual Student Intentions and Motivations
Has a “plan”
Looks forward to completing high school
Develops a long-term plan in “life”
Long-term career goals
College plans and hopes
Conscious of grades in school
Consciously chose friends who were not associated
with their neighborhood
Knowing and understanding what support
systems are necessary to bring about
resiliency and create success, as
educators, we need to assist our students
in finding these support systems, providing
these support systems, and using these
support systems to offset the negative
implications in their life, so they can
achieve their utmost potential.
In Summary
When lightning strikes sand in the appropriate conditions
the sand particles are welded together to create a
stronger, and in some perspectives, more beautiful
structure. The resiliency the sand has exhibited when
being struck by lightning and taking the opportunity to
change by bonding together instead of dissipating is only
a metaphorical comparison to the resiliency in terms of
African American girls and their success in society.
Evans-Winters has proven that while much research still
needs to be done to find more concrete answers to the
notion of resiliency in urban classrooms, the foundation
exists that when African American girls can find the right
support conditions to be resilient to the obstacles they
face, success can be achieved.
Vladimir A. Rakov, PhD. (1997-1998). Petrified Lightning from Central Florida.
Retrieved February 17, 2007, from http://home.stt.net/~allanmcnyc/rakov.html
Evans-Winters, Venus E. ( 2005). Teaching Black Girls: Resiliency in Urban
Classrooms. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.