Friday Reading List: Reflections on Teaching for Social Justice

Khulia Pringle has a powerful piece in Citizen Ed, discussing the challenges of finding more teachers from the communities most in need of effective teaching:

First, the process of becoming a teacher favors the middle class. It’s expensive. Nobody has time to be incurring debt and teaching for free when their [sic] broke. We shouldn’t pretend lack of money means lack of talent or value to the teaching profession. Second, regular public schools need to reckon with the fact that many of us had bad experiences with them. It doesn’t make us want to return as employees when we remember student experiences of discrimination and low expectations ... Just as there are alternative public schools for students that need them, some of us want to be alternative public school teachers. Some of us still have the hood in us and we don’t want to be molded by professors and system professionals into good little soldiers for mostly white school districts where teachers – especially the black ones – have very little say in how we work with kids who struggle like we did.

The point about bad public schooling experiences is real. This extends to parents as well. Sometimes I hear coded language about parents not feeling comfortable around school officials, which says a lot about the trust that was broken when those parents were students, and the school failed to reach them. James E. Ford, who was the North Carolina Teacher of the Year, points out the fact that, once we have more teachers from vulnerable communities, it will be impossible to separate their personal connections to liberation and justice from their need to teach:

While education is marketed as the “great equalizer,” we fail as a nation to equalize educational opportunity for everyone. Race continues to be a significant factor in determining student outcomes. Breaking this color-coded system of advantage is going to require adopting a racial equity lens in at least a few areas of education ... Contrary to the ongoing debate that school reform movement has become too focused on social justice, schools are not divorced from the structural reality of racism. Educators have an ethical obligation to wrestle with it. It is more a practical matter than a partisan one. Race-consciousness belongs in the educational space, because color-blind reforms keep reproducing color-coded outcomes.

There's data to back up Ford's final statement; the country's highest performing education states also have some of the most racially unequal outcomes. We cannot continue to prepare our students for an unjust world and wish them good luck, and there are some good tips for educators focused on social justice. In the meantime, it seems that the anecdotal evidence we're all seeing is true, and that segregation is growing in schools:

The same week that a fight escalated between the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and the Senate education committee chairman, over the equity of school spending, the Government Accountability Office released a report showing that the proportion of schools with outsized shares of students in poverty who are also students of color roughly doubled from 2000 to 2014, and that students in these schools receive more-constricted academic offerings.

As my podcast cohost will tell you, dealing with segregated schools isn't as easy as just waving the desegregation wand.

Finally, I offer a weekend reading suggestion, in the form of an essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The piece nominally is about black journalism, centered on a critique of an essay by Howard French, but it's just as much about the white critique of black creation:

[French] presents black journalists in two varieties—those chained by the boundaries of the press’s racism, and those specifically empowered to help maintain those boundaries. I am touted as an exemplar of that latter category. French sees me in a tradition of token black writers whom white people shower with plaudits so that they might better argue “that we don’t have a race problem any more.” To be sure, French sees this as “great work being celebrated” ... This permission serves to both keep black journalists and writers from competing in venues beyond the sphere “of race and racism,” and allow whites to celebrate “their own enlightenment and generosity" ... French is airing a common suspicion—one that concerns itself not so much with black writing, but with what white people think of black writing. At The Washington Post, Carlos Lozada argued that because “liberal elites” enjoyed Between The World And Me, the book must be wrong. Jacobin writer Cedric Johnson addresses himself to “Ta-Nehisi Coates And The White Liberals Who Love Him.” David French felt so moved by the accolades given by “white liberals” that he wrote the same blog-post three different times. The writer Thomas Chatterton Williams reviewed the book twice—once when it was published, and then again after it was being celebrated. By his own admission, the writer John McWhorter did not bother to read the book, but did read what everyone else was saying about the book. This disturbed him so much that he considered giving up writing about race entirely. “Oh God,” moaned McWhorter. “One of the Men of The Year is going to be Ta-Nehisi Coates" ... Writing a book from a black perspective is freeing. Seeing it constantly examined from a white perspective is depressing."

Read. The. Whole. Essay. For one reason or another, Coates's piece resonated with me, vis-a-vis the ongoing debate about the role of race in education reform. That last point about John McWhorter 😳😳😳

Have a great weekend.