I note that the Rockingham County school board just voted 5-2 to give back grant funding that would have paid for racial equity training in their schools. According to press reports, this was due to the “white bashing” nature of the training. As a white male who has been through many of these trainings, I can certainly sympathize with how difficult it is to confront America’s original sin of slavery and its continuing effects of racism. Particularly in our schools—where 65 years to the day after Brown v. Board of Education, we continue to see the echoes of the great disparities that exist in all areas of our society.
But… we have a 400-year history in America of viewing non-whites as inferior. Our results today continue this by showing less than half our Black students passing EOGs/EOCs, while almost ¾ of our White students pass overall. It is much easier to blame others for the systems we are all a part of than to face how our current system continuously does all that it can to perpetuate racial disparities. Yes, poverty is a great challenge within our school walls. Yes, not all students arrive with the best upbringing to support academic pursuits. Yes, we can’t count on all students having home environments that allow for continued learning. But we have to acknowledge that even when factors that impact a great education are similar, African-American and Hispanic children in North Carolina do not succeed in school at the same rate as their white peers.
We must confront the implicit racial biases that are causing many of the preventable reasons why students don’t succeed: discipline disparities for similar behavior that force students of color out of the classroom for significantly more time (see this just-published, in-depth look at this issue from one student’s perspective); under-identification of student talents, which leads to less rigor in instruction for students of color; lack of teachers/role models who share demographics and create a sense of belonging and belief in success; lack of high expectations for students solely because past students of color have not passed standardized exams.
The biases behind these factors are not evil. They don’t need to be bashed. But they do need to be recognized in each and every one of us if we want to do things differently in the future. If we truly want each and every student to succeed in our public schools, we must confront and conquer our biases so that we provide the necessary supports to each and every student. We must eliminate opportunity gaps through policy and practice so that all students are expected to achieve.
As a society, we can claim success only if all of our students are successful. We need everyone working together to support everyone to achieve this. Racial equity training, while difficult, is an important first step in making changes to ourselves so that we recognize biases that cause lack of success to continue.