‘Just’ Communities

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Recently, I read the story of a young woman who attended high school in southern California- the population of which was 50% affluent white students, and 50% poor Latino students. Though the student felt she had to work twice as hard has her white classmates, she did qualify for International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. At the end of her senior year, she  earned a respectable 3.3 GPA. She was ready to have the conversation with her guidance counselor about attending a four year university and proud that she would become the first in her family to do so.

However, when she met with her counselor, she was discouraged from applying to universities and encouraged to attend the local community college. She said the experience filled her with self-doubt and she chose to attend community college. She felt the implied message from the counselor was that she wasn’t as good as she thought she was.

The counselor may have had her best interests in mind, but the decision to suggest community was a better choice shows an example of unintentional racism. “The case settled out of court, with an agreement to provide $138 million for improving the textbooks and facilities of under served student populations across California” (Pacific Standard).

Keeler and Johnson (2009) wrote “Institutional racism is frequently subtle, unintentional and invisible, but always potent. Often, institutional racism involves complex and cumulative factors; for example, when many students of color, year after year, do not have access to fully credentialed teachers, high-quality curriculum materials and advanced courses” (Pacific Standard).

A lawsuit filed in 2004 by 10 high school students in San Francisco asserted the state failed to supply many students with basic necessities which were being provided to suburban children. the case was settled, with the state setting aside $138 million for improving the textbooks and facilities of under-served student populations across California.

Institutional racism exists in school districts when you look at the number of students of color who are considered to be gifted and talented, or which students are awarded advanced placement or IB status, or which students are most often referred to special education, the number of students of color who disproportionately expelled and suspended for minor infractions (Hughes, 2014).

The first step in recovery is acknowledging there’s a problem. In the case of public schools acknowledging a problem, we can’t assume the majority of people who benefit from a system of privilege can ever see the institutionalized racism which exists.

See a need, fill a need. Just Communities Central Coast was established in 2001 as the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) of California’s Central Coast. NCCJ was first founded in 1927 as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, a national non-profit organization whose objectives included promoting harmony among different groups, especially those separated by cultural features such as race, poverty, and religion (edhat). Just Communities is now a nationwide non-profit organization.

In 2007, Just Communities Central Coast established itself as its own community-based organization and became a founding member of the National Federation for Just Communities (NFJC). NFJC is a coalition of like-minded organizations working across America to bring the values of diversity, inclusion, and social justice to our communities, schools, workplaces and institutions (edhat).

The premise of their work is that the educational achievement gap cannot be addressed until educators recognize the system’s built-in tendency to make minority students feel unintelligent or marginalized (Pacific Standard). As part of their equity in education program, Just Communities works with local school teachers, administrators and counselors to create schools where all students feel connected, safe, and encouraged to achieve the highest quality of education.

Rather than promote institutional racism by opening unregulated charter schools in inner cities and hiring often unlicensed teachers, Just Communities  is one example of an organization that works to promote equity and parity in schools and to give every child an opportunity.

I find it very refreshing to read about organizations such as this, and I will continue to write about others to spread the word. Thanks for reading. Now you know, too.

These are my reflections for today.

2/11/17

 

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Author: Meg White

I am a lifelong educator and I hope to use this blog to reflect on what's happening in public education. These are my musings, opinions, and reflections. If you learn from them, good for us. Ignorance is no excuse. I have co-authored a book, "Questioning Assumptions and Challenging Perceptions: Becoming an Effective Teacher in Urban Environments" (available on amazon)

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