The Quest to Achieve the American Dream
Education is the constant distinguisher between white and black Americans in the quest to achieve the “American Dream”. Educational disparity is defined as the pervasive difference in the academic achievement of the races. African Americans have achieved at lower rates than their white counterparts for decades. According to The Journal of Blacks in Education, white Americans graduate at a rate that is 24.7 % higher than that of African Americans. In order to narrow this gap, we must first understand its cause. The easy and most obvious answer is a disparity in funding, but that difference does not explain every part of the gap. Is it the quality of the teachers? Does African American culture contributes to the achievement gap by devaluing education? How do we narrow the gap if it is created by any or all of these factors?
In the comments on 2017-2018 H.Res.876 – a bill supporting the goal of increasing public school teacher pay and public education funding, it states, “despite reduced salaries, teachers’ out-of-pocket costs to cover necessary classroom materials and instructional supplies average $485 annually, with many teachers spending far more.” This statement points out concerning factors. If teachers are paying that much for things that every classroom needs, that indicates that many students, even in more well to do neighborhoods, don’t have basic supplies needed to learn. What about those children whose families can’t afford even the supplies the children are supposed to bring. The teachers end up paying for classroom supplies, and individual student’s pens, papers,and journals. It is not possible for a teacher to do that for 90% of the class. Students cannot learn without pencils, paper, books and other supplies.
Lack of money for basic student and classroom needs is just one problem that is created by the fact that schools must survive on the money they get from local rather than national taxes. Money is a problem in every aspect of many schools. Buildings need to be renovated. Some public school buildings lack air condition, heat and safe drinking water. School districts are forced to spend limited resources on upgrades rather than after school programs to engage students and counselors to help with the problems inherent in living in poverty. When there is no money to be put into schools, the chances of poorer students getting what they need to succeed are slim to none. This results in a cycle of poverty. Poor blacks go to schools that cannot educate them well enough to get them out of poverty.
Meanwhile there are schools with plenty money, often predominately white, that don’t face any of these problems. Schools that lack a significant minority population often find themselves as the beneficiaries of their socioeconomic standing. Teachers are happy to work extra hours for the extra pay. Parents donate generously to the PTA which is then able to fund full time music teachers or librarians. A luxury unheard of in poorer schools. These buildings pass yearly inspections and classrooms have more than enough supplies. Which environment is built to succeed? This is a small part of what creates a gap in success between students of color and white students.
Many Black students do not engage in their own education. Why? Nationally, people of color represent 40.0% of the student population in public schools, whereas only 17.0% of public schools teachers are people of color (Achinstein 71). This demographic poses a problem for many Black students. They find themselves either unable to relate to the teacher, and losing the interest to continue in a curriculum, that like everything else, seems to be design by and for white people. In addition to this, many Black kids may find themselves in a cultural vacuum: a space where they may define the majority, yet fail to form the plurality.
From a personal perspective, coming to class everyday and learning history from a white man about his white past, especially as a Black women, doesn’t make me interested in learning. I found (and still find) it hard to see the benefit in only learning about someone else’s history. It turns Black students off when the teacher doesn’t understand their culture, their language or their lives. Most of my teachers didn’t understand the “black code” or the what was inappropriate to say to an African American. Without some level of understanding, the teacher can’t relate to his or her students. It is important to every student to feel the teacher cares about you and your future. Students need to trust that the teachers really have their best interest in mind. However, how can a teacher truly care if they can never understand? How can one create a sense of sympathy without sincere empathy? Creating a learning environment where students feel comfortable is beneficial to their success, because the more comfortable you feel asking questions and truly engaging in class, the more you will get out of it.
The Black community also perpetuates the gap. Dr. Evelyn Granville stated that “she found it upsetting that black students today are criticized for trying to be White if they work hard in school.” Whether it was my light skin or complexion or not, I received that comment often. All students are vulnerable to peer pressure and these comments make it more difficult for students to put in the extra effort needed to succeed in school .Unfortunately many kids don’t look at success in academics as something that “makes you black”. This creates a dilemma for many kids: succeed in school and betray my culture, or disrespect learning and be accepted by the culture ? Many students of color push academics to the side of their lives. They have to act like they don’t care in order to maintain their image.
Education doesn’t need to be racial issue. Scholastic achievement doesn’t have to be linked to popularity or acceptance in the culture. It can be intertwined into the black community as much as anything else. This will only happen when education sneaks its way into more households. This is not to say that many black families don’t grow up with strict values and rules on education. This is to say that those should not make you less black.
In addition, it is hard to remain focused on school when your immediate reality demands attention. Many Black students find themselves living near or below poverty level, which creates a disdain for education. After all, why pass a test when you’re facing eviction? Families already in poverty don’t have time to support their kids, because they are at work and teachers don’t have the means or time to stay after school. Homework becomes failed assignments and failed assignments becomes, “why try?” This is the last key point in African Americans educational gap.
In conclusion a lack of money, too few teachers of color, and a disconnected curriculum all participate in a educational system where only white children win. When only white children win, it leads to poverty in the the black community. Poverty, a lack of hope and the lack of time for parental support, lead to perpetuation of the academic achievement gap. The Black community would benefit from the closure of the educational gap in America. Children of color would graduate and academically achieve at higher rates, continue education after high school, and ultimentaly get better jobs. Education leads to monetary success and power, it is important as a minority to hold that power, to understand and critically look at all the oppressive systems America has installed. Although factors that contribute to the educational gap have been mentioned there are many more and much to be done to close it. It’s hard to determine where to start, because the problem increases with each generation. Although continuing to look into the problem will help create a better understanding and ultimately get society closer to fixing the problem. Education gap.