“The soft bigotry of low expectations” Race, Class, and Education in Daily Roundup Monday 8/5/2013

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.

Daily Roundup Sunday 8/4/2013

In a recent speech about the economy, Obama talked quite a bit about higher education, citing the controversial Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as a legitimate way to bring down the costs of college and reduce the number of years it takes to get a meaningful degree. This has prompted some to start talking about the political viability of federal policies supporting MOOCs.

Jonathan Rees, a professor at Colorado State University, is already rallying the troops against MOOCs. Jonathan Chait, over at New York Magazine, though, says opposition to MOOCs upholds and strengthens class divisions:

College professors are good people, and nobody wants to hurt them. At the same time, designing a higher education system around maintaining living standards for college professors is an insane idea. The goal of the system ought to be making higher education effective and affordable for students. Rees waxes poetic about the joys of in-person liberal education, and I greatly enjoyed my classic college experience, with the gorgeous campus green and intramural basketball and watching campus protestors say interestingly crazy stuff at rallies. But insisting that’s the only way a student ought to be able to get a degree, in an economy where a college degree is necessary for a middle-class life, is to doom the children of non-affluent families to crushing college debt, or to lock them out of upward mobility altogether.

Speaking of politics, there’s been a lot of talk this week about the political future of the ed reform movement, speculating fallout from Tony Bennett’s resignation and possible investigations. Anthony Cody thinks it means the end of the reform movement. Although, that’s probably making mountains out of molehills. To his credit, though, even conservative voices are starting to criticize the reform movement.

And if the political is too ideological for you, here are some practical resources:

This Google Doc with all of the #edchat times listed for Twitter.

And this interactive online map that shows demolition sites in Detroit.

Daily Roundup Saturday 8/3/2013

1. Maybe the best piece of education journalism I’ve read this weekend is this piece by Owen Davis. He attempts to synthesize all of the recent TFA-critic movements and to find common threads throughout them. A couple of the former corps members’ stories really resonated with me. For instance, Marie Levy-Pabst’s story was especially salient:

Another side of his argument finds expression in Marie Levey-Pabst, a 2004 TFA alumna who pursued women’s studies and anti-racist theory in college. Now a public-school teacher in Boston, she argued on Anthony Cody’s blog that TFA isn’t only unable to prepare its corps for the complex dynamics present when poor children of color receive a teacher who is, on average, whiter and more privileged than they. Worse, the program serves as a vehicle and expression of that privilege.

At Institute, she groaned at being assigned Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Bacpack,” a standby of its genre that she had read multiple times. She asked if one introductory essay—indeed, any reading— could fully inoculate recruits from pernicious bigotries like colorblind racism and the white savior complex. Moreover, the cursory discussions left many of her fellow recruits “stuck on the idea that they aren’t racist,” precisely the danger of colorblind racism.

If you think this piece is too critical, Owen Davis also offers up some concrete solutions on his Tumblr. One solution that I hadn’t heard before involves recruiting high school seniors from low-income communities to become teachers:

As Matt Barnum, another critical TFA alum, has pointed out, TFA spends gobs of money on recruitment and training: about $38,000 per corps member. That’s enough to provide scholarships to low-income people who’d like to become teachers, and who’d be more likely to teach in their own neighborhoods. And that doesn’t include recruitment costs. 

2. Dr. Andre Perry writes at The Grio about the importance of hearing more black voices of innovation in education. He says black communities are often seen as the antagonist to narratives about education reform that have white, idealistic protagonists. Perhaps the best part is when he goes into the history of education of African Americans post-slavery. African Americans, once freed, had actually started to educate themselves:

However, upon the Freedmen’s survey of the educational terrain, officials found “native schools,” schools taught by ex-slaves, already in existence. The ex-slave’s thirst for education illustrates an essential principle in black education. Private and religious schools should always have a place in our quest for universal education because they exemplify some of the highest forms of self-reliance and determination. Evidence of self-reliance manifested in the establishment of schools reminds us that charter schools or vouchers are nothing new and they have a deep connection to black history.

3. Ashley Woods over at Huffington Post Detroit covers the White Entrepreneurial Guy Meme. For the life of me, I don’t understand why people like Jason Lorimer don’t take these kinds of criticisms more seriously. 

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