Today’s roundup features some material featuring really great intersections of race, class, and education.
First up, Robert Putnam of Bowling Alone fame pens an amazing article about generational differences that have affected class and our approach to education:
The crumbling of the American dream is a purple problem, obscured by solely red or solely blue lenses. Its economic and cultural roots are entangled, a mixture of government, private sector, community and personal failings. But the deepest root is our radically shriveled sense of “we.” Everyone in my parents’ generation thought of J as one of “our kids,” but surprisingly few adults in Port Clinton today are even aware of R’s existence, and even fewer would likely think of her as “our kid.” Until we treat the millions of R’s across America as our own kids, we will pay a major economic price, and talk of the American dream will increasingly seem cynical historical fiction.
Janelle Scott, writing over at The Answer Sheet, takes on a more specific topic and considers how the education reform movement has misunderstood the Civil Rights Movement:
Other adherents—philanthropists, policy advocates, and leading pundits— have echoed Duncan’s association of Rosa Parks and the broader Civil Rights Movement with market-based school choice. In so doing, they have reduced the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott to a single act by one brave woman. In fact, that pivotal event was the work of thousands of African Americans and their supporters who struggled for nearly thirteen months to desegregate public transportation in Alabama’s capital after Parks’s refusal to give up her seat to a white customer. In addition, Parks and many of her fellow activists engaged in intensive preparation at the Highlander Center to be ready to risk their lives in acts of civil disobedience. Moreover, the concerns of these civil rights activists extended far beyond transportation; they were fighting to end America’s version of apartheid and achieve the full rights of citizenship. As the movement grew, it also advocated the end of poverty and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam.
For a more poignant and on-the-ground look at how race and class affect education, the New York Times ran two stories by college freshmen at Yale and Harvard who are both from Jackson, Mississippi. Justin Porter, at Harvard, writes:
Earlier this year, I read an article about the failure of elite colleges to attract poor students: a Stanford study had found that only 34 percent of top students in the lowest income level had attended one of the country’s 238 most selective colleges.
I do not believe that increasing financial aid packages and creating glossy brochures alone will reverse this trend. The true forces that are keeping us away from elite colleges are cultural: the fear of entering an alien environment, the guilt of leaving loved ones alone to deal with increasing economic pressure, the impulse to work to support oneself and one’s family. I found myself distracted even while doing problem sets, questioning my role at this weird place. I began to think, “Who am I, anyway, to think I belong at Harvard, the alma mater of the Bushes, the Kennedys and the Romneys? Maybe I should have stayed in Mississippi where I belonged.”
His friend, Travis Reginal, at Yale adds:
For low-income African-American youth, the issue is rooted in low expectations. There appear to be two extremes: just getting by or being the rare gifted student. Most don’t know what success looks like. Being at Yale has raised my awareness of the soft bigotry of elementary and high school teachers and administrators who expect no progress in their students. At Yale, the quality of your work must increase over the course of the term or your grade will decrease. It propelled me to work harder.
And to top the day off, I encourage you to watch this amazing video from Ta-Nehisi Coates. In it, he discusses the historical realities that have made things like the George Zimmerman verdict possible. It’s worth 40 minutes.