All said and done, I have been through about 20 years of schooling, not to mention the years I have spent as a teacher. Yet in all of that, I only once had a teacher that looks like me (Asian & female), and that was at the very end of grad school. If you’re a brown or black person, there is a good chance you can say the same thing.
A report by the American Center for Progress tells us that, “By the year 2020 it is projected that there will be 3.5 million K-12 public school teachers. If trends continue, 75% of those teachers will be women. It is also projected that in 2020, 37% of women in the United States will be of color, yet only 8% of female teachers will be ethnic minorities. Similarly in higher education, just under 50% of full time faculty are women but less than 8% are women of color.”
White as the power holders is normalized in schools and in society at large so deeply, that the problem of all white teachers fails to register to even those devoted to reducing this now unalarming term called the achievement gap. The A.G. of our brown and black students has become as accepted and normalized as our dominantly white teachers.
For most of us, black, brown or white, if we entered a school with a teaching staff and administration comprised all of people of color, we sure as hell would notice. We would notice, too, if the majority of the assistants, the kitchen staff, and the cleaning staff were white.
The essential difference however, is that people of color are accustomed to walking into rooms where there are only white people. We are accustomed to accommodating and adjusting ourselves to the comfort level of our white co-workers, acquaintances, and friends. We are accustomed to the white gaze, and can see ourselves through the perceptions and thoughts of white culture upon us.
“Achievement Gaps” will remain until educational culture and schools are decolonized, and progress is no longer measured by one-dimensional data that fails to connect to larger systemic inequalities. For too long, policymakers and administrators have simply acted powerless over the fact that teachers represent a dominantly privileged, white middle-class demographic. The real gap is in the power differential at the policy making level. The contingency for progress remains focused on increasing student achievement data, rather than creating a proportionately representative teaching staff and administration, or focusing on decolonizing the curriculum and education culture so that it no longer erases indigenous origins and whitewashes history. Boarding schools may be over by law, but they are not gone.
A large number of children go to school each day and are taught by people who do not look or think like them or their families. These are the children in that big place we abstractly call the achievement gap. However, the term “achievement gap” points our gaze at the children’s actions, and not conversely, at those in power who consistently fail to acknowledge that the real failings are not in the test scores or the graduation rates. The real failings are in the system and in the leaders, and it is time to turn our gaze in that direction.
Free breakfast is not enough. Tutors are not enough. After-school programs are not enough. All-day kindergarten is not enough. Bandaids are not enough. They may help for that day, for that moment, but these will be endless bandaids while our children grow into teenagers, and then adults. They will have been pushed through a system that doesn’t know what to do with them because those in power will not listen to that which threatens their privilege and power. Because this system we call education from the beginning was never intended to serve brown and black kids. Education will not serve our kids until we fill the gaps in the institution, and to do that, it is not the kids that we need to fix.