What about the other children? – on racism and classism in schools

Mother Jones has published an extremely problematic article on integration in schools, which talks of the benefits to middle and upper class children, without once recognising the impact on Black and Latino children. These are the 3 outcomes which ‘prove’ that integrated schools are better for white children:

1. White students’ test scores don’t drop when they go to schools with large numbers of black and Latino students.

2. Diverse classrooms teach some of the most important 21st-century skills, which matter more than test scores.

3. Graduates of socioeconomically diverse schools are more effective in the workplace and global markets.

The second and third point state that it is better for white children to be exposed to Black and Latino children and those living in poverty because it will make middle and upper class white children to be better and more successful people. Apparently, raising children to be kind, compassionate and responsible is no longer necessary. Now, we just need to teach them how to talk to Black and Latina kids so they will feel more comfortable being their boss in twenty years.

Comparisons between race and gender make me deeply uncomfortable as they are inevitably comparing Black men to white women – completely erasing Black women’s experiences of misogyny and racism. In this case, there is a valid comparison to be made about the rhetoric of single sex schools.

Evidence suggests that girls perform better at single sex schools. These tend to be private schools and, in the UK, tend to be predominantly white and wealthy, which does impact on attainments. Boys do better in mixed sex schools.* The argument for mixed schools requires girls in order to socialise boys and improve their academic records. The implicit message here is that the education of boys is more important than girls so it’s okay to force girls to deal with sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviour from male students. Boys aren’t held accountable for their own behaviour; parents aren’t held accountable for raising entitled sons with serious behavioural problems;** and schools aren’t held accountable for their misogynistic practises. Girls are treated as nothing more than tools in the education of boys; no different from computers and chalk.

This article published by Mother Jones treats Black and Latino children as teaching tools for white, middle class children. There is no real mention of the academic achievement of these students and the impact caused by the daily micro-aggressions of a white supremacist, capitalist-patriarchy. It ignores the systemic racism and classism in American culture which sees schools in lower economic areas and those with predominately Black and Latino students receiving less funding. There’s no mention of cuts to arts and music that disproportionately impact ‘bad’ schools – cuts that have serious negative impacts on children’s academic achievements and emotional health. It ignores the number of children going to school hungry because of economic policies which punish families who don’t have trust funds. And aren’t white.

The argument for diverse schools works only if we treat ALL children as worthy of an education and emotional health. Sending white children to predominantly Black and Latino schools to make white children ‘better’ people is racism. It erases Black and Latino children as people; just as the rhetoric around mixed schools holds girls accountable for the behaviour of boys.

We need greater investment in schools to support all children; not use them as specimens in petrie dishes to promote the welfare and entitlement of white, wealthy children at the expense of everyone else.

*I’ve not seen research on this which accounts for class and race in attainment since teachers are not immune from white supremacist thinking and it is clear that many teachers expect better results from white children and mark poor children and children of colour lower than white, wealthy children.

** This point is about neurologically typical children and not a reference to children with additional support needs who find schools difficult spaces to navigate.

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