Learning While Black

Racial and economic profiling in education endangers black students' success. Why put up with it?


A perfect example of this is the No Child Left Behind legislation. While the goals of NCLB are on target and many states have benefited from NCLB funding, talk to America’s teachers and they will tell you that the program has fallen short of expectations.

The rigid standardized-testing requirements of NCLB have resulted in many of our educators “teaching to the test.” And when you teach to the test, you neglect teaching the student. So as this new school year begins, I believe it’s time we view education through the eyes of our children and start to discuss how best to embrace this truth: Our children want to learn.

Learning While Black

As the Brown decision made clear, “Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”  

But the high court also recognized that “[t]o separate them [black students] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” In short: “A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.”

And it is that “sense of inferiority” that still haunts African-American students today. Try as it might, the court could not, with the stroke of its pen, erase the systemic and enduring nature of segregation. In fact, such “state-imposed discrimination” would come to manifest itself differently in the latter half of the 20th century: through uncodified racial profiling.

We all have come to know racial profiling as the practice by which some police officers target racial minorities for traffic stops. Often it is referred to it as “driving while black.”

There is, however, a more insidious form of racial profiling — one that has been with us far longer, and the impact of which is far more devastating: learning while black. More worrisome is that, for the most part, African Americans have been willing participants in the dumbing down of our own children, allowing them to become locked in a system of educational mediocrity. But why?

More important, as the scholar Dr. Walter Williams has asked, “Why do we tolerate something our ancestors would not?”