Sunday, May 31, 2009

Things that make you go hmmmmmm....

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……..


  1. I agree with your youthful assessment of racial inequailties in the educational system. This of course, as you know (I'm assuming from your thoughts in your blog and your chosen fields of study, and assumed research)is an unthinkable position for the US public school system(s) to be in 2009. These disparities are decades old. Billions and Billions have been spent on the public educational systems, some to no avail. The answer is complex. The answer is political. The answer is racial. The answer is community. The answer is financial. The answer is family. You always start inside the home to address any educational problem. Young minds brings untested thoughts and visions that may be subjected to change with experiences and time. But young minds are needed to bring fire, excitement and the hope of change to the disparities in the public educatioal system. Eager2teach, remember, most of the world does not care what you think. The world is huge and diverse, don't waste time changing a system that does not want to be changed. It's had plenty of chances and decades to change. However, fight your fight, you can make a difference, even if it's only one child.
    G6,older African-American male

  2. I absolutely appreciate your insight! One of the things that I have grown aware of is the multi-faceted nature of any possible "solution" to this issue. One cannot not look to one area like politics or community and think that they will find the sole answer. Even with my youth and inexperience, I understand the dire straits in which are nation's education system exists. With experience comes increased knowledge, but it is important to remember that some of the most critical social movements in this country were fueled by the passion and drive of young people. I do disagree with your view that "the world is huge and diverse, don't waste time changing a system that does not want to be changed". It is this very mentality that has hindered us from growth that moves beyond the oppression and denegration that have for so long been intertwined in our society. I see the value in working with people first. I however, believe that the problem is not people but the system that dictates the social and economic interaction of all Americans. To me, it is by the ultimate reconfiguration of the "system" that other people will be motivated to work toward change. I know that I cannot change the world, but my goal is to ignite change, one step at a time.