Open Letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Department
of Education Administrators
Secretary Duncan and Department of Education Administrators:
letter is written to address the omission of the most important
role of teacher expectation in student achievement when teacher
expectations are primarily and willfully shaped by racism, sexism,
religious bigotry, homophobia, handicap-ism, and age-ism. Deputy
Secretary Simon asserted this morning on television that the most
important issue for teachers is their skill in their subject. This
is incorrect. It is also incorrect to believe that anyone who masters
a subject can teach it, without any education, practice and skill
in teaching itself.
increasingly punitive spirit of educational programs being proposed
continues to reflect a classist, racist, sexist, homophobic, age-ist
view that those who are not doing well in school are failing because
they don't realize the benefits of education and so should be punished,
forced into it and have it drilled into them night and day until
they get it. This won't work because the proposals being put forward
are based on erroneous, stereotypical views of people seen as inferior.
It has long been know to many that educational systems like that
in Japan or Korea can produce capable mathematicians but not independent
thinkers. People who are dehumanized, whether by under education
or by a stress on education which only values what makes money and
does not encourage thoughtfulness does not lead to democratic societies.
To the contrary, both lead to acceptance of dictatorships. Is this
what we are seeking? Children and adults need recreation too, just
as they also need education. Making longer days and terms, without
addressing the most fundamental problems of racism and racism plus
sexism as experienced by women and girls of color has no chance
at all of success. Yet attention to this issue is the only area
which is refused mention, let alone attention.
degree to which the US Department of Education goes to find educational
gimmicks to assert the discovery of new teaching models and testing
methods on which to pin the nation's hopes that real effort to improve
the situation is being made, while students and employees--including
teachers--are routinely discriminated against and ruthlessly retaliated
against if they complain, is at the core of the problems of this
country. When will this be addressed?
reputed description of some schools as "drop-out factories"
ignores the disparate treatment of those schools which have always
been under funded; inadequately staffed; publicly blamed for problems,
like drugs and gangs which exist in "upper-class" schools
and communities but are covered up and not subjected to police harassment;
allow concepts like "reverse discrimination" to be undisputed
when nearly every higher educational institution in the nation admits
family and friends of the power elite, no matter how academically
deficient or dangerously troublesome on the signature of college/university
presidents, vice presidents, deans and department heads--a white
male preference practice that virtually excludes minorities, many
women--even white women, and people of the grassroots--with never
a word about "unqualified."
is hard to understand the selection process which puts so many people
into positions of responsibility for education throughout the nation
and yet there is no recognition or acknowledgement that educational
institutions have been re-segregated. The new segregation allows
students of color, for example, to be in the same building with
white students, but does not give them the same education. Thus,
I recall an Alabama high school in which there was only 1 Black
student in Spanish and Geometry. Though there were many college
prep courses, they were for White students. The Black students were/are
enrolled in ROTC. Of course, that school was not unique. Like others,
the school taught about the "good" slave owners in history
and had school dances in which White students danced on one side
of the gym and Black students danced on the other side. Mingling
was not permitted. This practice continues today and has been in
the news regarding high school proms. What is the role of the Dept.
of Education in these situations? Isn't discriminatory academic
environment recognized as discrimination?
are other practices around the nation which, if I and millions of
others know about, so you should know about them too. If you are
familiar with these issues why are they not mentioned and acted
The obstructionist responses of the US Dept. of Education Offices
for Civil Rights (like EEOC and most state and municipal agencies)
has created a chilly climate and fear among those who experience
discrimination of all kinds. OCR, which was once extremely helpful
and supportive of those seeking relief from discrimination, including
the third party in sex discrimination cases--cases in which
one person gets preferential treatment based on a sexual relationship
with a person in power, and others who refuse such relationships
are denied equitable access to recommendations, jobs, promotions,
and educational opportunities. Current practice accommodates defendants
and produces all manner of barriers to complainants, including nasty
interpersonal behavior, refusing to give the same convenience in
meeting places to complainants as are given to defendants, and long
delays in responses, if any are given. Responses received often
require more and more investigative work and documentation by complainants,
little if any investigation by OCR, and clear cordial acceptance
of defendant explanations. Complaints are closed, even when defendant
is guilty of discrimination, with no compensation for the complainant--not
even apologies. Subsequent retaliation against complainants is ignored,
even when complainant assert that it is expected. Does this not
suggest complicity in the problems?
Racism and other forms of institutionalized discrimination are not
isolated incidents or rare problems. The notion that handing out
"good job" certificates to some schools as a means of
encouraging others to do better is laughable. This method has been
repeated by every administration, at least in the last 40 or 50
years. Most such awards are given to schools in more affluent neighborhoods,
as you did in Pennsylvania. You gave an award to a school in Bala
Cynwyd which is still predominantly rich and white and sits outside
Philadelphia where the public school students are predominantly
disadvantaged Black and Latino, with many poor Whites as well. I
am a graduate of West Philadelphia High School where I was an A
student but did not get any support or encouragement to go to college.
I have been an A student since kindergarten; graduated Maxima Cum
Laude from La Salle University, have earned multiple degrees and
a wall full of awards, always as an outstanding student. I spent
my freshman year at Cheyney State College, now University--an institution
established by the American Friends (Quakers) for Black students.
For more than 50 years, the state of Pennsylvania, even when a Title
VI consent decree based on race discrimination against Blacks was
in force, left Cheyney as it is today, grossly under funded, in
horrible physical condition, led by someone's cronies. Those running
the institution have been paid well to allow Cheyney to continue
its downward slide so eventually there will be a rationale to have
it taken over by a predominantly White institution for the "good"
of the Black community. For years, Cheyney has supplied a major
portion, if not the majority, of teachers in Philadelphia schools,
yet the education given to those many of those teachers was substandard.
