Playing the Involvement Card

In last week’s Carolina Peacemaker, columnist Ed Whitfield praises my school board representative Deena Hayes’ courage while continuing the discussion on institutional racism in Guilford County schools.

“Much of what she has been able to do is raise examples of institutional racism within our county school board’s policies and attitudes toward African American children, parents, communities, administrators and teachers. It has not been without controversy. Her detractors have repeatedly accused her of ‘playing the race card.’…”

I agree with Whitfield’s assessment of both Hayes and “her detractors“.  I also agree that institutional racism is “insidious” and that all vestiges of it should be completely eliminated.  My criticicm is that both Whitfield and Hayes continue to blame institutional racism for all of the disparities between black and white students to the exclusion of any other factors that have been proven to account for many of the inequalities in any educational system.

Black and white children bring equal abilities to school when they enroll in kindergarten, but to succeed over the next twelve years they must also bring their family’s committment to learning along with them.  Those students who bring both elements to school will, on the whole, excel.  If either commitment or ability is lacking the student will struggle; be they black or white, rich or poor… but it is the poor (be they black or white) who will have the hardest time obtaining the commitment part of the equation because education takes time… lots of time; and time is something that the poor have precious little of.  In addition, poor families may feel intimidated in the middle class dominated educational setting which firther compounds the problem.

While we need to continually strive to remove all remaining instances of institutional racism, we must also find inventive ways to help engage student’s families in the education process.  From my perspective of hundreds of hours in my children’s very diverse schools I have noticed that the “acheivement gap”  is usually mirrored by an “involvement gap” on the part of parents and other caregivers. I hear little in the way of bridging this “involvemnt gap” from our educational leadership in Guilford County.   

My frustration with Hayes, (sometimes)Whitfield and others who arguably “play the race card” is that they seem to think that card trumps all others… and it does not.  For poor black and white students to succeed we need to consider all of the cards we have in our hand. 

While there are many factors that come into play regarding educational equality, study after study (pdf file) has shown that one of the best indicators of a student’s success in school is the level of parental involvement in children’s lives. Let’s put that card on the table too.

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