By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
What is the fallacy when someone says, “I don’t see color?” Immediately, when someone says this to me, a woman of color, two thoughts cross my mind. The first one is, “Is there some congenital abnormality that negates the ability to perceive colors?” The second, if more visceral: “If you don’t see color, does that render me invisible, unimportant, or not worthy to be seen?”
This statement prickles the hairs on the back of my neck. For, too often, these words are spoken by a white person to someone black or brown.
It almost fits into the trite utterance of “I have some (or a) black (or brown) friends,” or, another, “You are not like them.” So, if you do not see color, how do you know you have some friends of color or that I am not like the illusive “them,” presumably others of color?
Many of us have prejudices and/or stereotypes of those we view as “other” or ones different from ourselves in some way. It might be that culture, religious belief, ethnicity, gender, class, marital status, socio-economic status, or one or more of the –isms influence our perceptions. Some biases are so inculcated that, from infancy, we are programmed to have fears, stereotypes, and negative views of those unlike ourselves.
One part of this kind of fallacious thinking may hinge on the fact that in order for some groups to feel righteous and superior, other groups must have to be viewed as dangerous and/or inferior.
Our perceptions of the value of ourselves and others often determine our treatment of and reactions toward those we view as less than or not as valued. Wars are fought over cultural and religious differences. Regardless of the injury, all people’s blood is red and all of us can hurt or grieve, regardless of color.
In the classrooms across the United States, many children of color—and we all have a color—are castigated, segregated, and under-educated by least-qualified teachers who are sent in to work with children most needy.
As our schools become more multicultural, many of their teachers are becoming more monocultural and unprepared to acknowledge cultural differences, different styles of learning, or ways of showing respect and tolerance. The resulting revolving door of teachers who hone their craft on these children not like themselves often exacerbates the underachievement of students and the continual decline of the public-school system as we know it.
Until all of us are willing to forego our color and cultural blindness, we perpetuate students being placed on an assembly line to mediocrity, frustration, and wasted, unacknowledged potential. This, in no way applies to all teachers, for many teachers are diligent, dedicated, and hard-working people who care and who have students, many of whom, succeed in spite of the odds against them.
However, to “not see color “is, to a person of a different color, the height of insult from an arrogant, insecure, ignorant, condescending—even if unintentional—racist person!
By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
When cultures clash in the classroom, students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community at large all suffer. Education, or lack, thereof, can have a ripple effect on every facet of society. Not only are communities of color affected but also areas not considered “minority.” PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is an equal possibility.
Children whose culture and realities are devalued are often, as Gloria Ladson Billings so aptly expressed, “considered as deficient white children.” (1999) The children she described may become drop-outs, push-outs, or disaffected trouble makers. These disaffected students often feel disrespected, misunderstood, and devoid of hope. Some of them are test-weary and content lacking.
When they are continually designated at “below basic” on standardized tests and their culture not understood by teachers and test makers, their behaviors are almost self-fulfilling prophesies. Often these students suffer from PTSD as painful and as debilitating as any combat soldier.
They encounter the vagaries of the results of having little affluence and no influence, of physical and/or emotional abuse, and poor educational opportunities offered by a revolving door of new, career-change, or culturally unaware teachers getting their OJT (on the job training), student loans abated, masters degrees, and housing allowances before moving on to the suburbs or to becoming the next national “expert” authors and speakers on educating the urban, rural, or culturally different child.
These are the children whose apparent apathy and less than “perfect” behaviors encourage a revolving door of teachers who have the inability to relate to students of different socio-economic or racial differences. In these cases, no one is the winner, even though neophyte teachers may gain some financial benefits, for these teachers, too suffer the PTSD resulting from not knowing how to teach diverse students and the daily chaos of classroom disorder, disrespect, and disaffectedness.
Lowered expectations may cause challenges for administrators also, for they face scrutiny about how their schools function on many levels, from standardized test results to efficient use of budget to how many expulsions and suspensions their students receive.
They must also contend with trying to find substitutes or replacements for teachers who are absent for whatever reason. Their teachers often are faced with coverage, which saps the enthusiasm and energy of those forced to babysit some other teacher’s class. In addition, many states are trying to meet the dictates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Common Core Curriculum standards with inadequate funding and training for teachers and administrators in how to implement these mandated legislative programs. In the last few years, there has also been an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) schools.
Parents suffer when their children are disaffected and under-educated. Their children who are suspended or expelled are left to get into difficulties with the law and court systems. Further, drop-outs and push-outs often cannot get jobs and become economic drains on not only their families but also on the community at large.
