In the mid-1960s, an acquaintance of mine was a young, timid teacher beginning her career in a virtually all-black high school on the South Side of Chicago. Even to this day, she recalls two events from that period. On one occasion, she saw a burly white male teacher telling a group of black teenagers that they were stupid and that they had better realize it. On another occasion, she observed as a classroom of unruly adolescents was silenced by the fixed stare of a black female teacher, whose disciplinary approach surely reminded many of their mothers at home.
The contrast between these two teachers, while more extreme than one usually finds, either then or now, nevertheless helps to explain why so many are urging the nation to recruit more minority teachers. The availability of minority teachers appears to be an important issue. While 17 percent of the students in K–12 public schools are black, black teachers
make up just 8 percent of the teaching force. These disparities are even more pronounced in many urban schools, where student bodies that are nearly 100 percent minority are often taught by majority-white teaching staffs.