Cultural Wars Part 2: Race and Education

By the 1920s what we call the SAT was simply known as the College Boards; it is a test designed to measure ones ability to perform certain skill sets: Verbal communication and quantitative reasoning. Regardless of class and race, all students are measured by either the SAT or the ACT. For years the argument promulgated by black liberals was one that suggested both exams were racially biased. Many blacks felt that a black kid in urban or rural America would not receive the same type of education as a white student in suburban America. This discussion has subsided some in recent years with the emphasis being placed on state required high risk exams under George W. Bush’s NO Child Left Behind. This topic is nothing new. Historically, blacks have tested far below that of their white counterparts. Much of this, in my opinion, is reflected by the social realities of black poverty. With an inadequate system of funding schools, politicians focus much of the blame on teaching and not state funding.

For years conservative Republicans and Democrats have fought against the funding of schools by the federal government. Here is their argument: It is a matter for the states since the Constitution does not address education; yet, the federal government uses its dollars to manipulate states into following poorly designed legislation: No Child Left Behind. At the center of the conflict is that of poor black and white students who will one day have to pass an exam they are not ready for. At least with the ACT/SAT a student has various options. In the early 1990s, Asa Hilliard, a black educational advocate stated:

The risk for our children in school is not a risk associated with their intelligence. Our failures have nothing to do with poverty, nothing to do with race, nothing to do with language, nothing to do with style, nothing to do with the need to discover new pedagogy, nothing to do with the development of unique and differentiated special pedagogues, nothing to do with the children’s families. All of these are red herrings. The study of them may ultimately lead to some greater insight into the instructional process; but at present they serve to distract attention from the fundamental problem facing us today. We have one and only one problem: Do we truly will to see each and every child in this nation develop to the peak of his or her capacities? If our destination is excellence on a massive scale, not only must we change from the slow lane into the fast lane; we literally must change highways. Perhaps we need to abandon the highways altogether and take flight, because the highest goals that we can imagine are well within reach for those who have the will to excellence.

Mr. Hilliard promoted the concept of cultural pluralism as a means of helping each child realize his full potential. As author of over 200 articles and books on education and child development Hilliard encouraged parents and educators to reject mediocrity and promote a more demanding learning environment that encouraged a positive self-identity. As a founding member of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, Hilliard believed that an awareness and appreciation of African history was a meaningful way of promoting student achievement. Although I agree with the concept of cultural and heritage knowledge articulated by Hilliard, he too failed to realize the important role the government plays in protecting and educating the poor.

As I stated before, racism today is more covert; it is found in the urban centers of America where the impact of ghettoization due to Jim Crowism have institutionalized a cycle of vice, poverty, and poor education. Much of this institution has been derived from exploitation. State governments should reallocate more state educational funding from property tax rich communities. Thanks to the growth of the federal government, blacks have been able to use devices such as affirmative action to elevate themselves to middle class status. However, with the demise of AA and the lack of funding by states and the federal government, more black students could find it difficult to climb that social ladder. Education, which is the greatest equalizer, has failed many Americans, regardless of race. The federal government has become too conservative when it comes to matters of race and class.

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18 thoughts on “Cultural Wars Part 2: Race and Education

  1. I agree with Hilliard in that it is the 21st century. Even if a kid grew up poor, America offers him the oppertunity to change his condition. Government kills the will of people, it does not enhance it.

  2. Not to be mean, but you missed the point some. Because things have improved since the 1960s does not mean the problem has vanished. 35 years is short over time.

  3. Carson,

    I really disagree. Consider what Thomas Sowell had to say about this:

    Parents have been an important ingredient in the success of schools, whatever the racial or social backgrounds of the students. But the specific nature of parental involvement can vary greatly– and has often been very different from what is believed among some educational theorists. In some of the most successful schools, especially of the past, the parents’ role has been that of giving moral support to the school by letting their children know that they are expected to learn and to behave themselves.