So, in answer to the question when cultures clash in the classroom, who suffers, we all do! Poorly educated students make for a society that alienates its young, one that is unable to retain skilled and experienced teachers, and a country frustrated with unemployment, under-employment, and an ever-growing culture of violence, fear, and intolerance. Court systems and privatized prisons, along with mortuaries, result when the classrooms act as prep schools for these expensive alternatives.
By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
Teaching is a multi-faceted calling for many and an occupation for some, but how can teaching and learning effectiveness be measured without testing?
There must be some way—or ways—to measure what and whether students are learning, and teachers are teaching. Rigor, high standards, curriculum design, learning and teaching styles, and external demands all must be considered in any teaching and learning situation, regardless of location and resources.
As the teaching population becomes more monocultural and the school-aged population becomes more multicultural, teaching materials, beliefs, and techniques tend to rely too heavily on standardized tests and testing materials. In order for education to capitalize on the strengths and talents of learners and the skills and professionalism of their teachers, what kinds of additional progress measures might be employed?
Different kinds of professional development programs and materials may be needed to provide more sufficient and culturally responsive information about the teaching and learning process.
One way of assessing whether students are actively engaged in learning on a high level might be using multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary materials such as those in an original textbook of poems, shorts stories, and essays.
The book, Connections: A Collection of Poems, Short Stories, and Essays with Lessons, became part of a study in the Washington, D. C. schools and surrounding Metropolitan areas of Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, from 1996-2001. (Parks-Lee, 1995)
It addresses some of the challenges Gloria Ladson-Billings pointed out when she quoted Jonathan Kozol, saying that “…Pedagogic problems in our cities are not chiefly matters of injustice, inequality, or segregation, but of insufficient information about teaching strategies.” (Ladson-Billings*, 1994, p. 128)
Both neophyte and experienced teachers participated in a study that provided them with information, materials, and teaching strategies to employ with urban, poor, and predominantly, but not exclusively, African American youth.
The idea for the study originated with a concern that an increasingly middle class or suburban teaching force often seems unable to meet the needs of diverse students who are different from them in class, socioeconomic status, geography, ethnicity, and/or culture.
The Connections materials were intended to help address ways to foster a positive impact upon all children, but particularly upon children of color. In addition, teachers using these materials might also feel more empowered to think creatively and to utilize students’ strengths and talents as they incorporate high and rigorous interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary lessons and higher order thinking skills in order to increase academic achievement.
Effective teachers believe that we must produce and use materials that encourage students to be able to read, to write, to speak, to be creative, to understand, and to interpret what they hear and read. If students can develop these proficiencies, they may experience greater success on standardized tests.
Success breeds success, and if our students are to be involved learners and thinkers, we cannot keep doing the same things the same ways and then blaming students and teachers if standardized test scores are not optimal. There must be more inclusive ways of tapping into and measuring what is taught and what is learned. Standardized tests are but one way and should not be the only way to validate the teaching and learning processes.
There are three domains to teaching, the cognitive, the affective, and the psychomotor. The one that is not easily addressed by standardized testing is the affective domain.
As Sharon M. Draper says, “You must reach a child before you can teach a child.” (Draper, S., November 2002). The challenge comes when trying to measure the affective domain. However, affective success is often reflected in student attendance and behaviors that are involved, on-task, and diligent.
There is often a spirit of collaboration and cooperation between the teacher and the students. Fewer discipline problems are observed when there is a positive classroom community involved.
When diverse students are allowed to utilize their talents and skills, they often become self-motivated, because they feel affirmed, valued, and respected.
*Ladson-Billings, G. (1999). (Notes from speech delivered at Howard University).
A student at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a K-12 private school in the Bronx, announced that he and his parents filed a lawsuit against the institution Monday, April 1, in United States District Court, Southern District of New York, with the demand that the Head of the School Jessica L. Bagby and other administrators resign or be terminated.
Students from Ethical Culture Fieldston School CONTRIBUTED
The last straw for senior Malakai Hart, it is alleged, was when a student blatantly used the ‘n’ word. When Hart confronted higher faculty about the issue, no steps of further discipline were taken. One of the attorneys at The Cochran Firm, which will serve on the behalf of Hart’s family in the lawsuit, claimed that multiple grievances had piled up to that point. Hart’s mother Robin and father Carl alleged racial discrimination, retaliation, aiding and abetting unlawful practices and negligent hiring, training and supervision.
