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Monday, May 27, 2024

The problem with our schools

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Camike J
Camike Jones

The problem with our schools is that we have yet to acknowledge the real problem. The schools are merely a reflection of our society at large – of us. Yes, us meaning me and you. The changes we see in schools hold up a mirror to the changes we see across our country.

The backlash against diversity, equity and inclusion is happening in the courtroom, state house and in the classroom. The book bans show the efforts of some Americans to keep themselves comfortable while other students remain uncomfortable. Some people prefer to keep the achievements and culture of Black, Latinx and Asian American children left out of the school curriculum altogether, even if it means an inaccurate telling of history that leads to bias and discrimination in the future. It feels like the diversification of classroom materials was just getting started. Now, those strides are being quickly reversed. We were only beginning to learn about the atrocities that took place from this country’s founders and the lengths they were willing to go to acquire this land. Soon we will be right back to, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

The lack of resources available to students and staff in many public schools is still an issue as it has been for decades. An online video of students at Carmel High School sharing all the amenities they enjoy went viral last year. As these students gleefully pointed out the pools, labs and other facilities, the video served to shed light on the amenities lacking in other public schools in less affluent areas. There is nothing wrong with the perks available at their high school. The question is why there is such a stark difference between their school and other schools. We could point to property taxes, or we could find other sensible solutions.

The widening education gap is keeping pace with the widening wealth gap. The rich are most definitely getting richer. In extreme cases, top earners like Jeff Bezos raked in nearly eight million dollars per hour in 2023, according to Yahoo Finance. Compare that to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The top one percent of Americans earn a little under $600,000 per year meaning 99% of Americans make less than that. That cannot be understated. Nearly all Americans earn a small fraction of what the wealthy rake in annually. In 2022 the Congressional Budget Office report on wealth trends from 1989-2019 showed, “In 2019, families in the top 10 percent of the distribution held 72 percent of total wealth,” meaning the richest families own almost three quarters of the country’s wealth. Thus, some schools have way more and some have way less. Of course resources at schools are out of balance when the whole country is out of balance. It’s not the schools, it’s us.

The biases students face when entering their respective classrooms are our biases – the adults, the taxpayers, the decision-makers. If you have not been in a public school classroom in a while, please know there are some classrooms where students are just being supervised instead of being taught. Very little, if any, learning is taking place. Imagine a school staff person who believes that children from a certain zip code are not as smart or capable as children on the other side of town, that can affect their students for years. The bias they walked in the door with is the poison that will likely hold their students back from reaching their full potential in that classroom. Now imagine if that same staff person has the power to determine which student is sent on the gifted track and which student is sent down the special needs track. Then imagine this staff person wielding that power for years or decades. How many students would fall through the cracks under their watch? This happens all the time. I have seen it. You have seen it. And yet the phenomenon persists.

The system is broken. We may have inherited this problem, but that does not absolve us of the responsibility to take action now. 

It’s not the kids. It’s not the charter schools. It’s us. All of us. The problem with our schools is us. We create barriers that need not exist. We create biases that help no one. We create gaps in resources instead of finding real solutions. We can do something about this problem as soon as we own it. We can start with believing in the possibility of greatness for all children – not based on their gender identity, zip code, socioeconomic status or race.

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