Black Education Matters

Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. All colors, all races, all religions and all ethnicities—their, our, all of our lives matter. In the United States, however, it is hard to make that argument when so many protestors feel that success only happens on the sweat of others, on the backs of others, and on the necks of others. The protestors remind us how many are not successful…a few hundred in a park, hundreds of thousands in a neighborhood, many millions of others in our society. In the end, if only a few of us end up being successful, we fail as a democracy. This is the call for change echoed by the protestors over the last 12 days. One response to this is to change the way we educate our 50 million K-12 students in response to these protests and their message unfairness. In this regard, black education matters and calls on us to consider that the education of all colors matter.

Public Education For All People

As Colin Powell, a much-revered black general says on CNN’s State of the Union this morning, public education is so important to our country because we need to, “make America great for all people.” General Demsey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, echoed these sentiments on This Week with George Stephenapolos, with the need to, “help all people reach their potential.” We often look to education to solve this kind of issue, but education alone cannot fix an inherent problem across our society. It can however work to emphasize the inequity and promote a more equitable approach to helping all children reach their potential and making America great for all people.

Inequitable Education

Education does change America for the better every day. Every day we see good teachers encourage, lead, support and demand better from their students. The problem is that our schools are a reflection of who we are and who we want to be. The racism and inequality in our society is often reflected in our schools in subtle but very identifiable ways. For example, we often place students who perform better with other students of the same ability, while taking students who need more help and placing them with other students who need more help. Where things go wrong is when students of the same color get placed with other students of color…and the reasons are segregation based on color and not on ability.

“The social consequences of inequitable education are perhaps most obvious in the costs students and society pay for racially segregated schools. Black students attending racially isolated schools that are majority students of color are often faced with the double-segregation of race and poverty in schools lacking vital resources, like qualified educators or college-preparatory curriculum. As a result, their educational outcomes suffer. And white students attending racially isolated majority white schools lack the opportunities to develop intergroup understanding or learn from students with diverse backgrounds. These same harms result from tracking policies that separate students by race, allocating them different qualities of teaching and curriculum within schools, and from teaching and curriculum that are not culturally competent.”

The Learning Policy Insitute

But we may see a tipping point in the protests today. The tipping point for change may be a group effort between parents who also feel that their education did not provide them with a better life, teachers who want to integrate schools, classrooms and reading groups, and a society that sees the effects of inherent racism as a failure not of education but more of a deaf leadership response that prevents real change by shifting the conversation from racism to looting and shooting.

Do We Have Diversity Strategies?

Segregation means apart, but, well, how could we not be in this together? The warning here is that when an unjust society grows, the very loss of that entire society becomes a reality. Rather than an unjust society leading to a loss of society, why can’t we think about trading up for a new and improved, a fair and just society? Do we have diversity strategies for improving our society and trading up?

“Evidence shows that diversity strategies like magnet schools in Hartford, CT, and elsewhere not only reduce racial isolation of Black and Latinx students, but also promote innovative and rigorous education opportunities. And long-term investments in desegregation have improved student graduation rates and life success. We saw the rapid progress made on desegregation—coupled with gains in achievement and attainment—when the federal government provided funding to districts to reduce segregation through magnet schools and transportation supports. One nationwide study found that a Black student exposed to court-ordered desegregation for 5 years experiences a 15% increase in wages and an 11 percentage point decline in annual poverty rates. Despite more recent legal restrictions on school integration programs and decreased federal enforcement of students’ civil rights, many districts are advancing intentionally diverse programs to support racially and socioeconomically diverse schools and classrooms. We need now to ask: Why aren’t we doing this nationwide? And when will action be taken to make it right?”

The Learning Policy Institute

Revolution? Could we agree to engineer real change that is uncomfortable enough to be effective? What if we change enough so that we can answer the child’s question posed on Sesame Street’s Town Hall on Racism special hosted by CNN, “will a police officer shoot me because I am black?” To this young child, can we marshal a restorative answer?

Can we be in this together, all of us, so that we can answer confidently, NO, you will not be shot because you are black?

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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