Friday Reading List: The Correct Definition of Racism, College Success, and Profiles in Controversey

Lonnae O'Neal of The Undefeated wrote a deep profile of Ibram Kendi, the National Book Award winning author of Stamped from the Beginning. Kendi is a professor of history who defines racism in terms of self-interest, rather than hate:

“We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.” Self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest. When the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there.

Read the whole profile, and get a copy of the book as well. If we misunderstand racism as based on hate, the phenomenon seems impossible to unwind. If racism is predicated on self-interest, on the other hand, the pathway to eradicating the problem is still difficult, but much clearer.

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In other news, Richard Whitmire is in The 74 with a description of the KIPP charter school network's college persistence work:

The bottom line: 46 percent of the graduates at this New York school will earn bachelor’s degrees within six years, compared to 9 percent of students from families that make up the bottom fourth of earners. (Nationally, 38 percent of KIPP students achieve that success rate.) Also striking about the diploma earning rate: KIPP insists on starting the “clock” on college graduation rates at the end of eighth grade (beginning of ninth grade for students new to the KIPP network), thus picking up any dropouts ... The KTC program here is not cheap. KIPP spends roughly $2,000 per student per year on the program that will follow them into college, a figure that includes not just the seniors at the high school here, but the KIPP middle school alumni who went to a non-KIPP high school.

Whatever your feelings about charter schools in general - or KIPP in particular - this program is comprehensive in its reach, and stunning in the results it is achieving. The cost of this program is not a trivial matter, though. Whitmire describes the intensity of the program, which relies on a small army of college counselors. We need to be honest about the real expenditures at the highest performing charter schools. If it costs this much more money to do an adequate job of preparing students for, and supporting them in, college, then the high-performing charters should be first in line telling policymakers that traditional public schools need more resources!

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Speaking of charters, Alia Wong of The Atlantic interviewed charter school leader Eva Moscovitz, whose name must always be preceded by the word "polarizing":

Back in 2004, The New York Times described Eva Moskowitz as having “sharp elbows.” At the time, Moskowitz represented Manhattan’s affluent Upper East Side on New York’s City Council and had, according to the Times profile, emerged as one of the council’s most influential members. Those sharp elbows helped her get things done, whether that meant replacing plastic newspaper racks with stylish fiberglass ones or taking on powerful teachers’ unions in the name of improving the city’s beleaguered public schools. They inevitably also positioned her as a perennial antagonist—someone who inspires so much vitriol in her opponents that she has, for more than a decade, contended with an endless list of disparaging labels. Public-school teachers, for example, got in the habit of calling her “Evil Moskowitz.” Now, as the founder and CEO of Success Academy, the largest charter-school network in New York City, the criticism is as loud as ever.

Moscovitz is something like a controversy machine, some of which is out of her control, and some of which is not. That said, it's worth understanding the philosophy behind her schools, which is a far more enriching enterprise than rehashing the caricature of her that appears in the news.

Have a great weekend!