Tomorrow in my class, we’ll spend part of the time discussing the irony of people who complain that protesters stopping traffic today are “in the way” and should “protest somewhere I don’t have to be bothered with it”. Especially on a day which honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of our country’s most itinerant irritants.
But what if you were bothered by “it”? What if “it” was such an important part of American life that you needed to stop traffic so people would pay attention? Would Dr. King have stopped traffic to call attention to “it”?
If “it” is the same cause as Dr. King’s, then the answer is yes, whether you agree or not.
What may be a welcomed day away from work for some has a completely different meaning for others. Dr. King and his message have regularly been appropriated and distorted. It is also important to understand, that just as protesters today are a “bothersome nuisance” to many Americans, so was Dr. King and his message shortly before he was murdered. The apathy and disdain shown – or not shown – for protesters who stop traffic today is similar to that which punctuated Dr. King’s time. For most protesters, the fundamental respect for Black lives is an issue important enough to stop traffic for a few hours to draw attention. The pessimist in me assumes that most Americans don’t agree with either premise: 1) the fundamental respect for Black lives nor 2) that it is more important than traffic. As I have (rhetorically) questioned of my students, “If most Americans were morally and ethically opposed to the chattel enslavement of Black people, then how could it have continued unabated for a total of almost 300 years on this soil?” I ask the same about general American support for the idea that Black lives do matter.
The media coverage I’ve seen today, I think, sums up the general American spirit: “Sure ‘Black lives matter’, but I need to drive my car on this road. Right now. That’s definitely more important.” I’m betting that 200 years ago in 1815, most Americans would have responded in a similar fashion about enslaving Black lives.
Maybe the message tomorrow shouldn’t be “irony” after all. Maybe it’s “continuity”.
It’s always interesting to watch my friends and acquaintances who are racist and/or White supremacists (and I do have friends who are one or both), try to discuss the disproportionate rates of crime, poverty, and education amongst Black Americans, without resorting to racist and White supremacist notions of Blackness. They will tie themselves in knots trying to explain, for example, why the rate of Black incarceration has skyrocketed since 1970, while the rate of White incarceration has stayed about the same, without declaring that there is something inherently wrong with Black people that makes them criminals. Or more makes them susceptible to criminal enterprise. Or more likely to be caught. Or more likely to commit crimes police are looking for. You know… the idea that Black people are just more violent and dangerous. And that it’s their skin color that makes them that way. Except… but… it’s social, and not genetic. Even though these level of incarceration and crime only happen amongst Black people. And racism doesn’t actually exist.
Ouch. I’m here for y’all, though. I don’t get tired of explaining things over and over again, because it’s what I do by choice and by profession. When you’re ready to understand what systemic and systematic racism are, I got you. I’ll help you out.
Special shoutout to those of you who think I’m only talking about White people. I got y’all too.
The Detroit Free Press posted an excellent piece on why Detroit declared bankruptcy. It’s long as hell but well-written, well-researched, and as much as anyone can, tells in simple terms what is a complex set of issues. No one person or entity is wholly exonerated or held wholly responsible, but all are analyzed for their roles in helping to fight against and/or causing Detroit’s downfall. . Some unions are taken to task – and as a pro-union guy, I’m sensitive to those things – but not unfairly so. Ultimately, this is an excellent example of public scholarship, and the type of research I do.
(And I like how they try to end once and for all the scapegoating of Coleman Young for Detroit’s decline!)
I’m interested to know what you all think:
If you haven’t seen it yet, here is the news story about 7-year-old Tiana Parker. She’s a former student at Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Deborah Brown Community School, whose father ultimately pulled her out after being repeatedly told by the school to change his daughter’s hairstyle. Tiana’s dreadlocked hair was in violation of the school’s dress code which clearly states, “Hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” (see page 13).
That’s the basic story, but this goes so much deeper.
This isn’t a simply a question of where Tiana Parker should go to school; thankfully she’s got the privilege of having an involved parent who has taken her out of DBCS. This debacle actually invokes larger questions of what we’re teaching children about their ethnicity and how to combat respectability politics.
I’ve worked directly and intimately with Common Core standards in a large urban school district. My problem with them isn’t that they exist, it’s how assessment occurs, and determining what test scores actually tell us.
They’re all attached at the hip though.
Broad curriculum standards lend themselves to broad, standardized testing measures. Standardizing tests means a lot of students are going to take them. That requires a whole lot of grading. And when a whole lot of tests need to be graded, they’re going to end up being sit-down-and-fill-in-these-bubbles-for-a-long-time affairs that can be placed into machines for assessment. Does this test a student’s love of learning? Their desire to be a lifelong learner? Their love of reading? And don’t we want those things to be a part of a “quality education” for our children?
Broad, standardized testing measures also introduce a whole lot of variables into play that might not have been considered before. For example, a student’s zip code, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (and I know “zip code” and “socioeconomic status” can be a bit redundant) can be used to predict their scores on standardized tests with alarming accuracy. So what happens when we use these tests as the primary determining factor for whether students are learning within schools? What are we really finding out when we analyze these results on a large scale?
Common Core standards sound like a great idea, and may seem like they’re a way to improve education, but figuring out how to assess educational outcomes using them is really difficult, complex, and ultimately may not tell us what we think it’s telling us.