As dangerous as his candidacy may be and as absurd as is most of what he says, there is a recent statement about which Donald Trump is simultaneously wrong and right. It is absurd to call Hillary Clinton a bigot given all that she has done on behalf of the American people during a lifetime of public service, however we might feel about policy.
Donald Trump is absolutely correct, however, when he suggests that the policies proposed by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party offer nothing new for the black community, for race relations, or to the American poor, in general. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump offers only ambiguous promises while claiming that he has the answers for everything.
Due to the current situation in the U.S. with respect to both race relations and public education, there is a tremendous opportunity for Hillary Clinton and her party to capture the support of a huge proportion of the American people with a truly new solution to the problems of blacks, the poor, and other minorities. Given that Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, has alienated teachers throughout Indiana and promotes charter schools and vouchers while virtually abandoning our most challenged public schools, now is an opportunity to draw clear distinctions. These schools serve our most vulnerable children, their teachers and communities.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the problems in our poorest urban and rural communities, which are disproportionately African-American, are not a consequence of poverty and discrimination. In our racist society, there will always be white Americans who judge African-Americans and others on the basis of the color of their skin. And, in spite of the accomplishments of so many African-American men and women, across so many venues, poverty and discrimination persist because millions of other black Americans lack the knowledge and skills necessary to compete for their rightful place among mainstream Americans.
Whether educated African-Americans in business and professional venues, or blacks in professional athletics or entertainment, they clearly demonstrate that African-Americans can be successful in any venue in which they are in possession of the requisite skills and knowledge. The operative question, then, is: Why do so many poor blacks lack the essential skills and knowledge necessary to compete in mainstream American society? The answer, of course, is public education. And it is here that Hillary Clinton could endorse a plan to reinvent the educational process and alter, forever, public education in America.
Black children and other poor or minority children lack those essential tools of success not because they are incapable of learning and not because they are plagued with bad teachers and schools. They lack the essential tools because the educational process at work in American public schools is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to meet the unique needs of disadvantaged children. While this flawed educational process has done a gross disservice to all disadvantaged children; African-Americans are impacted disproportionately. As a result, our poor urban and rural black communities are populated by multiple generations of men, women, and children who have nowhere else to go.
That the performance gap between black students and their white classmates exists is an indisputable fact. What is also indisputable is that poor black students arrive for their first day of school burdened by enormous disadvantages. That the majority of these children fail, just like their parents failed, provides compelling evidence that our educational process does an unacceptable job of helping disadvantaged students overcome their disadvantages. That we accept this failure as if we are powerless to alter it is unfathomable.
Education reformers, like Mike Pence, attack teachers and schools for this intolerable failure and are working hard to replace our most challenged schools and their teachers with private charter schools that have not proven to have significantly better success in helping disadvantaged students than the public schools they are intended to replace. This is in spite of the millions of tax dollars paid to these charter schools through voucher programs. What these schools do best is filter out the least motivated parents and still some of these charter schools fall short of expectations.
Neither the education reformers nor public school teachers and administrators are taking the time to understand why so many of these children fail. Instead, they charge forth on the basis of their outdated assumptions while millions of our most vulnerable children find themselves on the “schoolhouse to jailhouse track.”
People, in any venue, who are required to work with obsolete tools, systems, and processes cannot improve the quality of their work just by working harder and teachers are no exception. My biggest criticism of public school teachers, the majority of whom are unsung American heroes, is that they do not convert what they witness in their classrooms into meaningful advocacy. What we desperately need from teachers is that they stand united and shout out at the top of their voices that what they are being asked to do does not work for disadvantaged students.
We have been teaching children the same way for so long that we have become immersed in the educational process and inured to the harm it does to the disadvantaged. We know these children need parental support but we make minimal effort to overcome the mistrust of parents. We know these kids need close, nurturing relationships with their teachers but every year we pass students on to new teachers whom they do not know and may have never met. Only a few are able to begin anew and build the kind of special relationships the rest of us recall when we think back on our favorite teachers.
We know these kids are unprepared, academically, yet we make no effort to identify the breadth and scope of their disadvantages so that we can create an academic plan tailored to their unique needs. We know these kids need more time to master their lessons but as much as teachers strive to give them that extra time, the educational process demands that we push them ahead with their classmates, ready or not. Rather than a system in which every child learns as much as they are able at their best speed, public education is structured as a competition in which some kids excel and others fail. Why would we ever be willing to accept the failure of a child.
We know these children need to experience success before they can master the process of success and yet we record their Ds and Fs in our grade books even though we know those grades begin to have a labeling effect. We accept these Ds and Fs even though they demonstrate, with great clarity, that these kids are unprepared to move on. We also know kids can take only so much failure before they give up on themselves, stop trying, and begin acting out. Why are we surprised when these young people leave school unprepared to participate in the American dream?
These tragic outcomes that we produce, so routinely, and that sentence young people to a life of poverty and second-class citizenship, are not inevitable facts of life for the poor and the non-white rather they are the inevitable consequences of a flawed educational process. It is a process that can be changed as easily as changing our choice of textbooks.
The changes required to correct these deficiencies in the educational process are simple and straightforward but they cannot be envisioned until we think beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom; until we think exponentially (outside the box). Neither can we implement these simple changes incrementally. Old habits are too difficult to break and it is too easy to slip back into the ways of the past. For these simple changes to be implemented, successfully, there must be an irrevocable break from past educational practices.
The reader is urged to check out the following, in any order or combination, to learn how the above reality can be changed, irrevocably:
• My implementation plan entitled: Implementation Outline for Educational Model in Which there is Only Success and No Failure;
• My blog: Education, Hope, and the American Dream.