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Education experts and authors discussed the experiences of students of color in public schools and possibilities for education reform in a Harvard Education Press webinar Thursday.
The event was held in commemoration of Black History Month and featured four panelists who specialize in topics regarding the inclusion of Black and Latinx students in American public schools. Thursday’s panel was moderated by Jessica T. Fiorillo, the executive director of Harvard Education Press.
Panelist Lawrence “Torry” Winn — an associate professor of education at the University of California Davis School of Education — said the experience of students of color in public schools today is not noticeably different from those of the past.
“Students of color, especially African American or Black students, are not treated today any better than yesterday,” Winn said.
Racial discrimination in schools affects all students of color, even individuals often overlooked as “high-achieving,” according to Terah T. Venzant Chambers, a professor at the Michigan State University College of Education.
“I want to disrupt the notion that when it comes to these Black and Latinx students who are doing well in school, taking AP classes, earning top grades, that everything is fine. That is not necessarily true,” Venzant Chambers said.
“When we peel back the layer, we understand that these students are operating within a very complex system that gives rigid messages about what is right with respect to how they should behave, or speak, or dress if they want to be seen as smart,” Venzant Chambers added.
Jeffrey M.R. Duncan-Andrade, an ethnic studies professor at San Francisco State University, said radical education reform is needed in order to achieve educational equity.
“If we are honest about the data, we know that what needs to happen is not a soft pivot,” Duncan-Andrade said. “It’s a foundational, fundamental rethink about the very purpose of public schools in this society.”
Sufficient acknowledgement of the need for reform is missing from the broader public conversation around education, replaced by a “false innocence” and disbelief at injustice in the classroom, according to Duncan-Andrade.
“That’s just the stuff that made it into the headlines,” he said. “Until we get to the place where white folks and people in power are as angry and disillusioned as Black and Indigenous and poor people have been from the outset of this public school project in this nation, then we’ll continue to have to lift up things that folks of color know are happening to us every single day.”
Panelist Nicole M. Joseph, an associate professor of math education at Vanderbilt University, said she wanted to recognize the perseverance of public school teachers who make efforts to uplift students of color.
“I do want to elevate teachers that are resisting, that are creating curricular experiences that are helping Black and Latinx students to understand that they’re strong, that they can learn, that they are highly intellectual and intelligent,” Joseph said. “Those teachers need to be celebrated, elevated, paid more.”
Duncan-Andrade said he looks to the future of education with optimism.
“This nation has a real allergy to truth-telling,” he said. “What I really appreciate about young people is the ways in which they show a courage that I often find absent in grown folks, which is a willingness to just tell the damn truth.”
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