U.S. Education: The Bad, Part II

Racial inequality persists in the education system today

Posted Nov 13, 2014

This week, I had the opportunity of speaking with Carl Thornton Jr., on his radio show about the ways that structural or systemic racism is still thwarting opportunities for growth among communities of color, and for African Americans in particular (see http://speakingwith.com/). Our discussion was an extension of many articles I have posted here about the ways that the notion of a “post racial” America remains a myth. Moreover, it put a harrowing spotlight on some of the worst aspects of our education system (see Part I of my series on education for “The Good”).

Unfortunately, the notion of a “school to prison pipeline” has been identified for communities of color. In particular, a scathing report from the Department of Education published this spring identified patterns of inequality in our public school systems based on race. For instance, although black children constitute only 18% of preschool enrollments, the report revealed that these kids account for a staggering 50% of all suspensions.

This was one of a litany of facts revealed in the report that identified structural or systemic racism as a real issue in our educational institutions. Other problematic truths revealed in the report included the underperformance of blacks in comparison to their white counterparts in schools, inequities regarding test scores, dropout and graduation rates, and as already mentioned, rates of disciplines and suspensions (not only in preschool).

Perhaps an equally compelling truth is that over 50 years after the groundbreaking Brown versus Board of Education ruling that officially ended the legitimacy of segregation based on race in schools, today black and Hispanic kids are attending schools that are more segregated now than they were during the civil rights era. Philips (2010) reflects:

Schools remain highly unequal, both in terms of money, and qualified teachers and curriculum. Unequal education leads to a diminished access to colleges and future jobs. Non-white schools are segregated by poverty as well as race. These ‘chocolate’ low-income public schools are where most of the nation’s drop-outs occur, leading to large numbers of virtually unemployable young people of color struggling to survive in a very troubled economy. (para 4)

The importance of being well educated in our society today cannot be overstated. It is a cliché, but ultimately one of the most basic truths—knowledge is power. Education has the power to be transformative, to pull communities out of poverty, to enlighten and motivate and compel and cure; the list of benefits that come from a quality education goes on and on. Moreover, in the face of the realities of trying to make a living in America today, being credentialed, having a degree—regardless of the underlying quality of the education it represents—is also essential.

The disadvantages that start from the get-go accumulate and lead to a dearth of opportunities for minorities. Moreover, they go a long way towards explaining why the unemployment rate today is disproportionately higher for black Americans, with numbers ranging from 13.1% to as high as 20.5% if the underemployed are included in the tally.

I don’t want to end with such doom and gloom, but I do think it is essential for us to recognize that these systemic inequalities remain a real barrier for opportunity for communities of color. In understanding the catastrophic consequences of the history of racism in this country, we need to move beyond individual or personality analyses and look at larger situational and systemic issues that persist in giving advantages (e.g. white privilege) to some and barriers for others. Until we can reconcile these compelling truths, racial inequality will remain a real barrier for millions of Americans, and as a culture, we will all be reaping its consequences for years to come.

Philips, P. (2010, May 3). A Black President doesn’t mean Racism is gone in America. Project Censored. Retrieved on November 13, 2014 from: http://www.projectcensored.org/a-black-president-doesnt-mean-racism-is-g... .

Copyright Azadeh Aalai 2014