One of the topics that always make me go “hmmmm” deals with the racial and social inequalities that are so prevalent in the field of education. I often ask myself how it is possible that even after such a landmark case like Brown vs. Board of Education, we can be living in a time of what I deem to be even greater disparities between students of color and their white counterparts. I am reflecting upon this topic after reading a book written by one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Kozol. To me, Kozol is the king of “calling out” the disparities in education and holding the appropriate culprits responsible. In his book, Amazing Grace, Kozol documents the stark realities of poor African American and Latinos living in the South Bronx of New York. One of the things that struck me the most was his comparison between selective high schools like Stuyvesant High and other “neighborhood” schools like Taft High School. Stuyvesant High is a $150 million building in which the “best of the best” receive a top notch education. Following are two quotes that speak toward the contrast of inferiority and superiority that plague the issue of educational inequality. One is from a 17-year-old student at Stuyvesant and another is from Charles Murray, a conservative social scientist, respectively.
Kozol quotes the student: “We deserve it,” says a 17-year-old at Stuyvesant. “We’re supposed to be the best kids…,” and, he adds, “there may be something to that.” (p.153, Amazing Grace)
Kozol quotes Murray: “Some people are better than others,” wrote the conservative social scientist Charles Murray several years ago. “They deserve more of society’s rewards.” (p.154, Amazing Grace).
I must say that after reading these two quotes, I was sick to my stomach. Sick because of the “matter of fact” tone with which they say what they say. Is this true? Are the some people who are simply more deserving of society’s rewards? What makes these people more deserving than others? Dealing with the case of racial inequalities in education, if the underperforming, understaffed, underfunded schools in urban inner cities were populated by white students, would the response be differently. If White children were the residents of Projects and Ghettos and Blacks and Latinos were the ones attending highly selective high schools, which would be “more deserving of society’s rewards”? Well, I believe that the answer is “White students”. As heart-wrenching as it was to actually write that answer, I truly believe that the concept of racial superiority and privilege has a death grip on our education system. I truly believe that until we acknowledge and understand the role that racism plays in education, we will continue to perpetuate the cycle of sub-par education for students of color. The question that still plagues me, though, is what do we do after the much sought after “understanding” takes place? Where do we go from there? Hmmmmmm……..