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Posts Tagged ‘higher ed’

We talk a lot around here about the dangers of colorblindness. Well, once again, social scientists have proven us and a bunch of other anti-racists right. Go us!

But seriously, recently Brendesha Tynes, professor of educational psychology and of African American studies at the University of Illinois, conducted a study that found that white students and those who claim color-blindness as their racial attitudes were more likely not to be offended by images from racially-themed parties where attendees dressed and acted as caricatures of racial stereotypes.

According to the U of I News Bureau, Tynes recommends based on her findings, “that mandatory courses on issues of racism and multicultural competence are necessary for students from elementary school through college.

Specifically, beginning in elementary school, texts should provide a more comprehensive view of American history and culture, not just focus primarily on whites.”

She adds:

Simply telling people to celebrate diversity or multiculturalism or saying, generically, that we believe in tolerance isn’t sufficient. We need to teach people about structural racism, about the ways that race still shapes people’s life chances and how the media informs our attitudes toward race.

Much of “colorblindness” comes from the laziness that privilege inspires. I don’t learn about or alter my lifestyle for those people because 1) as a white person, I don’t have to in order to move successfully through society and/or 2) they should just assimilate to our culture if they want to succeed.

But another part of “colorblindness” comes from fear. Fear of offending someone. Fear of getting it wrong. Fear that if we recognize the differences between us, that the recognition itself makes us complicit in oppression. 

In our ignorance and prejudice, because we think the words “white,”  “black,” or “latino” are negative labels that carry certain meanings (or at least they carry negative associations in our own minds), we won’t even name them.  But the labels themselves aren’t the problem.  It’s the thinking behind the labels that points to the real problem.  It’s like how “Puerto Rican” is a pejroative term for Jack Donaghy:

Being “colorblind” is our attempt to reset the clock on history and call everything from this point on “even” or “fair” so that we don’t have to do the complicated and personally risky work of reparation, restoration and reconciliation. 

While I think that having relationships with people are different from us is the most transforming experience we can have in our move toward anti-racism, I do think Tynes is right about formal education on the subject. Anti-racist education has to be a life-long effort if we are going to aggressively combat the systemic injustices that still exist in our society.

Developing relationships outside our own race is paramount. Having friends or family of a different race allows us to heal the myopia that prevents us from seeing the teeming and entrenched prejudice in our culture and in our own lives. But many of us will never move to a place where we form those relationships without a little kick in the pants. Formal education can provide that. It can open doors and allow people different from us to come in without feeling like they have to explain themselves to us. Moving beyond colorblindness can eradicate the fear that our ignorance on these issues will keep these new relationships from ever working out.

God is moving His Church toward kinship, not merely co-existence. We have to be committed to fully seeing one another and learning to love what we see, if that good work is ever to be accomplished in us.

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In our state, ’tis the season for political mailers and at our house, we’ve been bombarded.  We’re getting it from both sides, and almost all of it immediately hits the trash, but today, this ad sponsored by the Republican Party of Virginia caught my full attention:

I <3 Caputo

In case your eyesight is about like mine, I’ll highlight some of the salient points.  This ad is an attack on Virginia Delegate Chuck Caputo.  The ad’s headline reads:

Chuck Caputo wants to use our tax dollars to pay for illegal aliens to attend Virginia’s colleges and universities even though there’s not enough space for our own students.

So, we begin with the Republican Party telling us that not only is space in the Virginia public university system rare (a fact that, in my opinion, greatly exaggerates the impenetrability of schools’ admissions criteria), but illegal aliens are taking our tax money and taking our spots at universities.  Gasp!

The point is reinforced by language like:

Chuck voted for illegal aliens and against our deserving students…

This statement presumes that the “illegal aliens” had no qualifications and just walked right into class without any proof that they were competent.  They were certainly less deserving than our students.  Then, next to the sad white girl holding her rejection letter we read in bold green caps:

IT’S JUST NOT RIGHT.

I guess the expected response is, “You’re dang tootin’.”  We are then told that despite the popular wisdom of the Republicans and Democrats in the Virginia House, Caputo remained steadfast in his support of illegal aliens in a 3 to 1 vote against his position.  So now, Caputo’s fate has been sealed as an outsider, an extremist who wants to give away your money to people who broke into this country to learn.

I am consistently amazed at the lengths political operatives will go to in an effort to foster an already racist “us vs. them” mentality.  We all know politics is dirty, but to create hatred toward the children of people who broke the (probably immoral and certainly un-American) law is shameful.

