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Michaela Pommells

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Education Reform is Impossible Without Addressing Racism

Posted: 10/04/2012 1:49 pm

I'm tired of talking about education reform. Tired of yapping with other "reformers" who are trying to figure it all out. I'm done. I'm throwing in the towel. But this doesn't mean I will let my lips turn blue from silence; I'm taking my rant to the picket lines. It's time to lead the conversation about education reform, with race: the structural organizing factor that determines educational access and opportunity in education institutions.

Let's face it, race inequity may not be a deliberate goal of education policy and practice (or maybe it is) but neither is it accidental. The result is a whole lot of seemingly well-meaning people trying to evoke change in an education system that never intended to educate people of color in the first place. Educational institutions are places that actively reproduce ways of thinking, feeling, believing, and acting that work to the advantage of white students. If we want to "reform" education, it requires that we acknowledge and dismantle the power structures that are embedded in the system. It involves understanding that the conversation about education reform takes place in the shadow of slavery and Jim Crow.

The outright denial of the institutional racism that afflicts our schools and classrooms is reinforced through bad policies and educational malpractice. This lends little value in criticizing the circumstances in public schools when most schools fail to even recognize the presence or impact of racism. Yet, it's a problem because the actual process of dismantling racial inequality in education requires an outright revolution. Power structures and institutions cannot change without getting everybody involved.

The conversation has to begin with the assertion that many teachers and teacher educators reflect internalized deficit assumptions about students of color. Teachers are gatekeepers to learning and they can empower their students to challenge our nation's ideology about black and brown inferiority. Teachers can be led either to continue to project racism in their classrooms, or to build their capacity to challenge institutional racism that is affirmed, appropriated, or resisted within their school site. Engaging educators in the process of building an anti-racist movement for public education creates solidarity that is not separated by race but explored and appreciated in order to better understand the way power works.

Today, education policies have barely responded to the disparities in the system that systematically disadvantage students of color. Democrat's policies have aligned with the corporate education agenda. The GOP and the Tea Party have made strong endorsements for school choice and have essentially suggested eliminating the Department of Education. We can't rely on our government for this one. Achieving an anti-racist education system will require an uprising from the ground up that demands anti-racist policies and carries out systematic anti-racist education among teachers and students. Until then, we will only pretend to care about education reform.

 
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