Race, a Key Determinant of Unequal Opportunities in Education
"It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” - Audre Lorde
COVID-19 data has consistently shown that communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the virus. In fact, residents of majority-Black communities have three times the rate of infection and almost six times the rate of deaths in comparison to residents of White-majority areas (Kijakazi, 2020). Additionally, COVID-19 has impacted the education system tremendously. Students have fallen behind in their curriculum, and some may never have the opportunity to go back to school. Both of these issues have allowed the COVID-19 pandemic to be a large contributor to the global Black Lives Matter Movement. Upon the death of George Floyd, advocates in the United States and other countries have protested, demanding justice for Floyd and other Black victims who were killed at the hands of law enforcement. Police brutality over the last several decades has highlighted the need to end institutionalized racism. People of all different races, colors, creeds, sexual orientations, and socio-economic backgrounds are working together.
While the United States is often known as the land of freedom and opportunity, we must remember its history. Slavery was the backbone of our system and while it has been abolished, the effects remain. Black communities have significantly less access to resources and are reprimanded more harshly than their White counterparts. This creates the assumption that equal opportunity now exists. These assumptions miss the actual reality: educational outcomes for minorities are a result of unequal access to key education resources, including teachers of color, skilled teachers with diversity and cultural competence, and full funding for schools serving minority students.
The Black community faces educational issues, including the need for adequate funding for schools serving minority and disadvantageous students, as well as other issues with an impact on the community. In the United States, the educational system is one of the most unequal systems in the globalized world. Students receive significantly fewer learning opportunities based on socio-economic status. To address equity and close achievement gaps will require teacher support; public policies; legislation; meaningful collaboration among community organizations, leaders, parents and schools; and full, equitable funding.
In this overarching fight for equality, what should be done to ensure that education is equal, inclusive, and accessible for all? First, we must focus on providing full funding and resources including for schools in areas of poverty and high incarceration rates. Good schools have proven to produce much higher levels of achievement for students of color. Second, the true history of the United States, no matter how ugly, must be taught properly in schools and at home. We cannot continue to ignore the past. Third, safe spaces of conversation and discussion must be established within the education system. Discussing the harsh realities will make students and teachers more prepared and aware when facing racism. Finally, schools, universities and educational systems must increase diversity and cultural competence in the teaching workforce. Recruiting and retaining teachers of color is crucial, as some children currently go through their educational careers without having a teacher who they can personally identify with and understands the uniqueness of their cultural heritage. #BlackLivesMatter
Courtesy of Eve Ewing, The Guardian