Analysis — There is a movement occurring in this nation, an educational campaign that comprises of students, parents, teachers, school administrators, church leaders, and advocates. Their ultimate goal is school reform, changing America’s methodical approach to educating our nation’s next generation. Interestingly, African Americans are quickly becoming the leaders of this movement, flocking to free public charter schools across the country. But why are African Americans moving to free public charter schools and away from traditional public neighborhood schools?
Since Brown v Board of Education, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case that ruled unanimously that the segregation of black and white public school students was unconstitutional, white school administrators — fearful of the possibility of African-American teachers gaining control over majority white classrooms and seeking administrative roles — took immediate action after the federal court ruling. A seemingly superior and nationalistic white American approach would grow into a resolve for how to control its future “negro problem.”
During the ‘60s, African Americans watched black teachers, living in their neighborhoods, who were part of their community, vanish from classrooms across the country. Consequently, the growing absence of black teachers and school administrators negatively impacted African-American student achievement. The dismissal of African-American teachers from predominately black schools caused a domino effect on the economics and social ecosystem, surrounding predominantly black schools. Whereas the school is the nucleus of all communities, these black communities also experienced a decline when their schools received inadequate funding coupled with the loss of compassionate and highly educated black teachers.
The majority of black teachers were unjustly yet ‘legally’ replaced by white teachers who arrived with preconceived stigmatizations of their black students. As a result of centuries of racist propaganda in the American media, depicting African Americans as intellectually inferior to all other racial groups, many white teachers came, and continue to come, with the stigma that their black students were incapable of reaching academic excellence.
The presumption is that when a white teacher’s school-work day was over, white teachers would leave their missionary projects at ‘inner city’ schools and return to their presumably safe suburbanite communities. They would sit down on the couch, turn on the local news, only to find white police officers arresting another black person in the community where they had just been teaching. A second dose of stigma from the local evening news further reinforced their already negative perceptions about the community where they were teaching.
Furthermore, having had the privilege of being shielded from the truth — of how they, themselves, as white people came into a powerful existence in what is now known as America — they have difficulty on where to place the blame. Often this blame gets put on the parents of the students attending these ‘inner city’ schools and eventually the black community.
Conversations regarding centuries of free labor from the ancestors of the black children they are serving seldom arise in teacher, staff, and school administration conversations. The non-discussion happens for a variety of reasons. White teachers either don’t have enough black teacher friends or black friends in general to have a healthy and productive conversation about race. Perchance they do have a black friend, the probability, of their one or two black friends having experienced that familiar African American narrative of just making it, is low. Thus, their black friends aren’t likely to give an accurate enough perspective. Moreover, there’s a groupthink problem. When the black person they are friends with isn’t exposed to their own culture enough — racial biases and internalized racism affects their perception, reinforcing their white friend’s stigma.
So, as a result of White teachers low expectations for black children, they don’t academically challenge their black pupils enough. Furthermore, because of the stigma of blacks deem-ably being prone to criminal behavior, some white teachers may even have the fear that if they get assertive with their black students — for the purpose of teaching them academically, the students may complain to their parents or guardians. The teacher may fear the possibility of having to deal with an ‘angry black woman or man’ upon the ending of a school day.
Moreover, this idea of woe is the black child attending the inner city school saviors-complex is damaging to the academic and social development of black students encountering this type of misplaced white sympathy.
White teachers who unknowingly carry cultural biases only suppress their black students by coddling them and not being academically assertive enough. This type of mentality makes it difficult for African-American students to achieve academic success. White students have the privilege of not having to worry about this tumultuous social dynamic taking place everyday between black students and white teachers in American schools.
It is for this reason that such an achievement gap currently exists in America. Decades of either not educating and or miseducating African-American students, who are ill-educated, learning on the margins of classrooms across America, has caused African Americans living today to be the least prepared people in this technological math and science demanding era. Black Americans have lost two generations of educational progress since Brown v Board of Education.
Another consequence is what happened between the two American political parties during the ‘60s. For the most part and to all appearances, African Americans encountered a losing situation with both parties. Paradoxically, African Americans have supported the democratic party while the Party continues to rely on powerful teacher unions for campaign funding. Notably, teacher unions continue to be anti-public charter schools, and so without engaging in community-based conversations about the continuous achievement gap that exists between black and white children, black children and the African American cohort become less competitive.
Not enough conversations are being had, regarding how to solve the racial achievement gap problem. For the most part, white scholars have continued to drive this conversation without inviting more black educators, black researchers, and black school administrators, who are on the ground, to the decision-making table. American educators are just beginning to understand that black educators and black school administrators should have had the opportunity to sit at the decision-making table at the beginning of school integration. But yet we say again and again, “the wheels of justice turn slowly.”
African Americans have always been a resilient people; however, possessing the authority and controlling the narrative of how black Americans see themselves as Americans has always been the struggle. African Americans are the smaller subculture within a large mostly white American society, a society that in many cases today refuses to integrate its churches, employees, and residential communities fully. Thus, the probability, of African Americans grabbing even a micro amount of power to control their destiny, is a rarity.
As the only resolve, it must be our duty and mission to educate the two political parties about the education reform and school choice movement. Pointedly, Democrats have to be informed about the education reform and school choice movement if Americans are going to improve the direction of black student achievement and end the school-to-prison pipeline once and for all. Correspondingly, teacher unions should be part of this conversation and movement, also, and both parties need to get more serious about closing the achievement gap. After all, it’s about the kids, and it’s about America’s future.
This Op-Ed by Nehemiah D. Frank originally ran on the Black Wall Street Times.