“The school failed to address the student involved in the incident, to be able to show himself [on a video recording] among other students and refer to my client as a ‘ni*r’,” said Derek Sells, one of the three Cochran attorneys. “For that reason, he wanted to sue and did not want to deal with the administration anymore as he felt they had let him down. Now, he is going to the courts to try and rectify this situation.”
For Malakai Hart, this is not the first incident in which he has been discriminated against by other students. He has attended the school since kindergarten and has faced similar situations before.
Last year, Fieldston also was in court for a similar lawsuit, this time in which a 12-year-old student voiced racial discrimination allegations, but the school retaliated by making false allegations to Child Protective services. The case is still ongoing.
“We had received some complaints from parents about bringing false claims to administration about what happened to the students,” said Sells. “The school claimed that the parent sent the kid to school hungry so as a result, there was an investigation launched into that. There was a threat that the child may be taken away from his parents, but the investigation found that the claims were unfounded. The school then sent a school wide emailing that they were sorry and had said untrue things about the family.”
Last week, a large group of students held a sit-in at Fieldston to protest the treatment of African-American students. Hart did not participate in the sit-in although he was very supportive of the students who initiated it. Hart believed that taking it to court would be more significant than the talks due to the lack of progress in the past.
The newly issued lawsuit echoes incidences of the past and reflects the issues that Fieldston School has had before. Head of School Jessica Bagby recently distributed an email to parents of students acknowledging that there has been a “multi-year racial trauma” at the school.
The Ethical Culture Fieldston School issued a statement, in light of the recent charges that have been put against them.
“One day we’ll have a better understanding about why this particular lawyer finds it productive to file frivolous lawsuits against Fieldston, but for today we can say without reservation that this is meritless and does not reflect the truth about our school,” said Clio Boele, on the behalf of the school. “Jessica Bagby is not going anywhere and does not deserve to be blamed or scapegoated for whatever this family’s concerns may be.”
Sells listed the specific reasoning for the lawsuit and what the family is suing for, among the future they hope to engender through the case.
“We alleged that federal civil rights were violated, human civil rights were violated, the New York State human rights were violated among other causes of action,” said Sells. “We are also asking the court not only for damages to be awarded for what my client has suffered but also, we are asking the court to tell Fieldston to stop discriminating against African-American students there.”
Arizona could lose $340 million in federal funding because the state hasn’t followed the Every Students Succeeds Act’s rules for testing its students, Frank Brogan, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, told the state in a recent letter.
This spring, Arizona allowed its districts a choice of offering the ACT, the SAT, or the state’s traditional test, the AzMerit test, at the high school level. ESSA allows states to offer districts the option of using a nationally-recognized college entrance exam in place of the state test, but first they must meet certain technical requirements.
For instance, states must make sure that the national recognized exam (such as the ACT or SAT) measures progress toward the state’s standards at least as well as the original state test. They also must make sure that the results of the nationally-recognized exam can be compared to the state test. And they have to provide appropriate accommodations for English-language learners and students in special education. All of this is supposed to happen before the state ever allows its districts the option of an alternate test.
Arizona “hasn’t provided evidence that it has completed any of this work,” Brogan wrote.
The department has other, big concerns about Arizona’s testing system. The state passed a law allowing its schools a choice of tests, at both the high school and elementary level. That is not kosher under ESSA, which calls for every student in the same grade to take the same test, in most cases, Brogan wrote…
Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.
By Sharonica Nelson, Ed.D.
Professor, Professional Education Consultant, Author
Once students reach middle school,
parents often become less engaged with their child’s academic environment. They
don’t walk them in the school’s doors anymore, they don’t communicate as often
with teachers, and they are less like to visit the school unless there is a special
program or sporting event after hours. This is especially true for African
As a former classroom teacher in
an urban, predominantly Black school, I have first-hand knowledge of this.
During middle school, school becomes more or less a mystery to parents. However,
under Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a push for parents to be more
involved with academic environment of their child.
Studies show that when parents are
more actively involved in their child’s schools, the child tends to perform
better academically. Therefore, parental engagement is an important concept of
discussion in terms of African American children’s performance.
