Thursday, August 20, 2020

Systemic racism pushes kids out of school. Who's responsible? Look in the mirror!


Systemic racism is embedded in schools so deeply that it is hardly noticeable to the trained eye of educators and parents alike.  It is this current system of education that drives many students to drop out of school and often pushes them into the school to prison pipeline.

Following the systemic structure of yesterday, todays education system continues to rank and sort students.  The losers are then chosen by an outdated system skewed to assure they are permanently left behind.

The reality is while some children have a clear path to learning, others have devastating roadblocks that slow the learning process. According to Dr. Kara Fitzgerald, “when something stressful or threatening happens, it’s not just our brain that is involved. We have to recruit everything from the immune system, to the fat system, to the heart. … And they are kind of altering multiple systems to deal with hard life.”  And add to that those who have to learn English as a new language.  Yet, those students are mandated to perform in the same way in the same time frames as defined by our current version of eighteenth-century education. A system that was never designed to serve all children.

It is extremely important, however, to understand that as students enter the classroom, educators have no idea whether a child is afflicted or not.  We must realize that those in certain zip codes, or of a certain race or gender or any other group subject to stereotypical beliefs are not all the same.  Low expectations are the curse that drives children out of school.  To stigmatize children by demeaning a certain zip code is unconscionable. Within any zip code are those who have roadblocks but also those who have a clear pathway to learning.  As educators we may no longer assume anything.

Too high expectations also force children into failure or even worse, passing without learning, leaving them to flounder once they enter today’s society.  It is damaging to force children beyond their abilities.  To assume every child will learn the same simply because we have high expectations is a fool’s mission.

It is time to break through the fog and see clearly the reality that all children are not the same.  According to Dr. Howard Gardner, “the biggest mistake of past centuries in teaching has been to treat all students as if they were variants of the same individual and thus to feel justified in teaching them all the same”

The damage begins when a child fails a course or does not learn to the same standard at the same time as others. The system then fails them and retains them in the same grade knowing that every retention leads to a delayed graduation age? When students realize they will be in school at least until age twenty, dropping out is assured. 

Understanding the damage continued failure causes students, many educators head down a more destructive path and pass students with a D- thus moving them ahead without learning, totally unprepared for their future. Those are the fundamental choices the system leaves with educators.

From the base of a broken system of failure comes a wide range of systemic issues that forces the racial divide to grow.  The dominoes begin to fall as one concept is piled upon another to maintain a failed system of education.

The systemic destruction begins with the facade that grade levels are an indicator of academic achievement.  As evidenced by a wide range of student skills in every grade level, they are not and have never been a true indicator of achievement. Yet the students are all taught as one.

The most devastating of failed concepts is the farce of letter grades.  Parents are told their children are average, by giving them a C.  However, they aren’t told what “average” means simply because a letter grade does not describe what children have learned.  More important, grades are easily used to cover up what children have not learned so they can move to the school to prison pipeline without being noticed.  

As students return from the long virus “vacation” it will become evident immediately that their skills are all over the board.  During this long time off some students will keep up with distance learning, some will not have the equipment necessary to keep up and others will have a variety of obstacles in their way. 

Now is the perfect opportunity for educators to prepare for the wide variety of skills students possess.  This means design a system that truly respects the intelligence and abilities of all children. 

When you, the reader, look in the mirror will you scream RACIST?  Or will you commit to changing the system of education? 


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