This semester I ventured out of my African-American Studies department to a graduate college of education expecting to find an objective exploration of a proposed new educational reform addressing the black-white achievement gap. The prospect of a reform that considers the non-academic factors that affect students ability to learn and proposes a holistic approach to educating students was alluring and I excitedly enrolled. The course is supposed to provide an overview of comprehensive education and a review of its practicality. At face value this sounds like promising reform with the possibility of actually reintroducing two of the biggest issues plaguing academically challenged students: poverty and race. Nothing about the idea sounds racist or harmful, right? Which is why I was not prepared for the blatant and dangerous racism I encountered while reading the first class assignment.
The following is a quote from literature published by the institution, which is highly regarded, respected, and yes IVY LEAGUE, that supports the argument and reasoning for this new education reform. I must also add that this book, Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap, was published by the college’s Economic Policy Institute, with the intent to one day become a policy implemented in the school system. In one of the most dangerous and threatening assertions one could make related to education and race the author states “It may be that some day more will be known about the interaction of genes and the social and economic environment, and it will then be possible to have a reasoned discussion of how a balanced policy should not only mix social, economic, and educational reform, but also how these reforms might be made more effective by biological interventions.“
First let me set the scene, so I won’t be accused of taking the quote out of context. Then I will tell you how it feels to be a student of color reading shallow, irresponsible, ill-conceived literature that defines me, my community, and race as inferior both biologically and culturally. Which is written under the guise of libertarianism, in 2004, at an institution that is supposed to be progressive, that may possibly dictate how teachers, administration, schools, and government develop policies and eventually affect how future babies and generations that look like me are taught and perceived. (WHEW, that’s a HELLUVA run-on)
The author suggests schools are not to blame for black children not performing as well academically as white students. He argues teachers and schools are doing all they can and non-school factors must be taken into account when considering reform to close the achievement gap. Among these non-school factors, or impediments, according to Rothstein, is black people’s culture of underachievement, academic readiness, health issues, student mobility, home environment, summer and after school time, self-confidence/lack of trust in institutions, discrimination and segregation (funny story about how this was introduced into the discussion),neighborhood effects, lack of early childhood programs, and as previously stated genetics. Among his many inconsistencies was the use of black and low-class interchangeably. He claims black parents and white parents read and discipline their children in a different way which consequentially affects their academic readiness. Apparently, according to Rothstein, white parents reading and child-rearing practices makes for more inquisitive children.
Needless to say, it was difficult accomplishing my reading assignment for that week, but I went into class hoping the professor would be objective and provide other perspectives on the issue. WRONG! This book is the foundation of the course, the professor did NOT refute one iota of the bullshit in this damn book. I was sitting in class ready to explode and waving my hand like the angry black woman I am. Realizing he couldn’t ignore me much longer he finally called on me and I asked him how could we talk about education reform and the supposed problems that “plague” the black community without critically examining the system that creates poverty and the structures that impede educational attainment. His reply “Oh, discrimination and segregation good point, well get back to those later.” What the fuckity fuck fuck?!
Now, let me give an example of why this type of literature is not only problematic but dangerous. The class has about 40 students, 4 black, a few Asian, majority white. Most are educators or working in areas related to education administration. One student, who earlier stated she was a teacher, raises her hand and asks a question that reveals the political implications of Rothstein’s research and how this text has the potential to jeopardize how black children are perceived and taught, she referred to Rothstein and the professors remarks about the lack of cognitive development black students have and asked how is she supposed to prepare them for the new state tests that require critical thinking skills? And the professor assured her this was a legitimate concern. For anyone who has black children or are concerned about education reform I will leave you with the thought of having this person teach your child.
Like I said before, I thought this would be an excellent way to combat the insidious barriers created by racism, poverty, and discrimination. But now I question rather a policy developed on racist ideologies could possibly be used for good. I think not. But what do we do as individuals seeking to increase our children’s educational prospects and relieve them from the legacy of racism and discrimination that plagues this country? The challenge is finding the middle ground and figuring out how to move forward with education reform that truly seeks to engage a system that has disadvantaged an entire race for decades, centuries. And what should I do as a black person who is seeking positive and effective change do about the ignorance being spewed at the institution that will eventually grant my degree?? How do we move forward? My heart, soul, and spirit can’t take many more racist assaults.
Sista tryna stay encouraged