Although parental engagement has a
strong correlation to student academic performance and achievement, why is it that
African American parents appear disproportionately less engaged than parents of
Studies have shown that there are
many factors that may hinder Black parents from being active in their child’s
schooling. Factors include lacking confidence when speaking to education
professionals or fear of seeming incompetent, being the sole provider in the
household with work hours that conflict with school hours, and not knowing how
to approach school officials with proper questions specific to individual child
These and many other nuisances
keep Black parents from approaching schools to be more active in their child’s
academic career. Nevertheless, for the sake of maximum student success and
potential, it is important that parents are actively engaged in their child’s
It is imperative that Black
parents are not only involved but also engaged in their child’s schools. Parents
must not only be involved through participating in school-planned functions,
but they must also create their own spaces and opportunities for active
engagement to demystify student performance. There are many ways to do so,
Use school system provided platforms to keep up with grades. The school system may provide
this service for free, and it may be associated with a special code or password
for log in. Parents should check with the school secretary for information on
this. Frequently checking student grades and holding them accountable for their
grades can send strong messages to students in terms of performance.
Know when reports cards are due. School systems may send home a calendar with this
information, they may provide automated calls as a reminder, and the dates may
be readily accessible on the school system website. It is ultimately up to the
parents to stay abreast of report cards and not wait until the last grading
quarter to show concern over grades. It’s too late then.
Email teachers. Email is a quick form of communication that most people use directly
from their phones. Most teachers use emails frequently. Make use of this to
maintain constant contact and communication with your child’s teacher. Most
teachers prefer to hear from parents with concerns of student progress and would
happily engage to inform parents concerning their children.
Check teacher webpages. Many teachers have webpages that they frequently update
with pertinent information pertaining to their classroom. This information may
include due dates, skills and concepts to be covered, and materials needed for
upcoming projects and assignments.
Create a parent network. Many parents may not have the time or resources to be
involved with the formal PTA (Parent Teacher Association). They may decide to
create social media groups that keep all parents abreast of current happenings
within the school. This could be a simple, easy way to connect to other parents
of students within same educational setting for accurate, current information
concerning the child’s school.
Regardless, of the age or grade of
a parent’s child, parents have a right to know about the current happenings of
the classroom and school. However, the school and parent relationship shouldn’t
be one-sided with school doing all of the work in terms of providing the
opportunities for parents to become engaged. Parents must understand the
importance of their involvement in their child’s educational trajectory, take
the reins, and create their opportunities for being actively involved.
Although, middle school is the
time when most parents become less engaged in the child’s school, it should be
a time when parents maintain engagement. To demystify further, parent
involvement weighs heavily on children’s performance. And simply put, children
need to see parents in their academic spaces for better performance, even in
middle school and beyond.
As a child, in between born into an interracial family, Poet Michele Reese knew she wanted to write about the Black experience with works that delved into African American history, from very early on.
She bared the words from her soul in front of a room full of young writers with her son sitting in the front row as she read from her first published book of poems, Following Phia, which indirectly focuses on her journey through life, sexuality, race, motherhood, and other topics.
“My home sits in sandy soil, where once indigo was caked in lye, I’ve painted my children’s walls haint blue to keep them safe from mosquitoes and restless spirits,” she said. “They have been fed from my breasts, bathed in tepid water to bring down fevers, inoculated, taught to swim… I have done all the things that mothers do to tether their children,” Reese read at Xavier University’s Fall Literary Reading series on Oct. 4th.
Reese started her writing journey very similarly to other writers. It was one of her own teachers in middle school that inspired her to pick up the pen and write what she was feeling, whether it was about what she ate that morning, or how she was feeling about rainy mornings in West Virginia. All she knew was that she had to write.
“It was my own English teacher in seventh grade that made me write a poem,” she said, “I’m pretty sure it was for an assignment, but I haven’t stopped writing ever since. I had no clue it would be paying my bills today,” Reese said.
As the daughter of a Jamaican Immigrant, Reese began to tell stories through her poetry that dealt with race, intersection, gender, sexuality, slavery, and much more. These very stories were things not just about slaves and their struggles, but also about her own Jamaican family heritage.
Although she grew up in West Virginia, a mostly White-populated state, Reese never lost sight of her Jamaican roots. She was determined to begin writing poetry that dealt with African-American history, symbolism, and culture. It helped her to connect with the Black experience.
“I am tired of being beneath him. I cannot wait to escape,” Reese read from one of her poems, discussing the rapes of African-American enslaved women.
Although these topics were not always so easy to discuss, read, or write about, that did not stop her from writing about them. These were messages she believed needed to be talked about, especially ones about race and gender. She felt drawn to these topics because of the Jamaican blood running through her veins.
