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Cuban Teacher Perspectives on Race and Racism: The Pedagogy of Home-School Relations

by Arlo Kempf - 2014

Background/Context: Cuba’s education system has been the focus of academic study by researchers on and off the island who frequently cite the comparative success of Cuban students on measures such as the UNESCO math and language assessments. Few studies, however, consider the significance of race within Cuban education generally or the home–school relationship in particular. Indeed, there has been no empirical work made available on these topics for nearly a decade. Significant sociopolitical changes are underway in Cuba, with implications for the role of the state in the cultural life of the nation. Education is a key transmission point between the state and its people, with teachers as frontline cultural workers.

Purpose: This article examines the way Cuban teachers address racism in their professional practice, with a specific focus on teacher home visits to address racism with parents/guardians. The author analyzes the relationship between Cuban teachers and the families of students they teach (an under-researched form of teacher practice in an under-researched context). Little is known about teachers reaching and teaching parents directly about issues such as racism. Further, there is limited research on the ways in which understanding of citizenship and professional responsibility impact teachers’ work and pedagogy in their interactions with parents.

Setting: Havana, Cuba.

Participants: All interviewees were teachers from downtown Havana. Twenty-two male and 23 female teachers participated. Fifteen of the teachers were Mestizo (of mixed race), one was Chinese-Cuban, 21 were Afro-Cuban, and eight were White. Survey participants were drawn from across Havana’s 15 boroughs. Among respondents, 67.4% were female and 32.6% were male. As far as race, 57.8% identified as Mestizo, 18.9% identified as Afro-Cuban, 22% identified as White, and 1.3% identified as Chinese.

Research Design: This is a mixed-method study using qualitative interviews (N=45 participants), and a quantitative survey (N=150 respondents).

Conclusions/Recommendations: Teachers regularly enter the homes of parents in an effort to promote diversity and to counter perceived racism among parents/guardians. The fact that teachers have the authority and sense of entitlement to do so points to possibilities for a significant retooling of the ecology systems framework. Many teachers undertake this work with parents/guardians just as they would when addressing student academic performance. This race-work is supported by state-generated social capital that, in Cuba, embeds conceptions of race within a larger public context, as opposed to treating race as a private matter to be subjectively and privately understood. As quasi-curriculum, antiracism is something everyone is expected to learn. This suggests that a careful consideration of the way concepts of nation, citizenship, and professional responsibility inform teacher preparation and practice in Cuba may deepen our understanding of teachers’ race-work in North American contexts.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 6, 2014, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17468, Date Accessed: 9/25/2021 6:29:48 PM

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About the Author
  • Arlo Kempf
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    ARLO KEMPF is a Banting Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research interests include multicultural education, teacher practice and professional life, comparative and international education, and high-stakes assessment. His recent publications include New Perspectives on African-Centred Education in Canada (co-authored with George Sefa Dei for Canadian Scholars Press, 2013), and The Politics of Cultural Knowledge (co-edited with Njoki Wane and Marlon Simmons for Sense, 2012).
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