Growing Up with Privilege

"Of course, as a parent, you want the best possible future for your child. But the best possible future should include a society that isn't organized around racism. Hagerman's book is a careful, painful and convincing argument that when white people give their children advantages, they are often disadvantaging others. Racism is so hard to overturn, in part, because white people prop it up when they work to make sure their children succeed." These words are from Noah Berlatsky in his recent article in NBCNewsA former principal of the school my children attend brought this article to my attention. The article's title is "White kids, racism and the way privileged parenting props up an unjust system". In this article, Berlatsky discusses a book written by Margaret Hagerman, "White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America (Critical Perspectives on Youth)". The book exposes how "families who do not have racist intentions, are in fact reproducing and reinforcing the inequalities they have rejected". What is especially worth noting is that my children's former principal added this, "The Advanced Academic Centers is an example of this."

Above copied from NBCNews

Previous articles posted on this blog talked about the advanced academic programs in Fairfax county. For instance, the post "An Example of Inequity in Education: Fairfax County Public Schools" illustrates that (1) White and Asian children are much more likely to be identified as talented than Black and Hispanic children, (2) Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be retained, and (3) Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be suspended. Since Black and Hispanic students often come from low-income families, these differences can therefore be presented likewise in terms of socio-economic status.

As the country strives to find ways to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in its advanced academic programs, we are also constantly reminded that for the sake of equality, we should not really hold back children who can learn much faster. I think this is where both Berlatsky and Hagerman need to be heard because both see education as something so much more than just learning how to read and do math. Focusing on reading and math paves the way for the unwanted correlation between privilege and "academic potential". Emphasizing reading and math leads to segregation of schools based on either race or socio-economic status. And doing so, we therefore miss that education is also learning about ourselves, our humanity.

The following is what I wrote in response to my children's former principal:

One probem I see is the fact that privilege is often associated with greater potential. Of course, at the elementary level where we only focus on reading and math, it is the case. Thus, advanced academic advocates point to this association as the main reason why children should be segregated according to abilities. The problem is that life is so much more than reading and math. Later in life, diversity matters for this is the only way through which different perspectives are possible. We know this in higher education where it is not just math and reading that matter. Thinking outside the box for instance is necessary. As long as we keep a very narrow definition of excellence, this will remain a problem. Ironically, giftedness is actually very narrow. It is supposed to come with a very distinct way a child thinks which necessitates their separation from the general population. Their asyncronous development, for example, is one key characteristic but there are additional behavioral problems. Giftedness in fact sometimes looks like disabilities such as ADHD or autism. Yet, we know that unless these disabilities profoundly limit the functioning of a child, it is better to keep such children in general education. Giftedness therefore should also be treated in the same way - segregation should only be taken if the student cannot really fit in a general classroom. Unfortunately, in identifying gifted students we primarily focus on the strengths. And we worry unnecessarily about not challenging these students enough without realizing that yes, these children may not be challenged in reading and math, but they are still bound to meet challenges in other areas. These children will still meet challenges as every child does even inside the general education classroom. And education is really so much more than just reading and math. I think we actually need to change our perspective first on what education really is. And in America, one important part of education is experiencing and relating to other cultures and races. If we recognize that this is important, then we should clearly see that any form of segregation in schools which go against what society is made of does great disservice to our children.


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