Category Archives: education

Why, as an African, I took a Rhodes scholarship

by Guest Contributor Nanjala Nyabola, originally published at Comment Is Free

Cecil Rhodes is a name that has and will perhaps continue to inflame passions around the world. It was therefore interesting to me that some of the recurring comments following an article written by Abdulrahman El-Sayed weren’t so much based on the content of his writing, but on his status as a Rhodes scholar aspiring to work in public health policy.

As a fellow Rhodes scholar and an African woman, I frequently get asked why, in the face of Rhodes’s bloody and destructive quest to subjugate an entire generation of my people, I would accept money from a trust set up in his name. Why would I study at a university whose history is so intertwined with the legacy of colonial oppression, in a country that has never truly made peace with the atrocities perpetuated in the name of the empire? Continue reading

University of North Dakota “Fighting Sioux” Nickname Retired – At Long Last

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

This morning a rare and delightful thing happened in our mailbox: we got some good news.

After a four year legal battle, the University of North Dakota has been ordered by the North Dakota State Board of Education to retire the “Fighting Sioux” sports team nickname and logo.

This history of this battle to have the nickname removed is long and very complicated. There is a timeline here, but it only reaches up to 2001.

But here are some of the important milestones in this fight, as told to me by Wikipedia:

2000:  21 separate Native American-related programs, departments, and organizations at UND signed this statement stating that while they had originally refrained from challenging the logo because “program administrators and staff did not want to risk deterring any students from accessing their services – including students who may support the University’s continued use of the nickname/logo” they were now challenging the logo in light of the university president’s continued support of it.  They listed the following reasons (among others) for taking issue with the logo:

  • Promotes negative and derogatory stereotypes of Native people, especially Lakota, Nakota and Dakota peoples, therefore dishonoring the very people the University claims to be honoring;
  • Is hurtful and dehumanizing to the state and nations original inhabitants, thereby promoting the oppression of Native people, and placing UND at great risk for practicing and promoting state-supported, institutionalized racism. American Indian students attending UND are increasingly becoming the targets of angry, hurtful, and even frightening incidents related to the ongoing nickname/logo controversy;
  • Adversely impacts prospective American Indian students nationwide from attending UND, and causes Indian related programs personnel to confront tribal concerns regarding the recruitment of American Indian students to an increasingly hostile campus climate. The emotionally charged controversy is rendering the UND campus environment non- conducive to learning, academic and personal success, and the overall well-being of American Indian students. Some tribes have already stated that they will not send American Indian student to UND because of the controversy…
  • Commonly prevents American Indian students, staff, their families and friends from attending or participating in UND athletic events, due in large part to the offensive and negative behaviors of opposing teams fans. Both on campus and off, as long as the “Fighting Sioux” nickname is in use, it has the potential for misuse, and it is sadly ironic that supporters of keeping the nickname/logo(s) believe that it honors American Indian people – when Indian students are not able to comfortably attend or support UND athletic events.

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Conservative Havard Students Mock Ethnic and Gender Studies

by Latoya Peterson

Readers Fatima and Karla both pointed us toward an article that appeared in a student run, conservative paper run by Harvard University students. Sadly, this one doesn’t even pretend to be satirical. Patrick T. Brennan just lets the racism fly:

When the University agrees that its curriculum needs to change to address “the growing diversity of our campus” or any other imaginary concern of its students, it opens itself up to politically motivated efforts like ethnic studies. Tragically, worthwhile academic subjects like Egyptology have also been subsumed into the larger effort of emphasizing diversity and ascribing significance to the insignificant, as demonstrated by Professor Christopher P. Jones’s comments that “Egypt is a major African civilization,” and that “it is very important that Africa should be a part of what everyone thinks about the modern world.”

Egypt is a worthwhile subject not because it is an African civilization, but because it represents an incredibly sophisticated and important ancient civilization that happens to be African—let alone the fact that the Egyptians pharaohs, with the exception of 75 years of Nubian rule, were about as “African” as Ian Smith. Harvard should have an Egyptology department, or at least devote some of its resources to the study of a civilization which has had such profound influence on the world. It need not offer a course on African civilizations if there is none worthy of study. The progressive priorities of Harvard’s curriculum usually do not coincide, however, with the promotion of meaningful areas of study.

He also says:

Americans of color have undoubtedly done some things of note, but their “encounters” and “experiences” are not of paramount importance to a university education. The ethnic studies movement is motivated by an attempt to direct more attention to a topic that deserves no more attention than it already gets, and probably a good deal less. Other similarly useless departments, like Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality serve similar purposes—no one would deny that Macbeth’s wife is an interesting study in the construction of femininity, but such occasional instances of relevance do not justify an entire academic field.

The problem is that studying literature is not better than studying accounting if one is allowed, or even encouraged, to allot as much time to Latin American writers as to Latin ones. The standard work of ethics for nearly two millennia was Cicero’s De Officiis. The world has not changed enough in the past hundred years to justify its replacement with whatever pablum Michael Sandel wants to feed PBS viewers.

