Feb 14, 2011

A Message to my Fellow White Educators

I am relatively new to Twitter, but in a very short time I’ve become really interested in the discussions about education reform. There are two obvious camps that I can see involved in regular debate: the teacher/union/testing is bad camp vs. the Race to the Top/get rid of bad teachers/testing is the best tool available camp.  I’ve tried to become active in those conversations by sending messages, posting comments on blogs and retweeting, but the conversation never starts because no one writes back to me. I commented on an Edutopia blog and the blogger responded to every other commenter except me. That isn’t much of a conversation! Since then, I have had similar experiences when posting comments on other blogs. First, I had to wonder if my comments were written in invisible ink. Then I started to think there is some sort of technical difficulty. Do I have some sort of electronic plague? Then I began to think about what I have been talking about. Maybe something I say makes people uncomfortable? I thought and thought, and talked to my husband about it (a face-to-face conversation!) He pointed out to me that I regularly bring up issues relating to race and poverty. BINGO, I thought. The education reformers I’ve been trying to engage in conversation are white.

In real life and on Twitter, I find that most white folks don’t want to talk about race and ethnicity issues when they talk about education. I’ve heard white people say time and time again, “If I talk about race, people are going to think I’m a racist.”  But here’s the deal: if you don’t start talking about the fact that most of our “failing” schools are filled with African-American and Hispanic students, then you are not talking about education reform. If you do not acknowledge that race and ethnicity are directly related to poverty in our country, you are not talking about education reform. And if you don’t see the correlation between race/ethnicity and poverty--the single most important issue affecting student success in education--then you are not talking about education reform. If you are afraid to speak about the role race/ethnicity plays in our education system, then your inaction speaks louder than words.

We may have elected a person of color as president, but we still have racial problems in our society. When a black mom is jailed for enrolling kids in a higher achieving school, while at the same time thousands of white families across the country have done the same thing and have not been jailed--we have a problem. We need to open up the dialogue about the role race and ethnicity play in education.

To my white colleagues in education reform I say: Stop worrying about whether people will question your liberal sensibility. Stop worrying that someone will think you’re a racist (if that’s what’s stopping you) By not speaking out you are a bystander who is letting injustice happen and becoming exactly what you are trying not to be. We need to have open conversations about race and ethnicity and the impact they have on education. We need to prepare ourselves and our children for the future--because the time is coming where whites will be the minority. Change is coming, whether you want it or not. Prepare yourself by talking about it now.

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