As a way to branch out and get away from West Virginia, the poet went to the University of Southern California where she earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing/poetry and print journalism in 1994. She then went on to graduate school and then earned her doctorate in 2000. The poet’s latest work, Following Phia, was published earlier this year and focuses on the journey of her life, both spiritually and intellectually. Reese discusses her travels, her love of being a mother, her heritage, and much more throughout the book.
“As the child of an immigrant, a Jamaican Immigrant at that, race was something I really wanted to tackle in my writing,” Reese said. She often wished she had poems that were light-hearted, and a little less serious, but she never stopped writing them because she knew the Black experience is never an easy subject. She wanted her readers to really connect with the struggles and the joys of being Black.
“I wish I had some more funny poems,” Reese said. “But a poet named Pat Parker wrote a powerful piece titled, “Where Would I Be,” and that kind of made me realize we have to have the courage to stand up for what we believe in and as a writer I think that’s very important,” she said.
Some of Reese’s poems have been published in several journals like The Oklahoma Review, Poetry Midwest, The Tulane Review, and Hand in Hand: Poets among others. She also is a former writer for The Watering Hole. The organization, founded by Candace G. Wiley, a Clemson University Professor in 2009, first started off as a small Facebook group. Since then, it has attracted dozens of members and their writers have earned numerous awards.
As a writer, there is a very slim chance your work will get published, Reese said, because someone must find it and fall in love with it. “If you are a writer, even if you just started, do not give up. Believe in yourself and in your writing, even if no one else does,” Reese said. “Continue telling those stories that people are afraid to tell because they deserve to be heard. Just like news reporters, poets tell stories,” she added.
Young writers like David Evans, a Xavier student, said that as a frequent writer himself, he couldn’t help but feel touched not only by Reese’s work, but by her sincerity as a writer.
“You can tell her writing comes from a place of realness,” Evans said. “As a writer, I felt the urge to pick my pencil up and start writing those things I’m so scared to write about because we all have a voice, even through ink and paper.”
He said he is grateful that Reese took the time to inspire another generation of writers with her story. “Writing has no limits. It is all about what you feel and sometimes even about what you have been through,” he said. Young Black writers don’t always get to see themselves in poetry, according to Biljana Obradovic, the English Department Head at Xavier. She wanted her students to have more knowledge on how to publish their work and to be exposed to different types of work. Not only did Reese come and just share her work, she gave aspiring writers an even greater message to leave with: To believe in themselves, their voice, and in their writing, “She is an amazing writer because her writing is sincere,” said Obramovic who met Reese six years ago during a teaching trip to Italy.
“Her writing speaks to the soul, and her writing speaks for a lot of minorities with similar views, similar heritage and those who have faced similar adversities. I am able to teach students that come from all over the world, and at an HBCU, I think it is so important for students in general to use their voice,” Obradovic said.
African Americans and Latinos may have their share of differing opinions or political stances, but one area where both groups readily agree is that racist hatred will not be tolerated at their school.
A recent hate message to former principal Crecia Robinson, a three-time victim of racist messages at Lankershim Elementary School in San Bernardino, raised parental concerns from parents on both sides over the potential for discrimination in the classroom.
Last week, Superintendent Dale Marsden released comments that he would diligently pursue an investigation to bring the race hater to justice.
“Although the letter didn’t directly threaten physical harm to any staff or students, the contents of the letter were disturbing, unacceptable, and sufficiently threatened the climate and culture of Lankershim Elementary School,” said Marsden in a letter to parents posted on the school website.
Over three years ago, Robinson received her first piece of race hate in her mailbox in May 2015 with a message scrawled, “We do not want a black principal here,” and that the team should not have selected her.
A few months later, the San Bernardino Unified School District Affirmative Action Department launched its investigation over a second carefully constructed hate message of cut out and pasted letters, that were copied and posted in the staff room, saying “Thanks nigger for collaborating.”
The person that wrote the hate messages was never identified.
Ms. Robinson has since relocated to another department within the district.
San Bernardino school board member Danny Tillman said he recently visited the school, and attended community meetings where the environment appeared welcoming, and all seemed well.
The last investigation was conducted at the direction of the internal school police. This time around, he said the Board is giving direction and fully dedicating resources to catch the perpetrator.
No matter the cost, he said they are prepared to bring in the best investigators.
“Our [school] police department did an investigation last time, but they don’t do investigations day in and day out,” he said. “You’ve got some folks out there that specialize in investigations. We’ll bring in the best of the best.”
If parents are concerned about the environment of the school, he said the board is also prepared to help them move their children to another school.
“It’s sad that it has to come to that, but I have to make sure that the parents feel comfortable, and at least feel like their kids are in a safe environment. It’s terrible that we can’t identify who the person is,” he said.
