Institutionalized discrimination. What is it?
“If a particular group is disproportionately absent in comparison to the pool of those possessing the relevant skills, discrimination is occurring even if it is impossible to document specific individual instances.” – Jo Freeman
Have you noticed that minority students are disproportionately absent from high school graduations across this country? It is a fact that Black and Hispanic youth are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to drop out of high school. In 2004, 12 percent of blacks and 24 percent of Hispanics ages 16 to 24 had not graduated from high school, compared with 7 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
This leads me to the question, are certain high schools with low minority graduation rates limiting social and economic opportunities for those who attend these schools? I think so. We face numerous problems as we commit ourselves to challenging the exclusion of many Americans from full participation in our society, and one major problem is public education.
Today at El Valor, I did something I’ve never done before… I “acted” in a commercial! (I played the part of a science teacher and steamed up a pair of goggles.) It is a commercial to be aired on TV meant to show parents that they have options when it comes to high schools for their children. Options like private schools that offer financial assistance, charter schools and magnet schools. Going to high school is a life changing experience, where a child becomes a young adult. The quality of the high school helps determine if and where a student goes to college. The student’s peer group in high school plays a huge part in his or her academic success. And this is what parents want for their children: academic success.
Across this country, the academic institutions called high schools that many of us remember so fondly (though hopefully NOT as the best years of our lives) are not the safe halls of academia we might recall. I once worked in a school where I saw the police paddy wagon parked nearly everyday after school, waiting to arrest students who were known participants in criminal behavior, mostly drugs and gang violence. Is this where you’d want your child to go to high school? It certainly offered little in the ways of academic success.
The inequality of education in this country is unacceptable. The challenges we face today in many public schools include the lingering effects of racism and poverty. Until we face these challenges, they will perpetuate institutionalized discrimination as proven in the dropout rates, as well as incarceration rates.
But how can we change what we often do not see? Educating communities about school choice seems like a good place to start, though there are many more students than there are good schools from which to choose. Until we, as American citizens, start wanting academic success for every child in this country the way we want academic success for our own children, institutionalized discrimination will continue.