Leaders are making the case that
education is the most pressing civil rights issue of our time. And I’m convinced. There’s a myth out there that we haven’t been quite able to crush. Despite the advances people of color have made, there’s still the thought that, “black kids can’t learn,” that “Latino kids can’t learn,” that “poor kids can’t learn.” Russlynn Ali, former assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, now managing director of the education fund at Emerson Collective, debunked this ridiculous notion last April at the UNCF An Evening with the Stars Education Summit Luncheon. She noted that yes, there is an achievement gap and yes, “our kids hobble on almost every measure.” But, this gap should not be seen as “a function of how much money our parents make. That it is not a function of our color. That [gap] is by design.” Here’s her speech: https://youtu.be/5EXQPJqg5Wk?t=1h18m27s The gap is frustrating. And by gap, I mean all gaps. The “achievement gap,” the “opportunity gap,” the “inequality gap,” the “belief gap,”—the gaps never seem to end. Ali notes this frustration: “We somehow blame ourselves. We blame the kids. [But] we don’t hold educators accountable.”
We’ve been convinced that because life is so hard for young people their teachers don’t have to teach them. And somehow we think it’s okay for teachers’ union representatives to tell us that our children can’t learn.
It’s difficult when the injustice is not overtly clear. When the water hoses aren’t in your face. When bodies aren’t exposed to physical abuse. When the schools don’t hang signs like “Black Standards,” “White Standards.” Ali recalls George W. Bush, who framed this gap in education as the “
soft bigotry of low expectations.” But the idea that children of color and poor children are consistently being denied access, opportunity and better futures isn’t soft at all. In fact, Ali says,
[This] should infuriate every one of us because it is not soft bigotry. It’s as real and piercing as anything that we have ever experienced in this country. It just doesn’t look like the ‘isms’ of the past.
We have to believe that our children can learn, y’all. Because the consequence is too great. As Ali puts it:
If we don’t believe our kids can learn at the highest levels, we don’t provide them any of the tools they need to get there.