Arguing at Salon that public education has always been a pathway to the middle class for people of color, Brittney Cooper chides Republican lawmakers for creating barriers to success for minorities by defunding urban school systems at every level across the nation. “Unfortunately, the increasing national disdain for all things ‘public’ is increasingly becoming a barrier for people of color,” she writes.
The defunding of public secondary schools significantly reduces the level of ability of the students who step into my classroom. Although they are generally enthusiastic, students are often poor writers and poor critical thinkers. Many students have a lack of curiosity, which has been disciplined away through years of languishing in poor public schools that function more like prisons than places of learning. Students have often been actively discouraged from asking questions, formulating opinions and taking intellectual risks. Igniting a fire in students, creating an environment that invites them to ask questions, challenging a system that wants to turn them into mindless laborers rather than engaged citizens, is part of the invisible labor that every good teacher does. Good teachers encourage students to think their way in, question their way through, and write their way out.
These are the moments I live for in teaching. It is the reason that I have structured my entire life around being both a student and an educator. Yet, I know as an educator, that if we do not begin to address the structural threats to public education in primary and secondary school, the university will suffer. So will the nation.
Access to a quality public education at all levels has been a key and consistent pathway into the middle class, especially for African-Americans. Unfortunately, the increasing national disdain for all things “public” is increasingly becoming a barrier for people of color. Public education offers options in the midst of urban contexts that threaten to steal possibility. Universities also participate in this project by creating the ethical and intellectual context for helping the nation to be its best self.
Read Brittney Cooper’s entire piece at Salon.
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