Hidden Figures - A Precaution

My wife and I recently went on a date and saw the film "Hidden Figures". The film was fantastic and very moving. There were multiple moments in the film where we were reminded of the atrocious treatment of people of color. While watching the film I found myself thinking it sad that the experiences shared in the film happened only a few decades ago. It would have been more than easy for me to say, "At least people of color are no longer experiencing that kind of bigotry." But, if I said that I would be lying to myself and any others I had conversations with after the film. Although we may no longer have water fountains and bathrooms assigned based on a person's skin color, much of the injustices experienced in the film are still happening today.

And they are happening in our educational system!

Stop for a moment and think of the make-up of your school. 

Does your school offer honors classes? 
Is there a GT program in your building? 
Are you in a high school where AP courses or IB courses take place? 
Are you in a school with accelerated courses? 

Okay, so do you have the image? 

Let me ask you these questions now. 

What is the makeup in those classrooms? 
How many boys and how many girls are in those classes? 
How many scholars of color are in those courses? 
What about the number of EL scholars? 
Are there any scholars with IEPs in those classrooms? 

If your school is anything like the ones I've worked in the answers may be disappointing. In fact, the answers to those questions may be down right horrible. Because reality is that those "specialized courses" are often filled with a homogenous group of scholars, most often white. Worse is often times the scholars who are not a part of the "majority" don't even entertain the idea of participating in these courses... or are not given an invitation from staff. 

Zaretta Hammond wrote in her book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain,

"We are all wired for expansive learning high intellectual performances, and self-determination! Although this has been verified...Why are so many students of color underachieving."

Educators as well as neurologists are well aware that all scholars are capable of that which Ms. Hammond wrote in her book. However, education as a whole has yet to make any significant movement in its practices to reflect that understanding. There are still scholars in all sorts of environments that are given worksheets instead of project based learning activities. Schools have libraries that demand quiet and have no space for scholars to embrace the space and turn it into their own. Educational practices still favor the manner and style of teaching the teacher is most comfortable with rather than the style our scholars are most comfortable with. Until we look at how we teach, what we teach, and why we teach it, scholars of color are going to continue to underachieve. 

Another example of what scholars of color experience in school and how it impacts their future is Donald Livingston (Ed.M. from Harvard). The video below is Mr. Livingston's commencement speech, highlighting the inequities and injustices in the education system for our scholars of color. I love how he shares that educators should, "Turn content into rocket ships, and tribulations into telescopes so scholars can see their true potential."

Mr. Livingston highlights the fact our scholars need educators who take the time to connect the dots and see their true potential. What is so beautiful about his speech is the authenticity and emotion shared in his words. He eloquently shares the feelings of so many of our scholars of color who may not be able to verbalize their frustration with the educational system. And that frustration continues to lead to a more challenging and unfair road for so many of our scholars of color. It is so vitally important that we heed the words of Mr. Livingston and begin to relinquish our "ownership" of educational power and hand it over to our scholars, where it rightfully belongs. 

With the power of a film like Hidden Figures, the knowledge of Ms. Hammond, the words of Mr. Livingston, and the experiences of our scholars of color let us never say, "Well at least we aren't doing that anymore." Reality is that we may not be doing "that", but instead we have replaced "that" with a new system of oppression leading to the same results. We may not say that blacks have to drink from a certain water fountain, but we may exclude them from accelerated courses because the may not be "academically or behaviorally prepared". 

Scholars in the "minority" are given a back seat to the highest education we offer 
much too often. 

Let's make a conscious effort to use the stories of our past to impact our present and future. Demand that the injustices experienced by others will push us as educators to change the educational landscape for all scholars, particularly scholars of color. We need to engage in PD, PLCs, roundtables, Twitter chats and read about ways in which we can improve or change our practices to increase the type of education our scholars are receiving. 

Let's do this together! 


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