Sunday, March 30, 2014

What TIME is it? Part I

“Nowhere is the crossroad of race and privilege more striking than in education” 
– G.P. Collins, 2014

“The day starts in a middle school. The bell rings. Students scatter from homeroom to get to first period before the tardy bell. Some missed homeroom and are just leaving the office checking in. The hall from a distance looks like a rainbow of all shades of brown, black and white.  Students gather into groups as they walk, some going in one direction, others into classrooms in the opposite direction. As they gather into groups you begin to see students of the same ‘shade’ together and all of the ‘white’ students clustering together. Approaching the small cluster of white students are one or two black students kind of ‘bringing up the rear’ of the group. As students settle into classrooms, the shades of black and brown students are seated in large groups as many as 27-30 per class.. this course is General Math 8 /Algebra I. Many in the group are new to the school, others went here last year. Of those in the class, 5 or 6 are already preparing for a boring lesson repeating the same skills they learned two years ago. Some are attentive nonetheless, others go to sleep, some socialize, some daydream and wonder what am I here for?

Down the hall,  the cluster of white and two black students settle in. This is the higher level math class. The teacher is assigned to teach Algebra II, Problem Based Learning with Math, and some PreCalc if the time allows (the class is called Gifted Math II). The students are on task, some socializing but they appear to be ready to engage. Did I tell you that it’s a very small group..only 9 students in the class. They come and go each day believing themselves to be the only ones ready for this course so they dig in and start their studies. They feel special, unique, set apart. The two black students wonder why they are the only ones ‘like us’ in this small group and think about some of their friends who they know to be just as bright, some even smarter..but somehow, didn’t make the ‘cut’.

So I ask you - what TIME is it? Could be 1960 or 1970 when the country’s schools were in the throes of responding to the 1954 desegregation ruling of Brown v. Board of Education. White and black students are in school together, large class size is the rule of the day, limited resources are the norm. Few states responded immediately to Brown, and those the few who did, still had some of their school districts struggling with desegregating schools.

But to make a long story short.. because I know some of you know where I’m going to with this. It’s not 1960 or 1970, not even 1990, it could easily be  2012, 2013 or even 2014. This middle school could be anywhere in the country. Not just the Mid Atlantic (Maryland or Virginia) or Deep South (South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississsippi), but could just as well be in a district in the Northeast (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts), Midwest (Illinois, Wisconsin), or Southwest (Texas, Arizona, California). The school could actually be anywhere in our great ‘fair democracy’. It could be in your community, actually may be the school your child attends.


Each day students of color are relegated to some of the nation’s worst schools. They suffer, we suffer. In particular, each day bright students of color, those from limited economic backgrounds are relegated to classrooms with limited resources, schools that don’t offer high level coursework, teachers who are less qualified, administrators who are watching the clock to retirement. Each day that these students spend in these segregated, poorly funded environments is a day lost that can NEVER be REGAINED. A day of high level instruction, intellectual stimulation, creative engagement, opportunities to work with practicing professionals that these student lose simply because of the color of their skin or the holes in the parent’s pockets. These conditions in the 21st century are UNETHICAL, IMMORAL, AND ABSOLUTELY ABOMINABLE!! Our students deserve better.

Of course, there are some schools that have allowed more students of color to enter, more students of color to be enrolled in gifted and advanced learner programs. There are some who have said ‘WE HAVE A PROBLEM, AND WE NEED TO ADDRESS IT’. In these more progressive environments student still suffer. Entrance into an academically advanced, culturally discriminatory environment is close to ‘cultural death’ for some of these students. They find themselves having to give up who they are internally and become someone else to fit the mold and the expectation of the teachers who rule the classrooms. And in most cases, there are so few within the school or classroom who share similar cultural backgrounds, ethnic legacies, that students feel lost, out of place, as if they don’t belong. Without culturally responsive teachers, support for their affective needs, mentors and role models- some will not survive the ‘high end’ environment.

In the past month, seemingly endless streams of articles, blog posting, videos have emerged speaking to these inequities and to this national embarrassment. I encourage everyone reading this- whether you are a parent, community leader, student, scholar, faith leader, policymaker, or concerned citizen to PLEASE DO SOMETHING WHERE YOU ARE TO CHANGE THESE CONDITIONS!!

All of our students deserve the best TEACHERS, the best ACCESS to opportunities, a fair chance to demonstrate THEIR ABILITY TO BE SUCCESSFUL in Gifted and Advanced learner programs, and a brighter future.


Together, we can do this!!!

MUST READ/SEE resources:

High school student builds ap for black students attending predominately white high schools

From PBS’s Rundown page- overview of recent Federal Report on Education Disparities

2010 article from the Village Voice about a segregated ‘school-within-a-school’ model

Next week for part II: one state’s efforts to bring equity to programming for their student population, and other programming initiated by compassionate educators & parents to change conditions for children in their own communities. 

1 comment:

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