  4. What about states that don’t really have any property tax rich communites? That’s not to say there’s not some valuable property there, but as a whole, Arkansas for example is dirt poor. And Mississippi is well behind us. And, what about people like my parents who neither went to nor sent their children to public school ever? Why should they have to pay for other people’s children?

  5. What about states that don’t really have any property tax rich communites?

    I know very little about the wealth factor of different states. I do know that some states struggle more to fund public education than others. New Mexico comes to mind. This only justifies my (it is not going to happen) argument that the federal government should play a greater role in helping weak economic school districts. I suggest that public schools act more like independent day/boarding schools and colleges. Why don’t schools have development offices for endowment growth?

    As for Mississippi, last I heard it was doing well. They have brought in new industry and started a state lottery system. Of course, Texas has one but it is not up to par with the state of Georgia.

  6. The question about whether it should be the States or the Fed that pays for Education is valid. And I wonder what would happen if we were to simply pick one side and actually follow our decision through to its’ logical conclusion.

    If we choose it to be the States responsibility, then we cannot have “No Child Left Behind” nor any other ridiculously conceived idea dictating to teachers how they should teach. In fact, we should make is as locally focuses as possible, and give schools and teachers and the Parents great leeway to teach the children in a manner they see fit. Ultra-Community based education. The drawbacks would be less funding for poorer states. The upside would be a sense of ownership over ones own local education system, and near instant flexibility given to the school that doesn’t have a ton of federal red tape to run through.

    If we choose the Fed, then we need to make everything universal. That is, the same $ amount for each and every kid in the country regardless of where they live. Property taxes would not play into it, because the funding would come directly from the National level. So too would the programming and structuring of the school system. The drawbacks are extreme regulation, and a hierarchical structure. The benefits would be the money.

    My gut favors the former. Though the lack of cash for poorer communities would mirror what we have now, and that’s not good … but at least they’d break free of the No Child Left Behind monster and have a little more control to try some new and innovative ideas that may not be possible under a federally run program.

    Just a thought experiment.

  7. I am all for parents having a choice of school; however, in terms of curriculum — not at all. I would love to have a universal system. How can the College Board provide a universal eaxm that colleges use universally, but the funding needed for such teaching and learninf does no exist. I like your ideas. The conservative in me says make all schools private — but that does not solve the matter on the short run.

  8. I also like the privatization of schools. But, each school should have the right to decide if it wants to admit a student. Regardless of race and class, competition improves schools and forces students to take ownership.

  9. I don’t like the idea of the government controlling the curriculum of the nation. /shivers

    The federal government has gotten to the point where “God=cooties”, so it may be better for the states to step in and find ways to insure a good education is available to all its citizens. Maybe they can figure out a more fiscally-sound solution than lotteries and casinos.

    I would like to see parents expect more out of their kids when it comes to education rather than treat school like a daycare for teenagers.

  10. I agree that support of accurate perception and students finding themselves at the center of materials that they study would be a dynamic shift in education that would benefit all students. But this is akin to attempting to run full speed when one has not yet walked. It is all about expectations — just look at S. Korean students. Too much government makes schools hard to manage.

    Asians who are nary represented in anything succeed tremendously. As do blacks of African and caribbean extraction. And while the “cream of the crop” argument among other things helps to explain this, it would appear that the “accurate perception” element is not dispositive to success.

    In fact the issue remains collectively all of the failures Hilliard considers red herrings. Thus, I agree with the author that the problem is one that can be helped – but with having higher expectations, whether it regards standardized testing or anything else. Most of white America has evolved from the primitive notion that skin color somehow informs intellectual ability so we are at least not fighting that battle anymore but it also means we now have to deal head on with the endemic causes of underperformance of these kids.

  11. That is the challenge for blacks. White American has already made concusions about the ability of blacks, not realizing that many black limitations were put on them by whites. We can move pass this, but it will not be easy.

  12. What we really are discussing is not so much education as an agent for change, but institutional racism as a promoter for a static culture.

