Posted: 03/30/15 11:56
by Dave Mindeman
Lynnell Mickelsen has been an education activist for many years. She recently had two articles published in MinnPost which have garnered some attention. It would seem that after years of frustration with the achievement gap, she has come to the conclusion that liberal interference has become more of a problem than a help. To quote her first article....
Here's a modest education proposal for my fellow white people, especially my fellow lefties in Minneapolis: What if we stopped talking about how to fix African-American and Latino kids and worked on fixing white progressives instead?.....
After all, if white kids were failing at these rates, we'd have already redesigned the schools to work better for them. We'd have changed the teachers, administrators, length of the school day or year or curriculum and anything else. Because if white kids were failing en masse, we'd demand a big fix of the education system.
But during her critique there is a lot of hand wringing and blame but very little in the way of fixing what's wrong.
In her second article, she kind of works on the "fixes" - the list includes:
a) Brush up on history. Specifically, go read Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Case for Reparations" in the Atlantic Monthly and no, don't blow it off based on the title. It's a powerful piece of reporting and history that connects a lot of dots -- as does Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow," which I also recommend.
b) Sit with it. Just sit with Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece for a couple of days or a week or a month. Let that history roll around in your head and sink in.
c) Support and listen. Support parents of color in their quest to improve their children's education and schools. Which means listening to their stories and their ideas and trying to remove the political and institutional obstacles in their way.
Now, I don't know about you, but that sounded a little bit like "white liberal hogwash". Pondering our past injustices is a good thing to do, but it doesn't fix the here and now.
But when it came to the "support and listen" aspect, she did offer some ideas about what she heard...
1) They want great public schools in their own neighborhood where their kids are safe, thriving and achieving academically. Period. Most parents don't really care if these schools are the traditional district types or public charters. And they don't necessarily care whether these schools are integrated or not. If they must, they'll drive across town. But they'd prefer having a great school in their own neighborhood.
None of this should be surprising. White middle-class parents want the same thing and if they don't have it, they move to a neighborhood or suburb where they can get it.
2) They want more teachers, administrators and staff who look like their kids and welcome their families. (White parents already have this.)
3) They want schools to stop over-suspending their children as well as over-identifying them for special education. (Most white parents don't have to deal with this.)
Those 3 are actually a good start. Especially the second. I would like to see more of the inner city Minneapolis schools have teachers and administrators that reflect the community they serve. The comfort zone for discussions would have to improve.
But it isn't white liberals, it isn't dysfunctional families, it isn't teachers, it isn't the legislature. The problem is none of those things.
Mickelson hinted at a core issue in one of her criticisms....
In Minnesota, our schools were basically created by white middle-class people, for white middle-class people and employ mostly white middle-class people. (Ninety-six percent of our state's teachers are white, even as children of color now make up 28 percent of the enrollment. In Minneapolis, about 85 percent of our classroom teachers are white, even though 67 percent of their students are not.)
In addition, current school rules, policies and contracts are decided by ... Lord, this is getting repetitious ... mostly middle-class white people. Poor parents of color do not sit in our legislature, school boards or union negotiating committees.
We have a system that, at its core, was geared for a culture of middle class white people. The employee base reflects that. The curriculum reflects that. The testing reflects that. All of it is based upon that.
We need to reexamine how we educate in diversity.
And yes, parent involvement is crucial. But then we also have to listen to the parents that do get involved. African-American families, especially those in poverty, have little time to reenforce classroom work. Many of them are in poverty....many of them are working two jobs....many of them require extended family help to care for their kids. And too many, black or white, come to school hungry. If they come to the education system and ask for help, then let's listen and try to find solutions that really work.
And just as we should not put total blame on the parents, we should not be looking to the teachers as a scapegoat either. The educators do everything they can to help ...I really believe that....but they need the tools, the guidance, the special expertise, the backing of the state system...they need all of that and more.
We need to examine the root causes of our achievement gap and then we need to get parents and teachers involved in the implementation of a solution. Maybe that is targeted money. Maybe that is a change in core corriculum. Maybe it is different testing mechanisms. Maybe it is better design of the school buildings. We need to look at all of it....and not with the biases we have developed during our frustrations.
Minnesota's achievement gap is bad; there is no question about that. But there have to be solutions. Other states have found ways to figure that out, let's explore those options.
But one thing is for sure. It is time to stop the blame. To stop wringing our hands. We all want to fix this but we need to do it with new eyes...new vision and a very open mind.
Minnesota can do this - we are better than this.