“When a certain race and class of students gets funneled into a school system that is poorly funded, poorly staffed and poorly executed these children have a smaller chance of succeeding in life.” – Sharayah Alkire
By Sharayah Alkire •
Throughout American History systems have been built up to bring down Black people in many ways. Some of these systems have been legal and widespread, being used across the nation. One of these being the school’s systems. As a result of redlining American education has purposely based school districts in areas that would give certain schools large numbers of poor Black communities and children. These schools are treated much differently than predominately white school districts. They are given less funding, less access to college readiness courses and less attention to quality teachers and education. Because of this version of educational redlining, Black students have been given a stigma in the school systems. Now it has become something normal to treat these students as though they are criminals and to have less hope in their futures after they get out of school. We are seeing Black communities still suffer from the consequences of redlining, students struggling to get out of a vicious circle made by poverty and race. Black students have stereotypes plastered on their backs from the moment they get into the school systems, they are considered the “bad kids,” rules are being made against their hair, they are facing violence at the hands of campus police and these schools are still facing the issue of redlining on websites such as Zillow that tell new homebuyers what school districts are “favorable.” As teachers we can combat these ideals in the classroom by refusing to fall into the belief of these stereotypes and being open to teaching social justice pedagogy in our classrooms to help students gain perspective and understanding for other races.
These systems cannot be broken down by simply going along with the flow of things and moving in tandem as usual. The only way to combat racist regimes is by inciting knowledge and passion into our students and future teachers by showing the honesty of these racist practices. By bringing more multicultural literature into the English Language Arts classroom, specifically Black American Literature, we can attempt to confront these issues with our students. Based on the books “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and “brown girl dreaming” by Jaqueline Woodson I will attempt to explain how Civil Rights issues can help inspire empathy and revolution in our students from the Language Arts classroom. Using Paulo Freier’s book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and his idea of praxis to bring students to act I will show how bringing students experiences to the table along with new material they are given can help our future adults realize how they can be the change they wish to see in the world. With these techniques and classroom texts that demonstrate similar ideals students can be taught to challenge these racist systems they are growing up in and can teach them to open to ideas they may have never previously thought of.
Because schools are assigned by what district you live in, it can be shown that the two areas on the redlining map belonging to people of color have been funneling into the same school system for years. A systemic creation that also relied on government funding. While the “A” and “B” schools get funneled into the same schools, they get the opportunity to thrive and gain the funding they need while the other two neighborhood areas get ignored and intentionally left out of gaining what they need to help their children thrive. Education is the key out of poverty, in order to get into the colleges, we want with the job experience we need, the K-12 system is pertinent to the stepping stone to a child’s adult life. When a certain race and class of students gets funneled into a school system that is poorly funded, poorly staffed and poorly executed these children have a smaller chance of succeeding in life. And then when we add drugs to this system, their chances get even lower. Students begin to lose their parents, are forced to get jobs to support their siblings with their parents or even find a “better” living by leaving school and turning to the streets. Educational redlining is the affect that comes out of our systematic redlining in housing. In the essay, “REDLINING AND ITS INFLUENCE ON EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES IN THE SCHOOL SYSTEM: A COLLABORATIVE AUTO-ETHNOGRAPHY” by Erika Emery she defines educational redlining as, “Educational redlining, as I use it here, refers to the use of a mapping system that utilizes a parent’s home address to determine students’ school site placement, regardless of the environmental risks associated with impoverished areas.” (Emery 2). This is a lasting effect that has taken place in our country because of the redlining we have seen in large cities like Chicago, the lack of attention to certain school system from certain neighborhoods that has been another way to keep Black people in a certain condition generationally. Along with the systemic use of different forms of redlining, there is another reason speculated as to why our Black children are treated differently in the school systems. In the article, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children” by Phillip Atiba Goff, Matthew Christian Jackson, Carmen Marie Culotta, et al describes how our views on Black children affect the way they are treated in the school systems and society in general. The article describes how we as a society have been dehumanizing Black people and because of this dehumanization, we are being taught to believe Black children to be older than they are. Causing them to be treated with adult-like manners in certain situation. It states,
“Because dehumanization involves the denial of full humanness to others (Haslam, 2006), one would expect a reduction of social considerations afforded to humans for those who are dehumanized. This reduction violates one defining characteristic of children— being innocent and thus needing protection—rendering the category ‘children’ less essential and distinct from ‘adults’” (Goff, Jackson, et al).
