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Depiction of Racial Inequality in Education

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If one were to take a look at schools in Richmond, CA and compare them to schools in Concord, CA, one can see a vast difference. Not only does the residential area look different, but the school’s resources, opportunities and even students completely differ. These differences are resulted from inequalities in the institution of education. Because of these inequalities, millions of students across the country are deprived of resources, opportunities, and even basic knowledge that is supposed to be obtained in regular high school level courses. It is such a problem that in some schools, musical programs lack musical instruments and art programs lack art materials. Some schools even lack staff and teachers to facilitate and instruct required classes. Equity needs to be established in the education system due to the many factors that allow it to be so unequal.

When viewing inequality in the education system, one must focus on numerous factors that play active roles. One important consideration to acknowledge are residential locations that enforce residential segregation. Suburban public schools contrast public schools with different resources, opportunities, programs and extracurricular activities. Even if a school once had these programs, they are no longer available due to insufficient funding, usually resulted from “white flight” and “red-lining.” White flight” refers to the action of white residents retreating from an area that, over time, becomes more and more populated with people of color, which lowers property value. “Red-lining” is the act of purposely dividing and labeling different neighborhoods or areas of a region on a map, which happens to be based on the population of people of color as well as the property value. (Inequality Lecture, 12/6/16)

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One might realize that while certain resources and programs are made available at certain institutions, not every student will be able to afford to utilize them. Examples of resources that are not provided at every public school are music and art programs, STEM programs, college preparation programs, etc.

In Jonathan Kozol’s piece on modern-day segregation in the school system, “Still Separate, Still Unequal,” analyzes different levels of education as well as the different styles of teaching and resources available to certain students. He mentions what is referred to as “Baby Ivies;” a head start on gaining language skills, social skills, reading skills, etc for children as young as age two. These Baby Ivies are usually only available to wealthier families with costs of $24,000 for a full-day program. He doesn’t state any numeric information as to how many days that full-day program is, but it is still a colossal amount of money being spent on an education of a two-year old. Not even close to 1/10 of two-year olds in the U.S. will be able to afford and utilize Baby Ivies.

Another critical point that Kozol makes is that, due to many schools lacking resources to select individuals who are highly educated in their subject of instruction, they end up hiring lots of undereducated staff and faculty. He mentions a fourth grade educator, who was “in his mid-thirties who had arrived here without training as a teacher, one of about a dozen teachers in the building who were sent into this school after a single summer of short-order preparation” (573). With this, one can easily see the lack of training put towards these educator’s jobs versus the prestigious preschools made available to a few select individuals. It is important to recognize this tremendous difference because it leads to why certain students are excelling at what seems to be a higher and faster rate than others. Students who attend schools with more rigorous curriculums than those who don’t aren’t excelling at higher rates because they are better, but because they have it easier. It is easier for a student who has STEM programs at their high schools to excel in a STEM major because those resources are made available and easy for students to access. One who lacks resources for STEM programs is going to have more trouble excelling in STEM courses.

Lastly, of great importance, is what Kozol refers to as the “Skinnerian curriculum” often used with students of color in poorer, less-achieving institutions. In these schools, students are often faced with signs on the wall of unclear and blunt messages like “SUCCESS FOR ALL” as well as punishments of silence, reinforcing ideas that silence is discipline rather than bliss. Also, silent signals are present, where hand signals symbolize more quietness. This type of curriculum does not encourage students to have fun in their learning environments, but instead to follow and abide by the rules but nothing else. This is dangerous to use in schools, especially at lower levels, and there is a reason this curriculum usually isn’t found in schools full of prestige and privilege.

One who also points out the inequalities in the education system is Julianne Hing in “Race, Disability and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Hing speaks of schools that unintentionally punish black students disproportionately, starting especially at a young age. She notes that the misunderstanding of interpreting behavior of black students results in being expelled three times the rate of white students. She stated that cultural stereotypes of blacks of being criminals and suspects, conditions staff and faculty to react more harshly to black students being disobedient. Often times, teachers resort to rerouting students to programs in special education. This is not only wrongful because it is morally wrong to excuse black disobedience as mental behavioral issues, but this lacks the tool that can actually uplift these students.

Hing notes that one student who had trouble at school was later successful through this tool. A student referred to as “Amo” had family issues at home with his parents separating, leading him to have trust issues and a lack of respect for adult figures in his life. One of Amo’s teachers organized an intervention-like setting, where a group of adults, including Amo’s parents, gathered to show their support in his success and education. This, of course, showed Amo that he was capable of succeeding and many were there, right behind him, supporting him. This is all he needed to ignite a spark leading to his successfulness in school today. By immediately and only placing students in special education curriculums and programs, one is ignoring that bad behavior can just be masking trouble at home or fear of academics. This can also push students further towards the prison-to-pipeline route, which is another form of inequality within the education system. Once students are punished at higher rates than other students, they internalize and eventually embody that stigma that they are “bad kids.”

“The Segregated Classrooms of a Proudly Diverse School” by Jeffrey Gettleman perfectly executes how even in settings of diverse student bodies, there are still unequal opportunities of succeeding between white students and students of color. Gettleman writes about Columbia High School, which is a school known for its diversity. However, while the school is extremely diverse with a majority of black students, the advanced courses offered at the school are often filled with mostly white students with blacks being the majority of lower level courses. With these lower levels come lower expectations and vice versa for the higher level courses. Gettleman also points out that “Many black students complain that they are unfairly relegated to the lower levels and unable to move up. Quentin Williams, the 17-year-old leader of the Martin Luther King Association at the school, calls it ‘contemporary segregation.’ He said that his organization, one of the largest on campus, had tried to meet with the administration over the issue several times but ‘got the runaround.’” (305) This “contemporary segregation” is prominent all over the nation and proves that just because a school is diverse with lots of opportunities doesn’t also mean that every student has access to it. There is still a huge unanswered question as to how to fix this system, but there are ways to ignite change.

To change this inequality, a start would be to learn about equity and how to establish it on campus. Establishing equity on campus starts with recognizing that differences in students are not threats or obstacles, but rather assets to an institution’s uniqueness. Acknowledging, accepting and embracing these differences results in inclusive excellence, which is something that the Student Equity Committee on campus, here at DVC, focuses on. From just recently joining the committee, I am seeing how this change is being implemented on campus through programs, events, and overall ideas. This is just one way of how one can begin to change the inequalities in the education system. It is important that we continue to break down these barriers of “contemporary segregation” and “Skinnerian curriculum” in order to show all students that any obstacle placed in front of them is overcomable.


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