Dear Readers of the San Jose Mercury News:
Today, our local paper of record published an article that threatens to be the first in a terribly damaging series on the racial achievement gap. Not damaging to the kids or the schools but to you and how you understand our society. I intend no exaggeration when I say that this article is the worst heap of insidious, bigoted half-truths since “race science.” While shallowly pretending to recognize the work of some hard-working Latinas, the real message of today’s piece is
“The put-downs are clear: Smart is not cool.
And too many Latino students are choosing cool over school.”
Get this straight and send it to your friends: Children of color don’t devalue a good education and therefore fail to get it, they’re never given it and eventually, sensibly, stop caring.
By the time San Jose’s Latino population gets to high school, they will have endured nine years of being told they are failures, of listening to the devaluation of their home language, of watching all fun be stripped from their education, and of receiving sub-par instruction from inadequate teachers. It is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit that any child of color graduates from a high-challenge school at all.
It would be unhealthy for these students to esteem a good education when they quickly realize they are never going to have a chance to achieve it. Don’t allow yourself to imagine that they don’t know they have terrible teachers. Don’t convince yourself that they don’t know they are supposed to have computers, books and fun at school. Don’t pretend they don’t know of the advantages and opportunities with which the affluent provide our children. My students are ten, yet they know better and so should you.
Every child of every color wants to learn and succeed. There is no question about this. The 1st grader who doesn’t want to learn to read is one in a thousand. They might not want to sit still, listen to teacher, and follow along when the lawnmower is outside, but they want to learn and they want to succeed. We, through our schools and our society, strip that desire for academic achievement away. By the time they get to high school, they no longer allow themselves to care.
Before you blame the children for that “choice,” ask yourself: What child --let’s remember, we’re talking about children here-- is going to continue caring about something which every passing day makes only more clearly an impossible dream? How much frustration and mental anguish are we expecting our children to endure? How many adults would, after an agonizing journey that constituted their daily existence for two-thirds of their life, keep their eyes on a prize that seemed only further away than when they started? Such is the task we can demand of our saints and our heroes, but not our teenagers.
It is small wonder when these students turn on those that do succeed. First, you need to understand that many successful children of color come from substantively more advantaged homes than those who don’t. Not all Latino kids speak Spanish; not all black kids are poor. The kids know who’s who. The resentment chronicled in this article often has a lot more to do with home life than school success. Second, can we not conceive that our children of color carry a significant amount of animosity about the education they’ve been deprived? Most adults are jealous of people with more prestige, power and potential than they, our adolescents will be no better. I am twenty-five, well educated, and frankly, I am no better.
Unquestionably, our kids of color play a role in their failure, but only after years of resistance followed by the terrible acceptance that such is the only role we will allow them to play.
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