Quoted: Wired Magazine on How to Raise Racist Kids

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

From How to Raise Racist Kids by Jonathan Liu:

Step One: Don’t talk about race. Don’t point out skin color. Be “color blind.”

Step Two: Actually, that’s it. There is no Step Two.

Congratulations! Your children are well on their way to believing that <insert your ethnicity here> is better than everybody else.

Surprised? So were authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman when they started researching the issue of kids and race for their book NurtureShock. It turns out that a lot of our assumptions about raising our kids to appreciate diversity are entirely wrong:

It is tempting to believe that because their generation is so diverse, today’s children grow up knowing how to get along with people of every race. But numerous studies suggest that this is more of a fantasy than a fact.

Since it’s Black History Month, I thought it would be a good time to talk about race, particularly some of the startling things I found in this particular chapter of NurtureShock. What Bronson and Merryman discovered, through various studies, was that most white parents don’t ever talk to their kids about race. The attitude (at least of those who think racism is wrong) is generally that because we want our kids to be color-blind, we don’t point out skin color. We’ll say things like “everybody’s equal” but find it hard to be more specific than that. If our kids point out somebody who looks different, we shush them and tell them it’s rude to talk about it. We think that simply putting our kids in a diverse environment will teach them that diversity is natural and good.

And what are they learning? Here are a few depressing facts:

  • Only 8% of white American high-schoolers have a best friend of another race. (For blacks, it’s about 15%.)
  • The more diverse a school is, the less likely it is that kids will form cross-race friendships.
  • 75% of white parents never or almost never talk about race with their kids.
  • A child’s attitudes toward race are much harder to alter after third grade, but a lot of parents wait until then (or later) before they feel it’s “safe” to talk frankly about race.
I was fascinated by this research, considering that this is the very strategy my parents employed (mixed race family notwithstanding), and I have quite a few friends who reported the same dynamic in their families.  Read the full article here.

Thanks to Elton Joe for the tip!

Photo of Telfair Museum in Savannah from UGArdener’s Flickr.

A Broken System Part III: Fighting Words

By Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils

I’ve talked about the obvious need for a big change (Part I) and given a (slightly) smaller-scale suggestion for changing the USA’s relationship to race (Part II).  Now, in Part III, I’ll cover what I believe to be the education system’s single biggest contribution to the injustice of our society: the creation of a culture of combative communication (i.e. turning everything into a “fight”).

So, among my many annoying habits, I have one which a certain ex of mine absolutely hated.  It goes like this: I like to talk like I know what I’m talking about.

A prime example?  This blog.  I write with conviction and little hesitation.  I seldom use words that convey doubt in the veracity of my own experiences and opinions.  I sit down at my keypad and “tell it like it is.”  I state my argument, then break it all down, piece by piece, to bolster the strength of my claims and words.  That’s how I do it.

And that’s how I wrote the last paragraph.  That’s precisely how most politically-angled blog-posts are written.  It’s how articles and essays are written.  How speeches are given and delivered.

In the U.S., it’s called “good writing.”

We’re taught to do this.  To be like this.  The U.S. educations system takes pride in emphasizing “critical thought.”  And, on the surface, that’s something that is truly laudable. (*1)

However, the problem is in the delivery – and the message that is hidden within that delivery.  When we are taught to write and speak publicly, we are taught to compete.  We are taught effective techniques to “win” our “argument.”  We are taught that hedging and displaying doubt is not an “effective” means of convincing somebody of our right-ness.  If we do acknowledge a weakness, it is only to downplay it or offer up how that can be “easily rectified.”

On the flip – when we “listen” to the other side express their own “arguments” and opinions, we are taught to look for holes.  Find their weaknesses and expose them.  Find their stronger arguments and figure out how to break them down and “defend” against them.  All effective tools when trying to “win” an argument or get a good grade on a paper.

But – outside of the classroom – we think the same rules apply.  To successfully solve a problem, we think one must “win” the “argument” to get people to go along with them.  Our government is structured around constant “debates” where differing sides try to “win” people over to their side, so they can get the majority necessary to put their plans into action.

But solving problems is not a fight. When we employ competitive, fighting tactics towards “solving problems,” we end up defeating ourselves and no true solution can be reached. We just get half-assed measures that barely touch on a symptom or two, ignoring underlying causes.
Continue reading

Broken System, Part II: “Diversity Training”

by Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils


In the first part of my “Broken System” series, I addressed the need for a landmark Supreme Court decision to be able to adequately affect the inequalities inherent in our public school system. In response, the inevitable debate began: what would actually fix these problems? A lot of great ideas have been suggested. However, at this point, many of the big changes proposed would be hard to push through, even with government backing, due to the mind-set of our general society. This post offers a possible solution to significantly alter our culture’s relationship to race, which could lead to positive change within our education system.

