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Educating the Village

chicago dyke's picture

Steve has a good post up about the NEST controversy in NYC. I'm out of that loop right now, but I feel like weighing in. The state of education in this country is at least half of the reason why we're in the mess we are today. It's time people understood that a little better.

Battles like this are disturbingly common in American history, and as Steve points out, even today. The short version: middle to upper middle class whites who can't afford the truly exclusionary educational environments fight against the integration of what they do have at every step. No girls, no Blacks, no Latins- it's not well documented but you can even include Asians on this list. It's always the same excuses too: "we're maintaining standards," "our kids deserve to be safe." Because, as we all know, kids of color are both stupid and violent, and it's a waste of time to educate future felons anyway. Right.

But racist, greedy parents aren't the only problem. Educators, although burdened, are a big part of the problem. Administrators in particular. There's a subtle and sometimes not so subtle desire on the part of many educators to just not deal with the harsh realities of educating America's poorer children. "Our school is for the gifted," they say in Steve's example. Well, I'm sorry to say it, but there are plenty of "gifted" Latino youth in this neighborhood, and if that's not clear to some, it's an indictment of the system by which students are evaluated, not the students themselves. Unless we're accepting the "Bell Curve" authors as scientists, it's still true that there are always a talented tenth in the population waiting for a proper education.

I'm going to give you an anecdote, because it pains me to realize some little girl in this neighborhood is probably experiencing the same thing right now. When I was in elementary school, I had the annoying habit of scoring well above all my classmates in the standardized tests. I actually used to look forward to them, because I knew I'd do well and they were like puzzles; practically the only time I was challenged in the classroom. Once, my best friend and I took the test for fifth graders along with about 25 other kids, and the grading teacher reported that she had done as well as I, scoring high in all subjects. It was later revealed (as at least one of my teachers had some scruples) that the grader had "accidentially" filled in the right answers on my best friend's test for her. My friend's true score was like it her previous tests, much closer to the mean for students in the school.

Did I mention I was the only black child in my class? Or that my sister and I were the only black children in the school? Sis reports similar moments.

This simple fact is, and I've seen this as an educational administrator as well as a student, white educators don't want to believe children of color can be "smart." They don't want to admit that hip-hop is music, or that the vernaculars of communities of color are legitimate, or that families of color care about educational acheivement. Far too many educators automatically approach students of color as remedial, as much as I hate to say it, the concept of "the soft bigotry of low expectations" reasonates with me. I've seen students of color told by teachers that they are stupid, in front of the whole classroom, more than once. I've heard educators praise blatantly racist admission policies plenty of times, in the name of "preserving our traditions of excellence" blah blah.

Another simple fact: a stupid population is a dangerous one. America is browning, rapidly. Locking out communities of color from better eductation opportunites is stupid, on so many levels. Smart kids won't stop being smart, they'll just be smart doing things you probably wouldn't want them to do, white educator. Like become hackers who steal your identity and ruin your credit. The underground is real, driving the best and brightest there only makes it more influential in mainstream society. Obviously, we need a better educated society if we're to compete in the global economy. That's a battle we've been losing for going on 20 years now, and casting more blame on people of color isn't helping.

I'm sorry it's "hard work" to have to help students of color jump over this or that barrier that represents "quality" in the minds of the pedagogues. I've met kids from the hood, I'm talking teens now, who are well read in Foucault and speak Mandarin. Just because they have baggy pants and didn't get to discreet calc doesn't mean they aren't curious, disciplined, and have potential.

What's saddest about this all is that while whites fight to keep out their neighbor's children from the neighborhood school, Bush and his cronies are killing what remains that's good in American education. The foily part of me knows this to be on purpose, the better to feed the war machine and rule. Parents are tigers when it comes to their kids, and educators are the lions in their own domain. But both groups simply have to accept that our job as people in education is to educate and we can't shy away that responsibility, even when it's inconvenient.

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