Published: Nov 13, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Nov 12, 2011 07:50 PM
We held school board candidates forums, we pushed for a 1/4-cent sales-tax to help improve our schools, and we advocated for the best education we can muster. And the brutal fact is that we live year after year with an appalling achievement gap affecting our African-American and Latino students. The elephant in the room - the dialogue that is not happening - is the discussion about race and how the belief systems that we are acting from are perpetuating this gap.
I moved to Chapel Hill because of the schools. I quickly realized that they were better only in terms of the actual buildings, technical and curricular resources.
The majority of the neighborhoods that surround Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are clean, safe and attractive - strikingly different from the inner-city Brooklyn neighborhoods that I grew up in. What was also different - and upsetting - were the experiences I encountered as I put my four African-American boys and daughter through the Chapel Hill school system.
My children received recommendations to summer schools that they did not need. My first-grader was recommended for special education because his handwriting was not legible. When I refused, I got asked about my marital status and the potential of domestic problems in the home. The middle-school police officer knew my child by name and was often the first person we saw during the morning drop-off to school. Why is a police officer greeting middle school children at the front door?
A guidance counselor who never met or developed a relationship with my child evaluated him nonetheless as "athletic and speaks well." A principal who was having issues with small groups of black and Latino children getting into fights with one another did not think it was necessary to inform me that my child (who had nothing to do with the incidents) would be pulled into a meeting with police, school administrators and the accused to help keep the peace among the groups. She identified him as a leader but in connection to a "gang."
I could go on and on with stories of my own and those of my African-American peers. As I began to reflect more and more about the state of the school system, I came to believe that one of the major reasons that Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools are experiencing an achievement gap is because there are belief systems about race that are feeding it.
I recently attended an anti-racism workshop and learned that the whole idea of race is a social political construction, a biological illusion, or stated simply, a made-up story. The whole idea of race was created to keep a ruling class ruling, and the classes beneath them aligned under the ruling.
Our systems and structures that include our public educational school system were designed to serve the wealthy white class. When we ask the system to serve a multi-cultural diverse population, they crumble under the strain.
Believing is seeing. Our most fundamental beliefs were formed and shaped when we were very young, before we could evaluate for ourselves the reasoning to question whether they were true or not. Because these beliefs are often unconscious, they often show up in our lives in the most unexpected ways.
It is our responsibility as parents, educators and administrators to be intentional about evaluating how our beliefs about race are impacting our African-American and Latino school children. If we don't start to challenge our beliefs, our beliefs will continue to challenge us.
I am calling for a true dialogue about race. I am not talking about a blame game, an exchange of hostilities or a debate about being right. I am talking about a communication between persons who are willing to re-create and re-name what we call education in the name of love. I am calling for our principals, school board and administrators, teachers and community members to enter into these discussions. An anti-racism workshop like the one I attended would be a good place to start. School Board candidate James Barrett attended this workshop, and this is one of the many reasons that I voted for him.
A culture change does not have to require millions of dollars in money. It does require a willingness to admit that there may be a disconnect between our most fundamental sacred beliefs and our daily actions in our roles as decision makers.
We may not be the originators of the mindsets that created racial and social inequities that are built into the systems and structures that define and support our schools, but we are responsible for neutralizing the inequities and creating the solutions in our daily practice.
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