Linda Bardere, the spokesperson for the district, said at this time she is not able to release the agency names involved in order to protect the integrity of the investigation.
“The last investigation ended when the team was unable to identify the person responsible,” she said in an email. “The 2018 investigation that was launched on Oct. 2 will include an independent investigator, multiple law enforcement agencies and experts in hate crime investigations.”
Dr. Margaret Hill said the last investigation checked for fingerprints, reviewed surveillance, monitored the school, and was primarily concerned that staff and students were safe. Those protections were in place, but they were unsuccessful in the catch.
This time, she feels the process will be more productive because the superintendent has involved the entire community.
Everyone is watching and listening.
“It’s a small world,” she said. “You never know who might be able to talk to an outsider. When people know who’s involved, and [through] exposure to the community, someone will talk if they think they are not going to get into trouble.”
Having grown up in the segregated South, and as principal for 16 years at San Andreas High School, she’s seen just about every version of racism in existence, but she was also surprised at a recent conversation she heard.
One person commented that they couldn’t believe the racist was teaching Black kids.
“I said, you don’t want them teaching Latinos or white kids. A racist can get their point over to kids without the kids even knowing it,” Dr. Hill said.
The situation is historically familiar, and unnerving, but she said she is just as concerned about how what prejudiced teachers avoid in the classroom that also impacts the kids.
“They’ll cover MLK, Rosa Parks, but I don’t know how many have heard of Frederick Douglas, or how many have heard of Shirley Chisholm,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s not what they’re teaching. It’s what they’re not teaching.”
Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Wilson issued the following statement in response to the College Board:
“As a mother and a former educator, I was extremely disappointed to learn that Kamilah Campbell’s SAT score is being challenged after she showed marked improvement in the second exam. It is my understanding that the first test that she took was a practice round for which she had not prepared. Before taking the second test, however, she spent a significant amount of time studying and took an SAT prep course. Her hard work and diligence paid off and she increased her score by about 300 points.
“The College Board, however, is challenging her score and has suggested that Kamilah may have cheated. It claims to “celebrate when students work hard and improve their scores on the SAT,” yet instead of celebrating Kamilah, it is creating a perception that perhaps she’s done something wrong, which is preventing her from pursuing scholarship opportunities.
“I fully intend to look into this matter, but I am very concerned that this incident may send the wrong message to young people, especially those who need more incentive and support than Kamilah to push themselves to excel in school and pursue higher education.”
Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson is a fourth-term Congresswoman from Florida representing parts of Northern Miami-Dade and Southeast Broward counties. A former state legislator and school principal, she is the founder of the 5000 Role Models for Excellence Project, a mentoring program for young males at risk of dropping out of school. Congresswoman Wilson also founded and chairs the Florida Ports Caucus, a bipartisan taskforce that coordinates federal action in support of Florida’s harbors and waterways. The Florida lawmaker sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Education and the Workforce Committee.
Civics education is popular again. As our democracy itself sits on a historic precipice, people from around the country are calling for a national renewal of civics education. However, more civics education by itself is not sufficient. This new political moment requires a new civics: one in which a quest for racial equity is front and center.
When it is taught at all, civics is predominantly presented as a stale and monotonous topic, in which democracy feels irrelevant to the majority of students’ lives. Conventional civics focuses primarily on how government works and does not acknowledge the lived experiences of many of today’s students.
That approach can harm our very politics. By definition, an effective democracy requires equal representation from all segments of the population. It demands the robust political participation from all voices and communities—a goal that we can only achieve through a shared commitment to racial equity. That promise does not yet ring true in our country.
A new civics education, which centers racial equity as a cornerstone of American democracy, must explicitly address the political and social marginalization of communities that have traditionally been excluded from the formal democratic process. In doing so, we can begin to dismantle the barriers to civic identity and participation faced by so many young people in this country, particularly by young people of color. In this equity-focused civics education, students can develop an understanding of democracy’s relevance to their own lives.
Unfortunately, the word “equity” itself is now widely understood as a partisan ideal. In consequence, many education leaders and civics educators choose to approach the subject from a broad perspective, believing that a rising tide in civics will lift all boats. Without an explicit focus on educating for the promise of racial equity, however, there is a danger in perpetuating a democracy led by a privileged, often white minority, instead of a diverse, inclusive majority.
“Civics education should reflect the needs and demographics of the nation’s public school children…”
Read full article click here, may require ED Week subscription