Several years ago, NPR featured a story on two different bills that would help undocumented students go on to college and follow a path to full-fledged citizenship.  Many of these kids were brought into the U.S. by adults when they were children and had no say in whether or not they would enter this country.  Imagine what life would be like for you if because of mistakes your parents made, you were barred from going to college, regardless of the work you had done academically or in your community to merit admission and affordable access to higher education.

About a week ago, some kid with a clipboard asked me (as I was trying to load wriggly children into my car) if I was voting for Mr. Caputo.  I told the guy I didn’t know yet.  I think I know now.  I may also be keeping an eye on C-SPAN Friday to see if they cover the House and Senate briefings on the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors).  It’s one of the stalled bills that the NPR report above was talking about…5 years ago.

We have to move forward here with compassion and hospitality.  The vitriol and racist rhetoric in our discussions about immigration has to stop.  It’s just not right.

I <3 Caputo2

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A week or so ago we got into a comment thread discussion about racial disparities in education.  I think for many of us, we tend to see segregation as a problem in American schools, but we dismiss it because we only think of segregation as a legal limitation on the integration of public spaces, something long gone from our society.  We look at racial disparities in achievement and blame it on bad parenting, socioeconomic factors, or, in our laziest moments, rap music.  We opt to believe that segregation is chosen by students, families or their communities and that means it’s not altogether a bad thing.  After all, to each his own, right?

Last week, a professor at Emory University released findings of a study that demonstrated the effects of segregation on racial learning disparities.  Dennis Condron, the sociologist who led the study, initiated his research when he saw results of other studies that showed that despite certain schools’ narrowing of the achievement gap between social classes, those same schools saw a widening in the achievement gap between black and white students.  I find this starting point particularly interesting because it cuts right to one of the arguments I mentioned above (the, “it’s not a race thing, it’s a socioeconomic thing;” as if the two can be so easily untangled).  Condron was looking around and seeing that even when you tried to control for or address the socioeconomic issues at work, there was still a performance gap between black and white kids.

So he went to work to understand how the gap works, and he found that achievement is most disparate when students are segregated. Controlling for the other factors, Condron found that black students are more likely to be taught by uncertified teachers.  Black students are more likely to attend schools with high minority populations.  Black students are more likely to attend poverty-stricken schools in disadvantaged communities.  While Condron found that the main factor contributing to racial disparities was in-school segregation, he found that class disparities were largely the effect of forces external to the school environment.  He added,

De facto segregation remains high these days, with important implications for education.  When it comes to both housing and schools, race trumps class as the central axis upon which blacks and whites are segregated.

Condron is not making assumptions when he talks about “de facto” segregation.  In 2006, the Supreme Court heard a series of cases involving school desegregation plans and ruled in 2007 in a 5-4 majority that students’ race couldn’t be used in the development of  the districts’ diversity-based student assignment plans.   While not eliminating school districts’ ability to create integration plans, the decision limited options for creating racial balance and parity in schools.  Chief Justice Roberts said, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” (A statement which seems to me to be suffering from a classic case of “colorblindness.”)  Justice Clarence Thomas added:

Simply putting students together under the same roof does not necessarily mean that the students will learn together or even interact. Furthermore, it is unclear whether increased interracial contact improves racial attitudes and relations.

Well, kids, just go to your corners.  Integration, schmintegration.  Maybe someone will give him a copy of this new study.

Resegregation has been coming on for years.  Schools that draw their populations directly from the community tend to reflect the segregated housing of those communities.  While the Supreme Court allowed school systems to use busing to integrate schools in its 1971 decision, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, many localities (Charlotte included) are finding ways to back down from affirmative busing plans, offering families “options” about where they send their kids (be it by giving them a range of nearby schools to choose from or by allowing increased access to magnet programs that may or may not have race-based inclusion standards).

Other systems have retained busing and other integration measures, but because of academic tracking (the placement of students on college-bound, vocational-bound, etc. tracks of learning with set curricula), segregation is perpetuated.  According to UNC-Charlotte sociologist Roslyn Arlin Mickelson in a presentation to a conference called The Resegregation of Southern Schools?

The weight of scholarly evidence suggests that the practice of tracking unjustifiably assigns minority students disproportionately to lower tracks and almost excludes them from the accelerated ones; it offers them inferior opportunities to learn, and is responsible, in part, for their lower achievement (Lucas 1999; Mickelson 2001; Oakes et al. 2000; Welner 2002).

Clearly, in any case segregation is still a problem.  And it’s getting worse by the minute.  It’s hardly voluntary, and even if it were, it would be nonetheless bad for children.  If we are ever going to make real progress against racism in this country, we must all become active opponents of the unnatural forces allowing and even promoting resegregation.

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