From this speculation the contributors of this article decided to test their theories on how people were viewing Black children. They did tests, showing many different people videos of Black children in situations with the police while also showing them videos of white children committing the same acts and getting into altercations with the police. They discovered that the people watching the videos more often had sympathy and excuses for the white children than they did for the Black ones. The article states,
“In other words, the perceived innocence of Black children age 10 –13 was equivalent to that of non-Black children age 14 –17, and the perceived innocence of Black children age 14 –17 was equivalent to that of non-Black adults age 18 –21” (529).
This is a contributing factor to the mistreatment of Black children in our society and our school systems as well. We have been conditioned to see these children as not being worthy of empathy for their mistakes because they are not being seen as children, but rather young adults far before it is their time. We are seeing this problem present itself at different in times through our society. For instance, most recently with the R.Kelly case we are seeing innocent girls being taken advantage of by a grown man. While this is going on people are dismissing the testifies of Black girls because they were “fast” or “should not have been in that position in the first place.” A blatant case of refusing to see young 16 and 17-year-old Black girls as truly being the children that they are. We are also seeing this in the school systems when it comes to campus police and their abuse of Black girls that has recently sparked fires in the mainstream media.
In recent years multiple videos have been released of campus police officers aggressively handling Black girls in schools. We have seen Black girls handled violently for refusing to leave the classroom and various other basic teenager reactions to getting in trouble. In the article, “A School Cop’s Treatment of a Student and the Criminalization of Black Girls” by Jennifer Farmer, she discusses many incidents, one of them being the Black girl who violently pulled out of her classroom by a resource officer. She states, “Deputy Ben Fields, who is employed as a school resource officer at Spring Valley High in Richland County, S.C., was placed on leave after a video caught him in a violent confrontation with a female student who reportedly refused his order to leave the class for being disruptive. On the video, he apparently grabs her, puts his arm around her throat and upper body, flips her over while she was still seated, then drags her across the room. No one was hurt in the incident, according to Associated Press reports. Still, it is morally unacceptable to handle students in such violent manner and police should help de-escalate disputes, not resort to violence themselves. When another student rightly questioned Deputy Fields over his actions, the student was threatened with arrest. In the end, two students were indeed arrested — the young woman who was assaulted and an unidentified male student” (Farmer). Not only were both students who were just being children arrested, but they were both treated as though they were basic criminals and the reactions on the media were much the same. Many people felt as though the girl should have simply listened to the officer and “complied,” which is a lot to be asking of a child that may only be 16 years old. Would we expect the same behavior if we all viewed her as a child? My hops are that we would not. This officer had been previously in trouble with the school district for handling another child in the same manner, it is appalling that he was allowed back into the school to commit the same crime again. This becomes the responsibility of the school system as well for giving this man the opportunity to violently handle not one, but two underage children. Farmer also points out that societies views on Black children are the reason this girl and many others like her are facing brutality in the school system by campus police. She says,
“In recent months, the over-policing and criminalization of girls is gaining more awareness through a number of news and issue reports from the African American Policy Forum and other outlets. They validate the lived experiences of Black girls who are being abused in and out of schools. In schools, as in the rest of the community, too many Black women and girls are labeled loud, unruly, angry and disruptive. These unfair stereotypes affect how our children are treated in schools, and beyond” (Farmer).
