Category Archives: education

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

A Mini-Interview with Rose Shuman, Founder of Question Box

by Latoya Peterson

While at SXSW, I made sure to attend quite a few panels.

One of the more intriguing panels was titled Appfrica: How Web Applications Are Helping Emerging Markets Grow. (That link also leads to the podcast.) While all the panelists were engaging and informative, one of the speakers stood out – Rose Shuman. After explaining that she was not a web developer, she related tales of working in various areas around the globe and realizing that the ideas formulated in think tanks do not necessarily translate into solutions that every day people can handle. Her latest project, Question Box, seeks to bridge the communications barriers that prevent people from harassing the power of the internet.

As explained on the website:

Question Boxes leap over illiteracy, computer illiteracy, lack of networks, and language barriers.

They provide immediate, relevant information to people using their preferred mode of communication: speaking and listening.

As such, Question Boxes combine the ease of using mobile phones with the enormous information and communication power of the Internet.

Below is a quick interview with Rose Shuman, the Founder of Open Mind and the idea behind Question Box on technology, developing communities, and information.

Why did you start Question Box?

I had worked with various development agencies for 12 years. I’ve always been interested in tools, providing ways for people to use your tools in ways you never imagined because you aren’t those people. At the same time, I became interested in mobile phones and how they exploded in different parts of the world. The internet is not popping in the developed world for various reasons – the low literacy rates in adults and beyond that, language barriers. Question Box was designed for people who are used to phones, placing a heavy emphasis on comfort of users.

How do people use Question Box?

In India [the location of the pilot program], it looks like free standing metal box with push buttons. [If you press the button,] it speed dials to an operator who speaks in your local language – [in the area of the pilot] Marathi – and talk to someone who speaks your language. You tell them what you need, they look it up, translate it and convey it back.

Each box has a core user group of several hundred people. It will expand to more when we start to market the service. We are also designing pictographics to go with the box to help assist with the reading barriers – as well as other service graphics like the weather, or frequently asked questions.

In all of your work, what has been your largest takeaway in terms of the challenges with developing technology like this?

If you’re designing a technology for people to use, you have to know who those people are and how they behave. It’s really easy to get infatuated with a tech solution without understanding how people will actually use it. It may be cool, but will it be useful?


What do you hope to accomplish?

The huge scale mission is to make information available for everyone in the way we want to get it. To take the pilot running in India and expand it out to the whole country. [And Question Box] is a way for organizations to reach out and communicate with our user base, who are hard to reach populations.

You [also] have these enclave of populations that are being left behind in American society. There may be a place for Question Box in community centers and immigration centers. The basic question still remains: How do you get information to people you are trying to reach?

Boxed In: the UC system’s ethnicity representation

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

When I went to college at the University of Utah, there was no box for me to check. There was no “Middle Eastern” and there was definitely no “bi- or multi-racial.” I’d like to think that the U of U has since updated their ethnicity data, but I can’t be sure.

When I applied to graduate school, I practically wet my pants when I saw “Middle Eastern” on the online application. I was overjoyed to think that my regional ethnicity was included. I happily checked “Middle Eastern”, ignoring the line for “Other,” where I could have specified “bi-racial.”

Currently, if you fill out an application on the Oregon State University’s website, there is a drop-down box of ethnicities, with an almost exhaustive list. They divided “Middle Eastern” and “North African” to make sure all ethnicities within these groups were covered, and the lists were fairly inclusive. Hazaras, Maronites, Baluchis, and other under-represented Middle Easterners were under “Middle Eastern.”

However, there is still no option for multi- or bi-racial.

Last March, several Middle Eastern UCLA student groups began a lobby to expand the University of California application ethnicity check boxes to include ethnicities such as Arab, Persian, Afghan, etc. It’s mind-boggling that the UC system would still not have up-to-date ethnicity representation on its applications, especially since California has high concentrations of West Asian diasporas in California (they don’t call it “Tehrangeles” for nothing).

The University of California system updated its ethnicity check boxes in 2007, when the Asian Pacific American Coalition (APAC) started the “Count Me In!” campaign, intended to break down the different groups pushed together under the category “Asian/Pacific Islander.” The campaign successfully put 23 new ethnicities on the application, including Samoan, Pakistani, and Hmong, and aims to improve census and research data on these specific groups’ college attendance patterns, financial aid packages, and student representation.

The first thing I thought when I read about the previous campaign was, “Lots of West Asian ethnicities are technically Asian because regionally they are on Asian continent. Why weren’t any of them included in this campaign?” Erin Pangilinan, a member of the APC  campaign, stated that the campaign’s ethnicity representations were based off California Assembly Bill 295 (which included a call for “state entities that currently collect demographic data regarding the ancestry or ethnic origin of Californians to also make a separate category and tabulation for specified Asian and Chamorro, Indonesian, Malaysian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, Thai, and Tongan”) and the 2000 U.S. Census, which stated that the aforementioned specific ethnicities have the largest populations in the United States. She stated that the campaign “was not intended to be exclusive, instead it is starting point to have a more inclusive and comprehensive admissions policy.”

The second issue that arose was that many of the “ethnicities” on the list were not actually ethnicities, but nationalities (Pakistani, Taiwanese, etc). Pangilinan explained that the campaign focused on ethnicities provided by the Census, which brings up more questions about ethnic representation in governmental processes. Constructing nationalities as synonymous with ethnicities creates troubling deficiencies in ethnic representation within nations, erringly homogenizing the ethnic populace.