  13. Here’s my thought. As a white female, I have felt the “the wall” and I knew it was up to me to push through. I had no money as a teenager. My education was what I made it. I had some ok teachers, none were truly enlightening. As a college kid, I had no money. I worked hard to earn and keep scholarships and jobs… but again, my education was what I made it. I WANTED to learn so that i could provide a better life for my children. It was hard to study when my stomach was hungry for the 4th year in a row….. I had no parent behind me pushing me to succeed … yes, they loved me, I did have that but they were divorced and trying hard to keep roofs over their own heads. I looked for my own college, found my own job, did my own research. They dropped me off at the door and picked me up at the end of the semester. I found rides home on weekends if I wanted to. As a mom, I realized that my taking control of my own education is what drove me to achieve. That is what I want to instill in my children. Take control of your own education and your own life. Don’t look for a handout and pout if someone else has more than you. If you want to learn- go to the library. If you want a better house, car whatever… go get a better job. Do the work to EARN it. No body hands out a good job to someone who won’t do the work to get it. Life is not about making sure you get what someone else has- it’s about working hard to get what you want. Government programs don’t help much. I’ve had to get help from the government. It is not going to make anyone succeed. It will give a leg up to those who desire to succeed while they are yanking up their own boot straps.

    Here’s my point. I’m tired of people whining about what the government is or isn’t doing to help this that or the other whoever. Rich, poor, black, white, hispanic…… this is the land of opportunity. We are free here to do as we please. Quit whining and work. If you have to work at McDonald’s to put yourself through college one semester at a time- DO IT! If you aren’t learning enough in high school- go to the library and do some research. Yes we all need the basics taught to us and I do think that our elementary schools need a major overhaul but come on! This country has become a pass the buck and blame someone else society. We need to instill in our elementary school children the desire to learn and then teach them how to teach themselves. It is possible, I am teaching my own children to be self motivated learners. They are young but they are learning how to learn for themselves.

    I have met many intelligent, brilliant people of all skin types and social classes. I hate to use a movie as an example but “the Pursuit of Happiness” starring Will Smith is fantastic. It is based on a true story… if more people would take THAT approach to life as opposed to all this ridiculous blame game…. we would have fewer people at the Welfare office expecting handouts! I actually had one young lady really say that she was having so much fun with her new baby (which she had out of wedlock) that she was going to quit her job (a well paying job) and get pregnant some more so she could get a better welfare check. Because it was fun. If that’s her life choice- fine. This is America and she has that right. But don’t let me hear her whine about the not having any opportunities to succeed in life. She made her choice. I made mine. God has been gracious to me and blessed me beyond what i ever thought. I”m NOT rich. I don’t live in a huge gigantic house. I don’t own expensive cars and I can’t afford to eat out – even at McDonald’s- that much. But i do have a roof over my head. My children are becoming well educated because I am seeing to it that they learn to learn and the food on my table is healthy. Which by the way, was for a while governement subsidized and it was heard to get healthy food with the government tickets! But i took RESPONSIBILITY for myself. Why is that so hard for people to do???

    We don’t need more governement. We need responsibility and self discipline. Agood education is sought after not handed out on gilded trays at fancy schools.

    Thank you for letting me vent-

  14. Feel free to vent here. I cannot wholly disagree with your vent; however, I still find that we have a system that gives a leg up to those who come from a more affluent background. What you have done is awesome. And because of it, your kids are going to be the real winners. I still find that there are kids of low socioeconomic status that work hard but who are locked out of the best oppertunities due to a lack of resources.

    In the end, you are right; if a student wants an oppertunity he/she has to do whatever it takes, knowing that he/she is not starting in the front of the pack with wealthier kids. This is a point that I try to make with my students who seemingly have what they need. Even with elite caliber teachers, great facilities, and a $15,000 a year tuition. I still have student who would rather do nothing, though only a few. But, they still get to start ahead of many hard working low SES students.

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