I receive several education-related newsletters and emails from a cross-section of sources ranging from relatively conservative to extremely left-wing. I have noticed with some concern that a term being bandied about by the more progressive sources seems to be more and more focused on by teachers and administrators as the latest source of “racism” and “unfairness” within our public-school systems.
Let’s look at the premise of what these advocates call “equity” in education. From everything I can gather, we are looking at nothing more than a comparison of funding, teacher experience, and quality of facilities between middle-income and low-income demographic areas.
It seems that the position of those advocating for “equity” between schools posits that the differences between the family incomes of one group and another group of students are the reason why different schools are funded, staffed, and/or built differently. The bottom line appears to suggest that there is a racial motivation to keep the “underprivileged” in an inferior position.
Nowhere in their arguments do advocates for this “equity” argument begin to consider other factors, unrelated to demographics, income, or race, that might be responsible for the differences in results achieved by students.
To me, equity appears to be another attempt by the left to excuse all the other factors that determine educational success while conjuring up another “conspiracy” by the “alt-right”, “conservatives”, or “racists” to keep the poor poor and without hope for a brighter future.
I grew up in an elementary school that had a grand total of less than six black or Hispanic children attending. In fact, the second school I attended was closer to the inner city and still only had a few dozen black or Hispanic kids attending (this was between 1954-60). The minority students sat in the same chairs at the same desks in the same classrooms with the same teachers as I had. They were happy kids who played with everyone and worked on projects with everyone.
Meanwhile, the buildings were 30-40 years old, had peeling paint, old desks, sporadically malfunctioning heat, no air conditioning (other than windows being opened when it got too hot), and asbestos-wrapped pipes in almost every room.
The primary difference between the schools I attended and those of today are the amount of time spent making excuses for poor performance and promoting children who did not deserve to be promoted (so-called social-promotion which gained popularity in the 60s and 70s when discipline became passe).
Looking at history is often instructive whether talking about political ideologies or educational policies. In the 50s and 60s, there was a sense of order, a far clearer definition of discipline and teacher authority, and a clearer understanding among the student body that we were in school to learn, not socialize or pass the time without concern for performance.
On the other hand, today’s schools are characterized by a lack of discipline in the classroom (not so much the teacher’s fault as political correctness run amok), social promotions (either through concern for fragile egos in the children or fear of reprisal from unrealistic parents), and far too much social engineering rather than focusing on academic subjects that would produce students who understood how to think.
Given the fact that every one of the minority students who were in my class through all six grades of elementary school remained in the same class with the rest of us and graduated to junior high school at the same time as the rest of us – on schedule and with acceptable grades – it is hard to see how one could suggest that, despite the pre-Civil Rights Act nature of the times, that there was any concern over “equity” in the education we all received. As I progressed through junior and senior high schools, the number of minority students reached a peak in the last few years to about fifty percent of the school population (10th through 12th grades were in an all-male high school in Baltimore City). Even with the increase, the differences in performance levels between the races were minimal at best.
What is really at work in today’s schools that was not present back then? I believe it can be boiled down to the attitude of the leadership running the schools and municipalities, the interference in the public schools by politically correct bureaucracies at the state and federal level, resulting in a breakdown of purpose and discipline. Some of this is the fault of the bureaucracies and legislative mandates. Some is due to what I believe to be the heart of the problem.
The heart of the problem is really the deterioration of the family structure as well as the deterioration of the faith traditions of the past, and the deterioration of authority and discipline. We began every day with a Bible reading (until 1964 when the Murray decision took faith out of public schools), typically from the Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Pledge to the Flag. It set the tone for the day, every day. We respected our teachers without knowing if they deserved respect or not. They were teachers…that was enough. If we got in trouble at school, our parents were notified, and we were disciplined a second time when we got home. We knew what was expected of us and we feared the results of coming up short.
Teachers focused on the subject at hand. They did not spend much of their time doing anything other than teaching. If you acted up in class, the teacher handled it in a variety of ways – none of which involved physical contact – that were effective and required little interruption to their teaching. Most of their solutions would probably be prohibited in today’s schools as being demeaning or ego-crushing, but they worked.
What is missing today is not that much about equity between school facilities or resources or racism, it is the breakdown of the family that should prepare students for school during their pre-school years so that they know what is expected of them and know that there are few excuses for failure other than lack of effort. Discipline is not a dirty word. Loving one’s child often requires more than words. Being your child’s best friend is not a parent’s purpose and should not be their goal. Parents should be leaders and examples. But when half of the parent team is absent in many minority homes as they are these days, one must expect a less than optimal result in school performance as well.
When teachers are taught to make excuses, and ignore a lack of effort in a student simply because he/she comes from a minority group, what can we expect. Expectations are needed for children to know where the limits are regardless of ethnic background. If they do not get it at home, the school inherits the problem. But the schools just exacerbate that problem by failing to recognize the underlying problem.
Reducing discipline and making excuses does not make their job easier. Ignoring the problem is how we wind up crying the blues about the “classroom to prison pipeline”. Failures within the family structure and failures in the disciplinary expectation of the schools have resulted in the problem, not “equity” between races. Taking God and faith out of our schools hasn’t helped either!