Future teachers studying the African American educational experience

A collaborative new certificate program at Wright State University is helping future teachers relate to African American students, making them more effective teachers in urban public schools.

It’s called the African American Experience in Education.

The certificate is designed for students interested in teaching in inner-city environments. The focus is simple: help teacher candidates understand the complexities of the African American community.

“African Americans are so diverse from one another that you can’t say that there’s one technique you use to teach all African American students,” said Christa Agiro, Ph.D., the education professor who co-coordinates the certificate.

“The one thing you can say is that other people group them together and categorize them,” she said. “You can be sure that if someone has dark skin in this country that they’ve experienced discrimination at some point in their lives.”

The certificate is made up of five courses. The Department of African and African American Studies teaches four of them, which focus on black history and culture.

Students look at a variety of African American perspectives on a range of topics including politics, religion, literature, and fine arts.

Two of these courses deal specifically with race and racism. Sharon Lynette Jones, Ph.D., director of the African and African American Studies program and co-coordinator of the certificate program, acknowledges they can be difficult subjects to tackle in the classroom.

“It requires us to cultivate an environment of open exchange,” said Jones. She added that a college campus is the ideal place for frank discussions on challenging topics.

Some of these courses are writing-intensive, enabling students to more fully develop their own opinions.

The remaining course in the certificate is offered by the College of Education and Human Services. It examines social and historical factors that affect African Americans in education, such as why urban schools have a higher proportion of African American students and why those schools tend to be more poorly funded than schools with fewer black students.

A major goal of the class is to reduce teacher bias and to promote anti-racism.

Studies have shown that students who speak in non-standard dialects often receive lower scores for the same quality of work as students who speak in standard English. Plus, teachers tend to be more lenient with students whose backgrounds are similar to their own.

Acknowledging and fighting these biases is a step in the right direction, said Agiro.

The courses also examine a number of stereotypes associated with the African American community. Students learn how those stereotypes developed and affected black students over time.

“We’re trying to teach educators that all students have the ability to learn, regardless of race or socioeconomic class,” said Agiro.

After completing the certificate, students have a better understanding of how distinctive social, educational, economic, familial and racial dynamics shape the worldviews of African Americans and impact their experiences in public education.

Armed with this knowledge, teachers can better communicate with students and their parents.

“We hope that the program increases the awareness of teachers in terms of giving them the experiences, knowledge and skills to be effective with diverse student populations,” said Jones.

For more information on the African American Experience in Education certificate program, call the Department of Teacher Education at (937) 775-2677 or visit

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