In a recent article, the Melrose School District has been targeted for a racial discrimination investigation. The alleged non responsiveness to a racial remark has prompted the investigation. The Melrose School district will have to show that racial discrimination is not a prominent factor for students and staff.
According to the article, a middle school teacher made derogatory comments towards one of her students. The racial discrimination lawsuit clams that the school district did not adequately respond to the complaint and has therefore created a racially hostile environment for its students. The article goes on to emphasize that district officials lacked the necessary transparency which lead to the racial discrimination lawsuit.
Why do school districts continue to cover-up behavior that can lead to racial discrimination lawsuits?
Allegations of racial discrimination are embarrassing for the school district and the individual. Embarrassment involves public emotions which make the person or persons feel exposed, awkward, or regretful for the alleged wrongdoing. Embarrassments usually result from accidental behaviors that lead the person or persons to feel negatively about themselves even if it is not their intention to violate socially unacceptable behavior. Experiences with embarrassment can lead people to believe that their failure threatens how others will evaluate the person or persons as well as how you have evaluated yourself.
In addition, the school district has invested an enormous amount time in the hiring process and training of teachers to adequately respond to all children. In an effort to reduce the backlash associated with racial discrimination, many school district administrators may opt to cover up racial discrimination to protect themselves and the school district. The behavior that school districts exhibit when covering up racial discrimination is consistent with the behaviors of a dysfunctional organization.
What are the behaviors of a dysfunctional organization that can lead to racial discrimination?
Dysfunctional organizations exhibit several characteristics that are detrimental to its existence. While Chris Argyris (1990) charted four factors that contribute to the dysfunctional organization, I propose that there are five different levels that contribute to a dysfunctional organization. The foundation for the dysfunctional organization begins with each person’s use of defense mechanisms for coping. Defense mechanisms are the unwritten rules an individual learns and utilizes to effectively deal with circumstances that are upsetting, embarrassing, or threatening.
The second level is skilled incompetence, which is the outcome of the defense mechanisms we have internalized. When the defensive behaviors we’ve learned are transformed into a learned behavior, that behavior becomes a skill – albeit an incompetent skill – that we consider necessary in order to deal with issues that are embarrassing, threatening, or upsetting. A skill that is learned from the regular application of a defense mechanism has a high degree of incompetence embedded within it, because we are unaware of how this skill will impact our future.
Skilled incompetence transforms into a defensive routine. Defensive routines are the third level. When the skilled incompetence is automatically exhibited at all times, the behavior is now a defensive routine.
Defensive routines lead to fancy footwork. Fancy footwork is the fourth level. Fancy footwork happens when individuals try to deny the behavioral inconsistencies they exhibit, or else they place blame on other people, which results in distancing themselves from taking responsibility for their behavioral inconsistencies.
Fancy footwork leads to organizational malaise. Organizational malaise is the final level. During this phase the individuals in the organization will seek to find fault within the organization rather than accept responsibility for their actions and correct their behavior accordingly. The individual continues the process by accentuating the negative and deemphasizing the positive in an effort to cover up their actions. The organizational malaise is further exacerbated by a refusal of one or all the members to discuss their area of responsibility.
The Melrose School District should in the least:
- Establish an anti-discrimination policy and place the policy on the school district’s website and in the front office of all schools
- Establish a district review board to evaluate all racial discrimination complaints
- Establish a process for relief of all discrimination complaints that are reviewed by the district review board
Finally, the Melrose School District must transform the perception that the community and students have regarding racial discrimination by promoting positive racial teacher student classroom relationships (Properateasclaships).
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012
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Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships and Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships: Methodology
“The model that you use to analyze teacher-student relationships is a good one for most school districts”.
~ Joe Vas ~ Perth Amboy Mayor
“Dr. Campbell’s Cultural Relationship Training Program is comprehensive, informative, and should be required training for all schools”
~ Darrell Pope ~ Hutchinson Kansas NAACP President