Don’t Talk To Me About The Good Old Days

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose, Race6 Comments

Violent techniques used on peaceful protesters in 1963. (Look how good it was back then.)

As recently as last month, I saw someone tweet that cops always made their whole city feel safe, and #OccupyWallStreet inspired a distrust of the executive branch unlike any other. It’s probably not the first time a Black person had to say, “I told you so.” It’s also not the first time a Black person had to say, “Are you serious?” to someone, however well intentioned, riding on the surfboard of their privilege. It’s amazing that, even after seeing a history of the boys in blue stomping horses over Negroes, pushing them off the sidewalk when White people walked across, and turning on hoses against children of color, people can still claim everyone in their city has never felt intimidated by law enforcement. Some say people of color commit the most crimes, have lower academic achievement, and generally have nothing better to do so getting arrested happens to the idle.

As long as it fits into our mold of what we believe America stands for, they make it work. In their minds, not in real life.

The same thing happens in current education discussions. It seems like we’ve reached a point where every “solution” involves Finland, a schoolhouse, and a vision of these good old days. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I don’t believe the people corporatizing the education system are completely at fault for what’s happening in education. Actually, they’re just continuing the not-so-secret tradition of trapping our kids into their socio-economic castes. The only reason why so many people have started to pay attention to this is because the idea of social mobility and prosperity has come to a standstill.

An education certainly helps, but, if you go by the research, even that’s no guarantee. The school-to-prison pipeline continues to undermine federal efforts like Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. People still try to dilute our most disillusioned kids’ anger about their own experiences with the isms with a “I went through that, too! … kinda …” They were barely learning about their own culture and history as is before this Arizona fiasco. If the student of color can make it out of the 12-14 years of “normative” (read: dominant culture) education and make it to college, governors and other pundits have begun the offensive against people realizing their true history here.

In some pockets, the meme that the good old days were better for children of color rings true. For one, there were more Black teachers (men AND women), and because of this, our kids got the underground education they so desperately sought. Not having a curriculum gave some teachers the ability to get into pride for their own culture while still giving them the tools to succeed in a world that wasn’t inherently theirs. Because of these teachers (oh to be one of them!), administrations across many districts started to fire and replace these types of rebel teachers in favor of teachers who taught the normal material with no real connection.

Honestly, many people of color get that this education is not really for them. Funding issues aside, Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children implies how children of color prefer learning how the “master’s tools” work so they can succeed in the dominant world while still retaining the parts of themselves. Little do they know that so few of us actually have the capacity to teach them in that vein. With less time and more high-stakes, sticking to one “viable, normalized curriculum” inevitably means the dwindling of a chance at any in-depth conversation about race in K-12 where it’s so desperately needed.

But alas, when people make arguments against edu-deformers about the status quo of the day by highlighting times when a Black man like me would get thrown out of their high-brow institution, I have a hard time not tuning them out. It’s easy to relegate the discussion of race to euphemisms like “poor kids” and “kids in need” and only in a tight corner as an after-thought to listing the latest noisemaker.

Gates this, Duncan that, Obama this. Yes, yes, all true. But if you’re still teaching children about our country’s history as a history unexaminble, you’re complicit in the edu-deform as well.

Jose, who keeps it way real before Black History Month …

Comments 6

  1. How could people forget about the anti-war protest that occurred during the Viet Nam War? The law beat down many a protester and it was televised. People need to recognize that if you stand up and speak out on an issue it is an invitation for the law to respond in their usual violent manner.

    At this point in time, I am working on developing my new career path. I have had it with the never ending and minimal result style educational policies that seem to keep cropping up after every report reveals the same outcome. I just read the latest one and Black and Brown students are once again lagging behind according to the scores. The crisis in education is not gong to be solved by the same people who create the conditions for it to thrive. I would love to see some co-operative educational situations develop in our communities. We need to move ourselves out of the situation because we are really not getting the results that I believe exist in our children.

    I know you’re right about the benefits of having teachers from our culture. It does make a major difference in a classroom. My first six teachers were all from my neighborhood and they were from my culture. It does make a difference and it is one that I sincerely believe our children deserve as well as truly need.

  2. As I often do with your blogs, I’m reading this one over and over. This time, though, it’s more than just getting the most I can out of it. It’s trying to figure out why it unsettles me so when I basically agree with all of it, and am unsurprised by any of it. Maybe it’s a sense of discomfort that, whatever I might think personally, I’m still coming at this out of privilege (both white and male) and as an ally. Maybe, too, it’s building frustration at how we seem to be spinning our wheels and sliding backwards down hill despite – and sometimes because of – those good intentions that do exist. Maybe it’s connected to the last paroxysms of those parts of our society that are persistently racist fighting what they believe (and I pray is true) to be an inevitable post-racial society, or maybe it’s how non-post-racial we are. At this rate, this one will continue to haunt me for years.
    And maybe that’s in itself a good thing.

