What I learned in Black Church

church-wallpaper

Ethnicity is a tough topic to discuss, but I’m a person who likes to speak the truth. I still want to be sensitive, though, and state that everything I say here about ethnicity and culture is meant to be respectful and in good taste.

Everything I say here about ethnicity and culture is meant to be respectful and in good taste.

In college, I had the opportunity to tour professionally as a musician in several different settings. One of the groups in which I was involved would travel to churches and do music. This group embraced diversity and that allowed us to travel to Black churches, White churches, small churches, big churches, etc…

If you’ve never been in church, let me explain some of the differences.

DISCLAIMER: None of the things I am about to say are true of all churches everywhere. These are just general observations I’ve made in my unique set of experiences.

None of the things I am about to say are true of all churches everywhere. These are just general observations I’ve made in my unique set of experiences.

White Church

In the churches in which I was raised (I am a white male), the act of doing “church” consists of prayer (by the pastor), singing together, and a sermon. The music is rehearsed ahead of time and everyone sings along to the same tune. Most relevant, however, is the fact that when the pastor speaks, the congregation sits quietly and listens. Crying babies are removed by their mothers, and chattering teenagers are shushed.

 

Black Church

The Black churches I’ve been to have some similarities to White churches. There is still music, prayer, and a sermon but the atmosphere is totally different. The service is like a mosaic where everyone played a part. During the prayer, people in the audience yell out praises or thanks to God. The music often consists of a choir singing the melody while a leader adds lib or places their own spin on the song. The band stays on stage during the sermon and adds inspirational music behind the words of the pastor – sometimes being so driven by the words of the pastor that the room erupts into a “praise break.” Most importantly, however, while the pastor delivers his sermon, people are free to yell out approval or praises whenever they want.

 

The Point

I teach mostly African-American students. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the amount of White students in our part of the building. When you look at the differences in expected church behavior, it’s no wonder that sitting quietly and raising your hand is so foreign to them. They’re allowed to yell out their thoughts sporadically in church. They’re aloud to shout something without permission and not get in trouble for it. The practice and structure of church is also the closest thing to school that students experience outside of school.

The practice and structure of church is also the closest thing to school that students experience outside of school.

I’ve been trying to find every way to make my teaching culturally relevant to my students. Traditional teaching methods where students sit, listen, and raise their hand just don’t work with these students! We have to make our teaching fun and relevant to whatever culture are students are coming from. To be honest, I haven’t done a very good job of this and would like to improve.

What teaching strategies or modifications have you made to teach students from a different cultural background than you?

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2 thoughts on “What I learned in Black Church

  1. I taught at a similar school, with one white student in the whole of 1st-12th grades. But I’ve always been bad at enforcing hand-raising in the classroom, anyway, so it worked for me. Maybe it’s because I teach high school English, so I’m trying to inspire discussion. If a student makes a good point about the book we’re reading, I usually don’t even notice that he didn’t raise his hand first. I do carefully teach respect, listening to all opinions, not interrupting me or their classmates, etc., but if they have a good idea, they’re usually free to speak up in my classroom.

    You’re right, though. It’s important to take cultural norms into account in any classroom, and the best way to do that is to just watch our students. They’ll show us what they consider respectful, normal, etc., if we let them.

  2. Interestingly, I have had something of the opposite situation in my classroom over the past few years. Our school has always fostered student lead instruction, with kids coming up with the solutions and the ideas, and lots of circle discussion (minus the handraising). As more Asian students have moved in from very traditional cultures and schools, I am finding it difficult to meet their need for increased structure and direction.
    Interesting topic, thank you!

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