By Dr. David J. Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
Introduction- Learning While Black
Throughout my middle and high school career, some of my teachers and counselors told me that I did not have the intellectual capacity to be successful in college. In one instance, I met with my ninth grade guidance counselor to discuss my future and the career I was interested in. She advised me that I would not do well in college and would not be successful. In fact, she seemed shocked that I would choose to go to college. She had already assigned me to all remedial classes, on a non-college prep track. I informed her that I indeed planned to go to college. Further, I asked her to please place me in college preparatory and advanced classes, which I qualified for. There was no reason for her to put me in remedial courses, except for the assumption that African American males were poor students and were more interested in athletics. Furthermore, at the school I attended there were only one or two students of color in all of the honors and college prep courses. It seems that the mental model of the faculty and staff was that black students were not intelligent enough to be successful in college but naturally excelled more in sports and vocational professions.
In hindsight, I can do nothing but laugh now, because I went on to college and received a 4.0 in my sophomore year and graduated cum laude in undergraduate and summa cum laude in my graduate programs. Furthermore, I am now an education and history professor at a public university in Kentucky. Despite what some teachers said, the true hero for me was my mom. All throughout my K-12 schooling experience she advocated for me and recognized that I was a precocious child who loved learning and being challenged academically. She did not let me succumb to the systemic racism that was prevalent in our school district, like many others.
Racial Inequities Continue to Persist
The reason I shared my personal story is to highlight issues of inequity that continue to be present in the United States education system. There has been a long held assumption that African Americans are not as intelligent as their white counterparts. This mindset is not only prevalent among average people but is common among administrators and teachers across America. Dr. Carl L. Robinson in his 2004 doctoral dissertation addressed the over-representation of African Americans in special education classes. He argued that due to the negative view many whites have toward African American students, they end up in remedial courses or are barred from advanced classes, similar to my own experience. These inequities in the education system that I experienced have not gone away in contemporary times. In fact, they seem to be worsening.
The Myth of Meritocracy Blocks Progress
There are entire neighborhoods all throughout the United States where youth have been pushed out of the American dream because of educational inequalities. However, because of the myth of meritocracy, Americans have largely avoided the conversation of educational inequality and inequity as it relates to students of color. Social studies and language arts classrooms are great places to implement a curriculum centered on the study of racial inequities in education. Administrators should evaluate their schools and districts and explore ways to make them more equitable. Here are some resources for educators to examine racial inequalities and implement these discussions in their classrooms.
Lessons and Resources
Strategies for an Equal Education: Lesson Plan
Visualizing School Equity
Still Separate, Still Unequal: Teaching about School Segregation and Educational Inequality
Education inequalities at the school starting gate
Addressing Educational Inequality
Responding to Educational Inequality
Books that Address Racial Inequity
Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools by Glenn E. Singleton
Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education (Multicultural Education Series) 2nd Edition by Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum
An Introduction to Multicultural Education by James A. Banks