  3. Very good points, and reposted to my Facebook. I don’t know whether it’s because I was political at a young age, came of age in the late 60s/early 70s, or whether it was because I grew up working class in a small city where policing was biased against kids and anyone who wasn’t affluent, but I sure would not be someone who viewed cop presence as making things safe (and I’m a now solidly privileged white middle-aged woman). Either that or I knew about police corruption at a young age.

    I don’t know. Maybe the experience of growing up the daughter of a teacher who taught in one of my town’s poorest schools (still all white, Oregon is very whitebread still and was more so when I was a kid) and hearing about how poverty affected young students shaped my own attitudes. I had them before I became political. I don’t know why, my parents were law-abiding and all that, but I also inherited a huge chunk of “don’t trust a cop,” and it was certainly a common attitude amongst all my white working class friends in high school.

    Race is a huge factor, no doubt about it and anyone who denies the existence of racism is blind. I don’t have many African-American students where I teach, but I do have a lot of Latino kids (proportionately, it’s a small school). The bias against them is huge and it makes me angry on a regular basis. My kids get caught in a triple bind, or actually quadruple bind–poor, Latino, ELL, and sped. The ELL class is always scheduled against the leadership class which makes me angry because I’ve had several girls in my group that I desperately want in leadership–they are good leaders and they need that extra boost of recognition. A subtle thing but racist nonetheless.

    I do think you’re on to something, but it’s more than the lack of Black teachers to show the way for Black kids. I think it’s a war on family structures and societal/cultural structures for everyone under a certain level of income, which affects a disproportionate number of people of color. One thing I have noticed over the years in my current city is that there has been a strong working class family structure amongst Black families, and it’s noticeable when you encounter someone from an old Black Portland family. Usually they’re from strong religious families but not always, and the kids have been carefully protected and guarded and cultivated to do well. My son attended a very multicultural tech high school which was gutted by the district under the name of No Child Left Behind–but now I have to wonder if it wasn’t because that school was a distinct channel upward for the African-American, Latino and Asian families who had a strong multi-generational heritage in that school.

  4. “Unlike many of my contemporaries, I don’t believe the people corporatizing the education system are completely at fault for what’s happening in education.”
    – I agree; but please don’t put a schoolhouse inside a schoolhouse already in use.
    I believe Charter schools have every right to exist, market themselves and blow away the competition; if Charter = Education Utopia, then part of the business model should be to: find real estate, pay rent and boot strap like the rest of the entrepreneurs in New York.
    When I express this sentiment to everyone who’s smarter than me, they smile – laugh actually – and tell me there’s no real estate available. The “lack of real estate” excuse is part of the hypnotic trance we all find so mesmerizing…
    If indeed schools “should” be run like businesses then why are Charter Operators freeloading? Is that part of putting together a business plan?

  5. Like Bill Ivey I find myself reading this over and over again in hopes of discovering that which makes me question the realities of education today. The sentence that continues to grab me is, “Not having a curriculum gave some teachers the ability to get into pride for their own culture while still giving them the tools to succeed in a world that wasn’t inherently theirs.” That rings loud with my own experience as a classroom teacher for more than a decade, as I stepped into even more stringent reform at the onset of NCLBA. I often times had surprise visits from administration during my high school English courses, specifically when I taught Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and excerpts from Servantes “Don Quixote de la Mancha.” It was common practice for me to entice students with the realities of a system and how that system can suffocate individuals; it’s part of my fibre initiated from years of studying literature and finally given the opportunity to think independently. Never did I consider my pontifications with my students would be squashed, how naive. M purpose to foster a voice within each of my students fell on deft ears. I was given a warning for my teachings…
    Despite the curriculum’s grandiose ideas to further culture within the system, it reflected a monotone arena of mainstream thought coupled with the lack of time for students to actually talk! Share ideas! And debate the content that was delivered to them. The skills needed to communicate within a forum were watered down to the point of non-existent. Children sit complacently in their classrooms waiting for teachers to deliver their meal for the day. A painful reality for me to accept and I struggled with my position as a public school teacher forced to sacrifice my ethics for the sake of the system.
    The day I walked away from it all, was the day my son was born. I made a statement that I will be staying home to raise my child. While I do not regret my decision, I think often of the children who are missing opportunities to become self reliant upon their own thoughts and decisions. I never told anyone how I really felt, until now.

  6. Post

    The comments here? Substantive. Thanks.

    I think this sums up a ton: “Despite the curriculum’s grandiose ideas to further culture within the system, it reflected a monotone arena of mainstream thought coupled with the lack of time for students to actually talk!” (Thanks, Sabrina.)

    Also, Mary, we do agree lots. I hear all of that and then some. Living in the Mecca of Charter Schools (Harlem), I see it far too often. Architectural bias exists.

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