Belief Gap

Kids in the Belief Gap Deserve More Than 140 Characters

It’s easy to get discouraged by the noise surrounding the education debate on Twitter. Twitter doesn’t always generate the most welcoming conversations, and being limited to 140 characters leads many commentators to resort to sarcasm and vitriol, which are easier to accomplish in fewer words than productive discourse. And it’s a shame, because it begins to disconnect us from the real issue—kids. But on Facebook we saw a different conversation take place. A few weeks ago, Chris Stewart—father, education activist, blogger (and our director of outreach here at Education Post)—joined us for a Facebook Q&A to talk about the belief gap. Stewart kicked off the discussion with a little information on the belief gap itself:
The belief gap in education is the difference between what our children are actually capable of achieving, and what adults believe they are capable of achieving. It is driven by a dominant narrative that predicts academic failure in students based upon their race and socioeconomic status. It assumes the absence of whiteness and money are inescapable barriers to basic proficiency.
Then the questions and conversation began. Parents, teachers and fellow activists shared their views of the belief gap and how it’s affecting our kids. Here are a few of my favorite moments:

The Role of ‘White Allies’

Daniel Sellers, executive director of MinnCAN, posed a question that a lot of us wanted to ask but were too afraid to:
What role can/should those that view themselves as white "allies" play—especially in helping other white people understand the belief gap and its impact on students of color?
Chris had a great answer to Daniel’s question:
So much of the dominant narrative around children of color is being pushed by people outside of affected communities. Who ever challenges that narrative directly? We need allies that deconstruct the dominant discourse about black children, poor children, and all children of color. It is hard to do, but when allies find themselves in rooms with people expressing the hurtful and damning narrative, they should be agents for change.
But he wasn’t the only one with thoughts on the matter. Valentina Korkes, Education Post’s deputy director of policy, chimed in:
From my POV, I think the best thing that non-POC [people of color] folks can do is to use their privilege to elevate voices of color at every turn. This has been (and should continue to be) part of every movement centered around POC—many white allies in Ferguson who were being asked questions by the media did a great job of telling reporters to ask the POC standing next to them instead, since it was their fight.
Then there was Peggy Clark’s fantastic suggestion:
We need an allies boot camp so that we make sure we are addressing the most pressing needs first. There are so many problems deeply embedded in the current structural offerings that we need to tackle them in batches and try to get a cohort that will go to the legislature, organize focus groups, show up at rallies and events, etc. I hope that my thoughts reflect the best approach, but I'd like to hear from leaders in the most affected communities about what would create the most change for their families.
And Donna Swanson’s reality check:
And, it has been my experience after many, many years in the classroom that “what adults believe they are capable of achieving” also comes with false praise and not real expectations. I have seen adults praise children for gaining a few months in at a 3rd grade reading level when they are in the 5th grade, that is not what they are capable of but the expectations are lower. That false praise is not authentic and harms children as they move on.

Getting Parents Involved

Katie Linehan asked how we can boost parent engagement:
How do we get more parents in cities without high performing public schools serving a majority of poor and minority children to demand better? How much convincing do we need to do that better is possible or that the current system is failing? In places like Omaha, NE, there are no charter schools. There is very little going on in the vein of ed reform. What are crucial first steps that could lead to passage of needed reform legislation, in your opinion?
Chris replied that it begins with educating adults:
This question is critical because research shows that the “belief gap” isn't just in classrooms. Parents, teachers, and other adults hold a belief gap, and children internalize it. Having a push to educate all adults is important. Their expectations are powerful.

What About the Teachers?

Madaline Edison made an important observation on how the belief gap affects teachers of color:
I appreciate the discussion here of like-minded folks. I would add that the belief gap deeply affects our students of color, but it also affects our teachers of color as well. I recently talked with a number of teachers of color for E4E's Teacher Diversity paper and heard again and again about how draining it is to fight low expectations of your colleagues. Many white teachers certainly share that concern, but it is uniquely demoralizing if you share the identity of the students who are victims of this gap.

The Importance of Speaking Out

I should also mention the “thanks” from Gwen Samuel:
Thanks Chris for this much needed conversation! This #beliefgap must be addressed because it affects self-confidence, self-motivation. Bottom line #beliefgaps is a #dream killer!!!
and Kelly Amis:
I want to thank you Chris for the way you are forcing the dialogue towards the heart of the issues and also fighting against the political (and inaccurate) use of language to maintain race-based inequality/the status quo in our education system (e.g. terms like "corporate" and "privatization" to describe anything that would fundamentally transform our system). When we, those who *see* how children of color are treated differently in school, ask the questions "Why can't we ensure EVERY child has a great, caring and effective teacher in the classroom every day?" or "Why can't we fire—immediately and whenever needed—a teacher who has abused children?" the answer we keep getting is "Socio-economic status most determines how a child will do in school." That was not the question. How do we get more of the public to *see* that this "debate" is a false one?
This was a conversation not limited to characters or in need of tongue-in-cheek hashtags and the difference was noticeable. Instead, everyone got the chance to fully express how they see the belief gap affecting black, brown and low-income students—and more importantly what we need to do to close that gap. For the sake of kids, lets have more of these kinds of talks. We hope to see you at the next one!  
Hanna Grace Frank
Hanna Frank was Education Post’s Social Media Manager and before that she worked with Organizing For Action, a non-profit organization that advocates for President Barack Obama’s political agenda. She wrote and edited content for the organization’s various social media platforms, including the official Barack Obama Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as BarackObama.com. Hanna attended Illinois ...

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