Part I of this post outlined what luxury problems look like in education. In this second installment, I discuss how a sense of entitlement allows educational inequality to persist and belittles those trying to end it.
Class differences play a significant, pernicious role when it comes to parental perspectives on education. In short, studies suggest the higher you go up the income ladder, the less compassion you have.
But we should concede, as the parent asking the question does, that one of the reasons public schools are so unequal is because the people with resources use those resources principally to insulate themselves, structurally and geographically, from the people without resources.
This leads not only to unequal access to public services of all kinds, but to a stratification of empathy among classes—and races, since race so often tracks class in this country—that perpetuates misunderstanding and inequality across generations.
Long Island opt-out parents decry the stress and anxiety placed upon their children by standardized testing. But overwhelmingly, opt-out has been a white, affluent phenomenon, and its followers’ criticisms that testing is destroying public education drowns out the voices of people of color, who are typically marginalized in debates around education.
Just because they see standardized testing as having no value in the lives of their children, they assume testing for all children is worthless, discounting the opinions of civil rights groups that have fought for decades to make schools more equal.
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said in The New York Times:
As much as people may not like testing, it’s the only way available for us to document and to hold schools and school districts accountable. We can’t close the achievement gap unless we know what it is and where it is and how big it is.
As I’ve written about before, most people support testing, especially people of color.
This is indicative of the stratification of empathy Michtom describes, when well-off parents are unaware of the struggles poor people shoulder or worse yet, presume to know what’s best for these people who lack the wealth of options they have. My colleague, Tracy Dell’Angela, wrote that this patronizing attitude often seeps into arguments around school choice.
At worst, it’s an irresponsible and condescending argument from four professors who suggest families in “black, urban communities” need to be protected from “charter school bubbles” because they are the most likely to succumb to “the herding phenomenon.”
Let’s just pause here and consider this troublesome analogy. He attempts to explain away nearly three million mostly minority parents who have chosen charter schools, another million or so on charter waiting lists and strong charter support by black parents in public opinion polls (typically above 60 percent support) as “herd” mentality where “individuals in target groups make choices based on the decisions of other persons in their group.”
The onus falls upon poor people of color to save blighted neighborhoods and to make do with lagging schools. They need to be counseled out of daring to want choices for themselves.
A common criticism leveled at education reform is the absence of student voice. Nine public school students filed suit in Vergara v. California contending that schools with mostly poor students of color received ineffective teachers. How is that not student voice ringing loud and clear? Yet their victory was called “meritless.”
Too much credence is paid to the perceived anxieties of affluent parents to the detriment of the very real ones people of color face such as excessive discipline, lack of quality schools and lopsided funding.
Fear over standardizing testing, I would argue, is not that far off from the anti-vaccination hysteria, where emotion and junk evidence runs far ahead of reason. But these people hold an outsize proportion of political power, so their demands, no matter how ridiculous, are taken seriously.
In addition, wealthy people, especially white ones, can change the conversation if their ilk see a deep need emerging among their own. To wit, the drastic spike in heroin use among whites and the problem getting reframed as an issue of public health, not one of crime that largely punished people of color.
Such thinking brings to my mind what Lynnell Mickelsen wrote about wide achievement gaps in Minnesota:
Children of color now make up 67 percent of our enrollment in Minneapolis. (Vocab reminder to the Greatest Generation: This is why we can’t call them “minorities” any more). So you’d think the mass failure of the majority of the city’s school children would be a moral emergency. As in something that demanded bold action.
After all, if white kids were failing at these rates, we’d have already redesigned the schools to work better for them. We’d have changed the teachers, administrators, length of the school day or year or curriculum and anything else. Because if white kids were failing en masse, we’d demand a big fix of the education system.
Where is the moral emergency for students of color? Where is the indignation over their continually being denied equal access to a good education?
It’s awash in the anxiety felt by well-off families who complain about stress but overschedule their children anyway. These anxieties are self-inflicted as opposed to the real dangers low-income parents of color withstand every day.
Once again, the class differences are telling. according to a recent New York Times story.
Well-off families are ruled by calendars, with children enrolled in ballet, soccer and after-school programs, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. There are usually two parents, who spend a lot of time reading to children and worrying about their anxiety levels and hectic schedules. Nonetheless, 20 percent of well-off parents say their children’s schedules are too hectic, compared with 8 percent of poorer parents.
Parental anxieties reflect their circumstances. High-earning parents are much more likely to say they live in a good neighborhood for raising children. While bullying is parents’ greatest concern overall, nearly half of low-income parents worry their child will get shot, compared with one-fifth of high-income parents. They are more worried about their children being depressed or anxious.
If affluent parents could invest their energies away from dwelling on their first-world problems and more into the truly harmful ones—the lopsided funding, achievement gaps, and low expectations for students of color that hobble so many schools— that would be a revolution worth writing about.