Being Educated for Failure
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Whether black, white, red or yellow, all of these students stand, place their right hand over their heart, and every morning from Monday to Friday, say the Pledge of Allegiance to the same flag and yet experience the irony of these words that they speak each day they come to school.
Racism still flourishes in American society, and the institution that perpetuates this new idea of racism is the least expected—public schools. Racism today is as equally alive as the civil rights movement of the 1950’s, the whips and lynchings of the 1800’s, and even the transatlantic Middle Passage slave trade of the 1600’s. The old racism was based on legal ownership and division of public institutions. In contrast, the new racism is based on educational philosophies, and social theories. And while conversations about the importance of and need for diversity—the new label for integration—are occurring in some public schools, many politicians and school boards fail to recognize the equally prevalent educational inequities that continue to plague the urban community. Furthermore, the people with the ability to serve as catalysts of change resist challenging the structures of privilege and power that perpetuate the daily impact of racism on the learning of minority students in contemporary American society.
While it is understood that urban public education suffers from multiple problems, the foremost issue is the school of poverty, where social ills serves as the principal. Teachers in this school of poverty include poor health, inadequate housing, high crime rates, single-parent families and substance abuse. This school of poverty and its teachers create an environment “in which heroic efforts are necessary in order to sustain aspirations for the future and a willingness to work hard for delayed benefits,” says Kevin Bales, author of Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. The purpose of urban public schools is not to create economic activity for the expansion of political pockets, offer health services and social programs, but rather it is to teach students the fundamental knowledge and skills needed, without which they cannot improve the destiny of their life. It must be understood, for minority students in urban America, public schools are their last, best hope for a better life.
Urban public schools are not meeting this basic expectation of teaching fundamental knowledge and life skills. Rather, performance is remarkably poor, skills are replaced with laziness, school buildings are in disrepair and supplies are inadequate. Why are they failing to meet such a basic expectation? They are failing because the administrative bureaucratic systems focus has been changed from children to checkbooks, from students to salaries, and from awareness to assets. The large bureaucracies that are responsible for urban public schools seem incapable of effective management, even when they do have the resources to repair their buildings and purchase modern resources. Big-city school bureaucracies often seem to adopt self-serving strategies that protect administrative jobs rather than children. They have mastered the art of continual reform, loudly trumpeting the latest initiative, even though these heralded reforms do not produce valuable change in the educational outcomes for children.
The neglect for the educational needs of children in urban public schools by government, school boards and teachers, threatens the economic well-being of the nation. And unless the inequalities in education between suburban and urban schools are diminished, the public schools of urban America and their students will always be victims of the divisions of race and class—racism. Addressing this national issue of racism in public schools, the bureaucratic educational system of America must first be willing to stand on the promise of the Pledge of Allegiance as stated in the opening, liberty and justice for all. Not only must they stand on that promise of justice, but also the present bureaucratic educational system must admit that it is perpetuating segregation. The present leaders of education in America have become so comfortable in making the American people think that equal education is being provided, that they fail to directly admit that the system has racial and class inequities. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, University of Pennsylvania Avalon Foundation professor in the humanities, Religious Studies and African Studies, said it best by declaring, “America doesn’t want to deal with its own issues, such as creating a re-segregation of Black and Latino children in schools.”
When states begin to institute a plan of action, hold firm to the daily pledge of liberty and justice for all, and finally take responsibility for the racism in public schools, based on the lack of awareness, resources and expectation, then can this country be called a more perfect Union.