Re-Focusing Our Finger-Pointing

, Sarah Carlsruh, Leave a comment

The Washington Post’s Sunday Outlook section contained an interesting piece by a local high school teacher on grade disparity among races. With the “racial achievement gap” getting attention from administrations and concerned citizens across the nation, Patrick Welsh, English teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, implored people to consider that it is not an issue of race at all.

He told of how the school held a three-day conference on “Equity and Excellence” rather than addressing the real problem; most of these kids are what Yvette Jackson, chief executive of the National Urban Alliance, calls “school-dependent learners”—they rely on the school system to give them the basic information that most kids get at home prior to beginning school.

After a frustrated Welsh asked his “virtually all-black class of 12th-graders” why they do not “study like the kids from Africa,” a normally pleasant student angrily responded, “You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us,” and, said Welsh, “When [he] did, not one hand went up.”

Welsh argued that his students are well aware of the reason they are at a disadvantage, and is not due to lack of resources— T.C. Williams High is a “new, state-of-the-art, $100 million T.C. Williams, where every student is given a laptop and where there is open enrollment in Advanced Placement and honors courses.”

As a poignant example of the misguided focus on race, Welsh said that last year the school’s superintendent “ordered principals throughout the city to post huge charts in their hallways so everyone—including 10-year-old kids—could see differences in test scores between white, black and Hispanic students.” The reason for the grade disparity is uncertain—there are studies suggesting it is attributed to income levels, parent involvement levels, or cultural differences—but this particular manner of approaching it can only be counterproductive.

Sarah Carlsruh is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.

*Blog entries by interns reflect their personal opinions only and not that of Accuracy and Academia.