Intro: Just as a suburban white school converses about the beauty of Romanticism and critique each others pottery in Ceramics class, our urban schools need creative opportunities to express and explore. Our students have the capacity to tap into their muse in schools, whether it be a visual interpretation of feminism through Cardi B lyrics or a photo exhibit of contemporary Shakespeare motifs. We need more of our youth of color working within our institutions and national systems because they will be the change. We need more educational experiences and apprenticeship programs that develop our creative youth, who are getting caught between the cracks of school and boredom. We need more job offers for students who are the Einsteins, yet aren't handed the benefits of white privilege that could navigate through society without a diploma. More internships at production studios. More students who say they want to be research assistants, specified sergeants, poets, journalist, policy makers, professors, or students who make up their own jobs and succeed. There is a huge job market that is comprised of our upper class and underrepresented of our young folks of color, let alone, are not aware of the possibilities that exist.
In this essay, I share the impact the history of schools has had on my experience in the school system and its implications for greater dialogue about the corners the government consequently curates for our people of color.
History of School Segregation: Why do the rich get to go to enlightenment?
Inequality is nothing new to our schools. From the beginning, founders determined predetermination of students not by their intelligence, but by their status in the social ladder that is designated mainly by class, gender, and socio-economic status. The rich were prepared for careers in policy, creative arts, and sciences: The poor were prepared for physical labor. The first school was founded in 1635 in Massachusetts, a boys only secondary public school. This all boys school is known for its alumni John Hancock and Samuel Adams, two of our founding fathers. Yet this institution was inclusive of boys only, white boys to be more specific. Thomas Jefferson took this one school and created a tracked system, segregating the poor from the affluent. Later on, in the 1800’s, states began calling for free public education, but not for the reasons you may think. The purpose of schools was less about intellectual freedom, but training for labor. In some cases, the poor were enforced to receive this “free schooling,” because it guaranteed a labor force and the rich had to pay for quality and more intellectually developing curriculum. During this time, slavery was strongly enforced, which also meant that there was a huge portion of our Americans who were banned from literacy--the connection pathway to mainstream society. I can imagine that during this time, there were many families who appreciated the free schooling and utilized the opportunity to pull in income. But we must acknowledge the discriminatory practices early on in order to objectively critique our current system and strategize for more equity in our public spaces.
Critics may state that the founders did not have a racist agenda in tracking students. However, it is clear policymakers and national leaders have had an agenda to keep the poor working even outside of the school system. Consider the Bracero Program in 1942-1960’s, where America and Mexico had a bilateral agreement that granted temporary work for Mexican workers. The workers faced many broken promises of quality housing, stipends, and overall abusive treatment. The program had a tremendous impact on the American economy, but once the 60’s began and we hear voices like Cesar Chavez demanding respect as a human being and not just a labor contributor, the nation begins to tighten immigration laws. We have always been a number to this nation, a cost of efficiency--a part of a value-added system where we are the capital, rather than the entrepreneur.
Urban School "Career-Ready" Programming Reflects the Banking System
In schools, it’s easier to set up a program for mechanical technician’s assistant or dentist assistant track than a curriculum for students that makes them think. We have been programmed to look at our kids as a number in a system. Paulo Freire, a recognized liberation activist, states that the schools have become like a banking system. Each student has an empty mind for schools to fill with their agenda, in which many times is shape students to be compliant in their political and economical designations in society. I am in FULL SUPPORT of providing students pathways to be certified technicians or physicians, but this cannot be the end all be all. There must be diversity in the programs that we offer the youth. Just as a suburban white school converses about the beauty of Romanticism and critique each others pottery in Ceramics class, our urban schools need creative opportunities to express and explore. There is a huge disparity in the way we value our students in urban schools; in the way we speak to them and about them; and in the way we instruct them direct knowledge rather than self discovery and passion.
For all the kids who don't want to be dental assistants...
Many of our youth in our public schools are on the hustle to support their families and live a better life. By offering them a limited options, let alone, options that may guarantee working class jobs, is an inequitable practice because with more choices comes freedom. By offering our students more career paths in schools, we exercise their freedom to become and be, and also make the world a better place--less students would be dropping out; our career field would be more diverse; and the economy and culture would be blessed by the innovations of our young people of color.
The true heartbreak came is when I worked at a more affluent school and saw the schooling cater to pushing the students to become individual thinkers and competitive candidates for their passionate career fields. When you go to a “good school,” you will see students being spoken to as professionals in their crafts, teachers working together to talk about student learning and creativity, and strong extra curriculum programming in the arts, sports, and other student interests. In schools within our urban and rural communities, we don’t see many opportunities for positive youth development and growth--students are still a number in the system and their attendance counts, literally because it is the means our schools receive their funding.
So who's to blame? How do we solve this?
I don’t know. If I knew, I’d get a hitman. The solution isn’t to blame one person but to have a strategy. Marshall Ganz’s writes in, “Why David Sometimes Wins,” that strategy is the way institutions and bodies of people determine their choices through tactics and timing. Even with the lack of resources, good strategy leverages opportunities to maximize progress towards one’s goal. He emphasizes the need for creativity and meaning in our planning. Especially with the uprising of so many social movements, now is the times for schools to creatively plan reform and utilize the momentum and community partners to exponentially grow towards equity. We have to critically analyze the political initiatives that are either in place or moving that we as voters can either support or not support both in and outside of school conversations. For example:
Families and Communities First
Keep our Families Together
Another solution is targeting tactics that facilitate BETTER PROGRAMMING! Let’s think longevity when we are working with our kids. Often times, schools support a drive-by style intervention or extracurricular. Ganza states that “a critical strategic goal of those contesting power is to find ways to turn short-term opportunities into long-term gains by institutionalizing them.” We can no longer create interventions that are responses to the “current hype” in education reform. School leaders must look at the community assets and needs and create an opportunity that grows the community of students and families together. If we do this, I am sure that we will see that students don’t want to just become dentist assistants and are not only concerned about making ends meet, but our students are critical intellectuals and should be viewed upon as our greatest thinkers, innovators, artists, and game changers.