Farmer seems to agree that the routine dehumanization of Black children and girls in general are the reason they are being mistreated in schools. These negative stereotypes on Black people and children are causing them to get treatment they do not deserve, children should be treated as such, they make mistakes, they can be unruly and sometimes downright rude. This is no excuse to ever violently handle these students in school. I believe we can combat these issues in a modern-day classroom by teaching through critical race theory and teaching our students the art of revolution. Critical race theory is defined as, “the view that race, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is socially constructed and that race, as a socially constructed concept, functions as a means to maintain the interests of the white population that constructed it.”.
Demonstrating race being a social construct in the classroom can show students that there is little difference between them and people of color. It can cause students to see life from another race’s perspective, put them in their shoes and cause them to feel empathy for issues they may not have seen the truth of otherwise. Paulo Freire discusses teaching students the art of revolution through the oppressor vs oppressed mindset in his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” He says that it is important to teach our students the reality of life and how to have a radical mindset. Freire states,
“[t]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. this individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. this person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. this person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side” (Freire 43).
By teaching our students the reality of the world around them we can better hope to encourage them to fight for change. This is the mindset I believe can and will lead students to going against negative stereotypes that have been culturally built up against Black children and other children of color. Using this theory and books that are also centered around race issues, such as “brown girl dreaming” by Jaqueline Woodson and “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas I hope to combat these issues in my own classroom as well as encourage other teachers to do the same in their own English Language Arts classes.
Jaqueline Woodson’s memoir titled “brown girl dreaming” is about a little girl that was raised during the Civil Rights Movement. This will give teachers a chance to bring in historical aspects that will introduce students to the civil rights era. Teaching this book through the ideals of Critical Race Theory and bringing this in with a child’s perspective on the situation we can encourage students to think about the things that are going on in Jaqueline’s life that are being directly affected by the movement going on in America. Critical race theory demonstrates the idea that racism is a systemic, socially created system. This wide-spread racism is shown in the media, stereotypes, the justice system and much more. It was created in the 70’s because of the backlash that was coming from conservative parties in response to the civil rights movement.
The intention behind this theory is to be neutral to both liberal and conservative mindsets. Instead of being obvious in choosing one side, it encourages learners to question things in order to help one gain understanding of oppressed minority groups. This theory actively challenges the idea of “color blindness.” This thought that not seeing color is better than being racist. It argues that this idea encourages white supremacy by asking minorities to ignore their conditions for the majority to feel more comfortable.
Moving between two different states, one in the North and the other in the South Jaqueline notices many of the differences between how she and her family are treated.
The discrimination her and her family face in the South is highlighted at many points in the book and Jaqueline actively attempts to understand what is going on in the world around her. She notices these things through their places on the bus and the jobs they are meant to have. When she moves to New York the Civil Rights Movement really takes flight and Jaqueline and her siblings learn about it through the news and stories their family members tell. Near the end of the story Jaqueline begins to take pride in herself and beings to consider herself an activist. Using Critical Race Theory, I hope to be able to highlight these aspects of our protagonist’s life to help students gain empathy and true understanding of the things Jaqueline is going through and why she makes the choices she does. In the poem “greenville, south carolina 1963” Jaqueline points out one largely noticeable difference between her home in Ohio and their treatment in South Carolina, where her grandparents live. The poem states, “On the bus, my mother moves with us to the back.
“It is 1963 / In South Carolina. / Too dangerous to sit closer to the front / And dare the driver / to make her move” (Woodson 30).
When this happens, she is just a baby, but she never seems to forget the things her family goes through when they go down to visit their grandparents. She never forgets having to sit on the back of the bus, or their father consistently making statements about how he does not want his family in the South because none of his children will be forced to sit in the back. A unique point of view, we are seeing the Civil Rights Movement from the eyes of a child. The perfect text to gain young adult attention to the perspective of a child. How it felt to grow up during this time and how it felt to be treated like a second-class citizen when you are merely a kid. Using this text through the perspective of Critical Race Theory I could encourage my students to see the world through Woodson’s point of view and to put themselves into her shoes. This will spark the act of revolution Freire talks about in his writings, encouraging future students to deeply know and feel the past and refuse to let it repeat itself over again.
Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give” is another story that I believe can be incorporated into the classroom to teach our students empathy and resistance and liberation. Freire says about liberation that, “Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one. The man or woman who emerges is a new person, viable only as the oppressor-oppressed contradiction is superseded by the humanization of all people. Or to put it another way, the solution of this contradiction is born in the labor which brings into the world this new being: no longer oppressor, no longer oppressed, but human in the process of achieving freedom” (Freire 40). Teaching students the humanity of all peoples, not just the ones that look like them is the only true way to encourage them to liberate themselves from oppression, and to use their privilege to liberate others as well.
“The Hate U Give” is a perfect tale that brings in humanity of a group of people that are often dehumanized in our world. With the consistent modern issue of police brutality, we are often seeing the dehumanization of Black men, women and children by the acts committed by the police forces. We are seeing these men and women being shot cold in the streets and often people are using the excuses of, “he/she shouldn’t have committed that crime”, “he/she should have just complied, and they wouldn’t be dead right now.” Thomas’ story brings all of these accusations into question by showing us the humanity of a Black boy who is shot by the police.
We see the inside of this situation from the eyes of a teenage girl and we begin to see what truly happens to the loved ones of these slain Black people. When the young boy, Khalil, gets shot Starr is in conflict because many people attempt to convince her that was a fate he deserved due to the fact that he was a drug dealer. Her father attempts to bring light to this issue, something I believe would be important to highlight in an ELA class while teaching this book. The conversation goes as thus:
“’He was a drug dealer.’ It hurts to say that. ‘And possibly a gang member.’ ‘Why was he a drug dealer? Why are so many people in our neighborhood drug dealers?’ I remember what Khalil said-he got tired of choosing between lights and food. ‘They need money,’ I say. ‘And they don’t have a lot of other ways to get it.’ ‘Right. Lack of opportunities,’ Daddy says. ‘Corporate America don’t bring jobs to our communities, and they damn sure ain’t quick to hire us. Then, shit, even if you do have a high school diploma, so many of the schools in our neighborhoods don’t prepare us well enough’” (Thomas 169).
And here again we are seeing the issues of redlining and education redlining being brought up. Underprepared and underfunded schools in majority Black neighborhoods, leaving Black children underprepared and unavailable for the work force outside of the school. Drugs being funneled into Black neighborhoods to keep Black parents down and keep Black children on the streets. This book deeply brings a humanity to the race and class of people our children may not truly understand and may not know how to have feelings of humanity for. We see Star’s conflicts with trying to understand and trust the police force while also deciding whether she should stand up for her community and a young boy she called her friend. Teaching this book through Critical Race Theory we can spark some understanding and empathy in our students and show them the true realities for Black children in America. This is the way to change the future, by showing our students perspectives of many different forms and introducing them to the radical idea that they have a way to make change in this world. Freire encourages us to ask our students to question the world that is around them, to never just take what they are taught as truth but to seek truth for themselves. He says,
“Those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety, adopting instead a concept of women and men as conscious beings, and consciousness as consciousness intent upon the world. They must abandon the educational goal of deposit-making and replace it with the posing of the problems of human beings in their relations with the world” (Freire 43).
While teaching these texts we must not lead our students to answers we want them to have, we must ask them to come up with their own answers and question everything that they hear. These books may cause them to question things around them or things they have already been taught and we must encourage this curiosity in the world while we show them information that could be new to them. This is the only way to truly get our students to spark hearts of revolution. By teaching our students their power and showing them how easy it can be to question negative stereotypes we can make change in this world, break down walls and tear apart social constructs that are still threatening Black children all over the country. Our students are the future and we want them to reject racist ideals and stereotypical beliefs to make this place a better country for our future generations. Dehumanization of Black children in the school systems can only be changed from the inside out, it starts with us as teachers and we need to pass it on to our students if we want to see some change.
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Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. Puffin Books, 2014.
Sharayah Alkire is a 24-year-old Black intersectional feminist majoring at East Central University in Oklahoma and an honors student majoring in English Education.