Addressing Systemic Racism in Education

One day, down a Twitter-hole, I happened on some tweets by high school students.  The tweets were about the things their teachers had said to them because of race/ethnicity:

Tweets from high school students calling out racist teachers.

I found this out as the University of Central Florida made local Orlando news when psychology professor Charles Negy came under fire for his some of his tweets:

Controversial Tweets by University of Central Florida Professor Charles Negy

From bottom to top, our educational system is failing minorities.  The tweets from these students show adults in power discriminating against children put in their care by a public system.  It broke my heart.

This was a small sample of people from a small area of schools.  Multiply that by all the schools in America, all the colleges and professors who feel as Dr. Negy and how many people have to deal with being treated like that before they even write a sentence or memorize a fact or equation or pass a required class. 

That’s systemic racism. 

Some have to deal with an issue others do not because of how they were born.  Or where they were born.

Physical and Mental Impacts of Racism

The impacts of racism on children is felt as early as elementary school.  The American Journal of Public Health discusses a 2009 study of over 5,000 5th grade students.

Results of a 2009 study of the impacts of racism on 5th grade students

Students who make it to college face the same difficulties all over again, making college more of a struggle for people of color than for whites:

College graduation rates from the IPEDS database

One study from the Journal of Higher Education explains why:

“Experiencing discrimination has tremendous negative consequences on minority student adjustment and persistence in school. Minority students might feel alienated, intimidated, segregated, isolated, and out of place in primarily white institutions.”

These “perceptions of differential treatment” create more obstacles to education for people of color than for their white counterparts. 

With lifetime earning potential being half to a million dollars less for non-degreed students, a lot is on the line if a student is not able to overcome all these additional stressors and succeed to completion.

Earnings data from the Social Security Administration website

Since most teachers, faculty, and education administrators are white, it will take a groundswell of activism, allies, and public support for any real change to take hold.

Change will be difficult and the work will be hard and will require all of us to make it work, but if black lives really matter, we have to. 

For all those still enduring this hate because they have to.

A Plan for Change

More diversity at all levels of education

Most teaching requires some sort of degree and credentialing.  If more students are funneled into the pipeline to teach K-12, go on to advanced degrees to teach college, and go into administrative advanced degrees and additional supports are put in place for those majors (coaching is already in place), the long-term goal of more diversity in educational roles can begin.

Funding:  Pilot program funded by private donor/university funds to start high school students on education paths, mentoring on the way with local partnerships with state/community, private and public colleges (collaboration vs. competition for benefit of community) and funding for credentials testing, when needed.

Change the teaching paradigm

As COVID continues to show us how our society will change, we have a unique opportunity in education to see what works, what doesn’t, what can be cut away, and what needs to be preserved.  We can make it the system we need, now more than ever.

Concept: Volunteer Education Corps

Community, student, intern, and partner faculty volunteer to help in whatever way the community needs most.  Training each summer for the next school year.  Mentorship as volunteers participate multiple years.  Partnerships with local state/community, private, and public colleges for financial aid/preferential admission for participants wanting to pursue a career in education.

Online volunteers can be trained to provide more personalized help to students and colleges may agree to use online hours for internship requirements for education degrees, or for required volunteer hours.

Focus Groups

Students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators, all collaborating in person or via streaming on issues facing all of them.

Look

360 degree teacher evaluations, obtaining feedback from students, staff, and colleagues, as well as supervisors.  Free online polls and tracking of results over time can be used as feedback.

Listen

Students give up when they don’t feel heard. Don’t give them a chance to give up.  They know how they want to be treated.  Is it so hard to ask and listen to the answer?

It’s already being done!

We may need some help.

Racism is institutional.

The inability to deal with the effects of racism in our society is an issue that requires emotional intelligence and self-awareness for us to change anything. 

Most people I know aren’t good at either of those things. 

Most of the time, I’m not either.  I think for things to really get better, we’ll have to get better at that first, especially those of us with privilege. We have to be able to understand how our own experiences and environment have shaped what we think of others and when it’s time to let those old notions go that no longer work for us and hurt others.

Holding all educators accountable

Educators will always be responsible for the education of people different from themselves.  The LEAST we should require as the public is for them to be aware of how they perceive those differences and if/how those perceptions color their ability to educate and make sure they have the tools they need to make different decisions based on that awareness. The choice will then be theirs.

My opinion

If you agree to teach, you are agreeing to serve the people that school/college serves.  Whoever those people are.  I don’t see how that’s possible if you hate them.  If you bully them.  If you place barriers in front of some but not others based on your own assessment of your right to do so.

My parents taught me that education was the way to a better life.  Studies say the same.  From what I have seen that is true for so few as to make a mockery of my parents’ belief. 

We could be Star Trek and we chose Idiocracy

This will be hard work, but if we really do believe that black lives matter, then we need to be committed to doing the work as educators, parents, students, and community volunteers.

Can we start the conversation and plan for how to achieve lasting change?

YES WE CAN!!

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