This is the first of a four-part series of posts addressing the challenge of eliminating, once and for all, the performance gap that exists between African-American students, other minority students and their white classmates.
There was a great article written by Jamie Utt entitled “5 Things Well-Meaning White Educators Should Consider If They Really Want to Close the Achievement Gap” published at his website at www.changefromwithin.org.
Although all of the points in the article are on target, two sentences stand out to me.
“Let’s be honest: Public education was created to serve as an entry point for lower-to-middle-wealth White people into the American middle class (by preparing White students for success in industry and farming).”
And, the second:
“And simply put, when our schools have been set up to serve Whites while excluding all but a few people of Color, it makes sense that White people are far more likely to have an advanced education.”
The article goes on to present five things that we need to do. While all of them make perfect sense, and from a policy perspective should be at the forefront of our strategizing, none of them are things public school teachers can do for their students, irrespective of color, who arrived in their classrooms this morning, and every morning thereafter.
The article closed with the quote from legal scholar, Randall Robinson:
“No nation can enslave a race of people for hundreds of years, set them free bedraggled and penniless, pit them without assistance in a hostile environment, against privileged victimizers, and then reasonably expect the gap between the heirs of the two groups to narrow. Lines begun parallel and left alone, can never touch.”
I want to draw attention to eleven words from this quote, minus one. These words portray exactly what has been taking place in American classrooms, for as long as any of us can remember and these are the very things that keep blacks, other minorities, and poor whites from getting the kind of education that they need if they are to have any hope of competing equally and effectively in 21st Century American society. Those words are:
“. . . pit them without assistance in a hostile environment, against privileged . . . .”
You will note that I purposely left off the word “victimizers” for reasons that I hope will become clear, shortly, to those of you who are reading these words. These remaining ten words describe the educational process at work in schools all over the U.S., public or private.
We spend an inordinate amount of our time and energy agonizing about things that we are powerless to change and then behave as if we are powerless to do anything until our government or some other greater power, usually undefined, has solved the big picture.
The truth, if only we will allow ourselves to believe, is that we are not powerless and we need not feel hopeless.
The hostile environment so eloquently described by Randall Robinson is an educational process in which African-American students and other disadvantaged children are pitted, not against Robinson’s “victimizers” but rather against children, reared by educated if not affluent parents, who arrive for their first day of school primed, prepared and motivated to be successful. The academic performance of disadvantaged children is then measured against the performance of classmates with whom successful competition is highly improbable.
The result is a glaring performance gap that is the inevitable outcome that the American educational process is structured to produce. It is an educational process the structure of which is very much subject to our will if only we will accept responsibility for its reinvention. This reinvention does not require an act of Congress or a state legislature. Every school corporation in America has the authority to restructure the process to produce the outcomes we so desperately need.
In the next segment of this series, before we focus in on things we have the power to do on our own, we will spend some time reviewing the long list of things we fret about, historically.