As a teacher and youth worker, I’ve been through my fair share of “diversity trainings.” And let’s just skip to the point and say that most of them are a big waste of time. They’re either too simple and obvious for people with any sort of awareness (or personal experience), or they’re too superficial to get anybody who really needs it to take it to heart. A couple hours of “diversity training” is never going to help a youth worker relate to kids of other races or backgrounds and/or get over their own sub-conscious (or conscious) biases.

The main problem, of course, is that these “trainings” come too late. Way too late. We wait until these folks are grown adults, with decades of experiences and ways of thinking behind them, and then we pretend that we can change their minds with some magical training. It doesn’t work like that. And we know that.

So how are we supposed to change race relations in our schools (and country)? How are we supposed to address volatile situations like the one in South Philadelphia High?

Well – what if we actually got over ourselves enough to talk to youth about it all? What if we directly addressed these issues? What if we taught our kids that talking about race isn’t a bad thing, that it can actually be helpful and positive? What then? Continue reading

A Broken System, Part I: Unconstitutional

by Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils


What aspect of U.S. life wraps all the forms of oppression and inequality into one tidy little package? What system successfully keeps women, people of color, LGBT, religious minorities, people with disabilities, and people in poverty “in their place” more effectively than any other? Why, the education system, of course. And as a teacher and writer on all things unequal, it’s high-time I start specifically addressing education (in the States, and abroad). So I bring to you the first of a multi-part CVT special: A Broken System, Part I: Unconstitutional. Enjoy.

“Separate but equal” is inherently unequal. So what about “separate and unequal“?

This post is a long-delayed response to the ongoing situation at South Philadelphia High* and the U.S. public school system, in general; and it goes something like this:

We all know that the public school system in the U.S. is a problem. We all know that public schools in the richer areas of big cities, or in the suburbs, are drastically better than those in poorer areas of the country (whether rural or urban). This is not something that anybody would refute. We also know that, in many poor, urban schools, the student population is heavily skewed towards students of color. In those schools, we are also aware that race-related violence is a part of everyday life. We know that many of these schools use large portions of their federal and state money on security measures, as opposed to education.

So let’s take a look at this logically; summed up, we all know that a disproportionate number of students of color are in inferior schools with major impediments to receiving a decent education. Hmmm . . . and last time I checked, I recall reading that schools are getting more racially segregated over time. Sounds like “separate but unequal” to me. Continue reading

It Was Racist

by Guest Contributor M. Dot, originally published at Model Minority

I was reluctant about today’s class going in.

We read Mary Waters’ Ethnic Options and her book Black Identity. I reviewed Black Identity which focuses on the process of West Indian Americans coming to identify or avoiding identifying as Black.

The book contained lots of qualitative interviews with West Indian  folks talking about why they don’t like African Americans,  why they are Black, but not like Black Americans, that Black Americans  are lazy, expect handouts etc.

I had no idea how the class was going to react to this.

Fascinating stuff, though, right?

Especially when you look at the presence of African Americans vs. West  Indian Americans on four year college campuses and in graduate,  law and business school in the Northeast.

The book is awesome in how it gets at how first generation verses second  generation West Indian immigrants deal with assimilation, with proving  that they are not Black and also with identifying as Black. The most  fascinating part for me was learning that women who worked as teachers  and nurses in Jamaica, came to the Brooklyn, worked as teacher and  nurses yet, class wise their lives were not the same.  The material difference is the on their salary in Jamaica, they were middle class,  so they could afford nannies and house keepers, and their housing was more  spacious and safer. In the US, housing was more expensive, there was more  opportunity for jobs and education for their children but the housing dollar  didn’t go very far.

Which brings me to my classmate.

Jamaica’s system is based on the British system*, which means that children are tested and tracked at a very young age. They either go into vocational track or academic track.

Apparently Germany and much of Europe is the same way.

My Black classmate said, that he agrees with this.

I responded saying that standardized tests are measures of familial wealth, not student aptitude. And the aptitude of a four year old cannot be measured because they have only been on the earth 48 months. He responded saying  that the British system is better because it separates the students early  and that there are some who shouldn’t be in school and college.

I said that this was racist. We do not know what children are capable of at 4.

They responded saying that it wasn’t racist.

I said, it was both racist AND classist because of the disparate  impact that the same policy has on Black boys in the US. Ann Fergusons’ Bad Boys talks about this at length, if you want to read more about it. It’s an awesome study on a public elementary school in Berkeley, and it hones in on the ways in which school policy and teacher subjectivity  impact how Black boys are disproportionately disciplined and placed in special ed classes.

I asked him how he reconciled his approval of early testing and prediction with the fact that standardized tests measure familial wealth not student aptitude.

He responded saying “Yeah, tests are culturally biased but math isn’t.”

My eyes rolled. That did NOT refute nor address my argument. Continue reading