This led me to question the inclusivity and strategy of the current campaign. I spoke with Faisal Attrache from UCLA’s United Arab Society. He said that the campaign is not aiming for a “Middle Eastern” designation: “We are attempting to gain representation of Middle Eastern minorities, but we do not want it to be under the heading of ‘Middle Eastern’ for many reasons.  It is a term with an unclear meaning and sometimes excludes several groups that we would like to include in the campaign. Ideally, we would like all the categories to standalone and not be grouped under ‘Middle Eastern’ or ‘Near Eastern’, because after all, the region we represent stretches from Central Asia to Western Africa.”

The campaign’s aim at a designation other than “Middle Eastern” is a relief: “Middle Eastern” is a term that’s left over from the colonial period, and is fairly misleading ethnically. “West Asian” includes much of the Middle East, including Arabs, but leaves out North Africa, a region which is heavily ethnically Arab. But I do have a fair skepticism at the stand-alone designations: if every other group has overarching categories, these ethnicities will most likely have one, too.

While I’m overjoyed that we (meaning underrepresented West Asian groups) might finally be included on the applications, I still worry about all those who aren’t being represented, and won’t be unless they lobby (or someone lobbies for them). Attrache mentioned that student groups at UCLA representing these ethnicities coordinate the campaign, and so Arab, Persian, Afghan, Armenian, and Assyrian students will be included. But no conclusive list has been agreed upon at this time, and so it’s difficult to say whether ethnicities that don’t have a large student presence on campus will be represented accurately or at all, especially if they are a significant minority in their home region. Because of the numerous and varied ethnicities in these regions, it’s almost certain that someone will get left out, which feels wrong in the current “We’re here, we’re [insert ethnicity], get used to us!” climate.

There’s also the fact that the box system itself is flawed, not just because of any possible lacks in representation, but because it historically leaves out bi- and multi-racial individuals. While the bi- or multi-racial designation could appear with a line for clarification, universities that use a drop-down box format have no way of collecting data about bi- or multi-racial students because the students cannot specify their racial makeup.

A blank line would illustrate better how people define themselves through their ethnicities and would be less likely to pigeonhole respondents into a group they don’t feel they identify with. It would also be welcoming for bi- or multi-racial students (much better than check all that apply).

The difficult logistics aside, this is an important campaign, just like it was two years ago. Not only will it give university statisticians and financial aid operators a better idea of the population indicators, but it can help the community at large gauge where it is on the local university scale in terms of representation, participation, and inclusion. It may also lead to an overall overhaul of the ethnicity system, recognizing differences among ethnicities under other categories previously bunched together (“Hispanic”, anyone?) and inaccurately represented.

NCLR Report Finds Latino Students are “Missing Out”

by Latoya Peterson

The National Council of La Raza has released a new report called “Missing Out: Latino Students in America’s Schools.”

The intro explains:

The rapid growth of the Latino student population has not been reflected in a corresponding improvement in their educational outcomes. The collection of statistics that follows suggests that Latino students are missing out on many educational opportunities and are not being effectively served by the current U.S. education system. One of the country’s most significant challenges in the coming years will be to improve the American educational system such that it adequately meets the needs of all children.

Moreover, a particularly urgent task is to ensure that our nation’s public schools and universities improve their capacity to adequately serve Latino students and ELLs [English language learners], given that this population will constitute nearly one-third (30%) of our total adult population by 2050. These statistics provide a summary of the key data on Latino students, from prekindergarten through postsecondary school. Understanding who these students are is critical to creating policies and programs that effectively address their unique position in America’s schools.

Some findings from the study:

  • There is a greater likelihood that White and Black three- to five-year-olds will be enrolled in center-based preschool education than their Hispanic counterparts, especially those living in poverty. During the 2005–2006 school year, 60% of White children and 62% of Black children participated in such programs, while only 50% of Hispanic children participated (see Figure 3). Furthermore, among Hispanic children ages three to five living in poverty, fewer than 36% were enrolled in early childhood care and education programs. In contrast, 45% of White and 65% of Black children of the same age group living below the federal poverty threshold* were enrolled in these programs.
  • Hispanics and Blacks are significantly less likely to complete high school than their White peers. Although the 2005 high school graduation rate for White students was 78%, only 58% of Hispanic students and 55% of Black students who entered ninth grade completed the twelfth grade and graduated with a regular high school diploma.
  • Latino and Black students are more likely to attend schools that serve a large concentration of low-income students. Among elementary and secondary school students during the 2005–2006 school year, 34% of Hispanic and 32% of Black students were enrolled in schools with the highest measure of poverty, compared to 4% of White and 10% of Asian/Pacific Islander students. Moreover, there is a strong relationship between poor and minority student populations. Hispanic (46%) and Black (44%) students composed the vast majority of students attending school in high-poverty urban areas, while fewer than 10% of their White peers attended such schools (see Figure 5*).
  • Hispanics and Blacks constitute only a small proportion of undergraduate students in the U.S. Latinos and Blacks compose a large percentage of the college-age population, at 17.4% and 14.1%, respectively. However, only 10.8% of all 2005 undergraduate students were Hispanic and only 12.7% were Black, while 65.7% of undergraduates were White (see Figure 6).

Go here to download the full report.