Whose fault was/is that? When I tried to transfer from Cheyney to
Swarthmore College, despite the fact that as a first year student
I was among the top 25 academically in the college, Swarthmore was
not supportive because I was not White. Such practices continue
everywhere today. Why isn't the Dept. of Education engaged in massive
numbers of compliance reviews to bring about real educational equity?
is it still that the higher the educational level, the more disparate
the representation of women and people of color? Why is it that
women of color administrators are disproportionately in positions
related to women, minorities, affirmative action, diversity and
remediation and more often in assistant dean, rather than dean positions,
assistant to a vice president, not vice presidents, assistant department
heads, and not department heads? The positions from which promotions
are made are not assistant roles. Why are so many people of color,
especially women of color, forced to choose between a reasonable
(if lower than average) salary and faculty status or credit toward
tenure? What woman of color in these roles created for minorities
only ever became a college president or head of a major corporation?
And if there is one, are there 20 or 100 or 1000? Why does the Dept.
of Education accept tokenism as if it is achievement? How can you
be unaware that conditions for students of color have worsened?
The affluent always see things differently from those who live in
social distress over which they have no voice.
The No Child Left Behind program is well known among grassroots
and people of color as a vehicle by which mainly White people make
money providing minimal, inferior services to children/youth of
color. Evidence supporting this statement was pointed out to the
US and California Dept. of Education when tutors in one of the reading
programs funded by NCLB discovered in an Arizona newspaper reports
that the company providing the tutoring was owned by a man who had,
along with his wife, been investigated for criminal activity, defrauding
a US Dept. of Ed program in Arizona. The male owner testified against
his wife who was convicted and sent to prison, while he--the husband--was
allowed to operate his program in 5 states including California.
His company is dominated by cronies--friends and relatives and staffed
by exploited tutors. The company passes along unpaid administrative
work to the tutors, and allowed tutors and students to work in unsafe
environments, such as a single female tutor and a single elementary
student being left alone at night in a school trailer used as a
classroom while the school was closed with no security in a high
crime area. Tutors were encouraged to drag out the lessons for any
children who succeeded "too quickly." Groups of students
were assembled for tutoring whose academic levels and educational
problems varied so greatly that the lower achieving students felt
embarrassed to have their peers see their problems. The owner's
son, who lacked appropriate skills and education, supervised the
California programs and came on site in an obviously intoxicated
condition, witnessed by parents, though with no smell of alcoholic
beverages. These and other problems were reported to the owner,
to NCLB and other authorities. No response was ever received.
some instances, students whose parents do not speak English, have
had tutors who could communicate in the parent's language. Parents
have begged tutors to help their children with homework in English
and math because the parents cannot read the instructions and the
children do not understand the instructions of the teachers in school.
Many NCLB programs forbid tutors to help the students in this way.
There is little to no concern for the achievement of the student
only that the licensed company make its money.
tutors identify potential problems which can interfere with student
learning, such as dyslexia and hearing impairment, even if giving
the parents documentation in English and another language to present
to their child's school, the schools do not act on this information
and the company for which the tutor works forbids such assistance.
In one incident, a parent who presented evidence of hearing impairment
and dyslexia was told, "we had the nurse check your child and
she is fine." Of course, school nurses are not trained to make
such decisions. But the parents are dismissed. The students are
then subject to retaliation by teachers.
parents indicate that they have learning plans for their children
in the schools but that the schools don't implement them, preferring
instead to expel the students. Often there are what appear to be
conflict of interest relationships between schools, school boards,
police/sheriff departments and district attorney offices. Sometimes
a school official is in multiple roles in these organizations and
decides educational and prosecutorial outcomes. There are cases
like this reported in West Sacramento/Yolo County and Elk Grove,
California. Some have been reported in the media. Why isn't the
Dept. of Education pro-active in these cases?
why isn't the Dept. of Education assisting in resolving issues at
D-Q University, the only Indian University in this same area? Had
the Dept. of Education helped when there were early indicators of
discriminatory hiring practices by non-Indians in positions of power
and obvious outcomes of inadequate academic preparation of students
as they left D-Q University and entered other institutions of higher
education, things might not have deteriorated to the current level.
Is the responsibility of the Department of Education only to handle
the easy tasks and the children of the affluent, throwing away the
rest of the nations children for whom there will never be private
or charter schools, even if they were all successful--which they
are not. When does the US Dept. of Education become an advocate
for educational justice and equity? When is the role of critical
thinking going to replace rote memory activities as a Dept. of Education
primary goal? Or is the goal simply to turn back the clock for the
grassroots, for the disadvantaged, for the disabled, for people
of color and the poor to the level of medieval serfs with no rights,
privileges or access to justice?
More examples of what occurs daily in US Schools:
a. Hispanic students ridiculed for speaking Spanish to each other,
outside class time.
b. Hispanic students told that their ancestors were barbarians.
d. Students of color followed around in campus retail stores because,
based on their appearances, they are judged to be shoplifters
e. Sexist and racist materials sold in school/campus bookstores.
Racism video games, ie, "killing Indians"
f. A Black student who experiences a food service employee at a
campus restaurant had food spat on by the employee. Nothing was
ever done about it.
g. The first Black student ever to study forensics at a certain
university was exposed to a deadly drug by the faculty member who
had tried to get the student to drop the class, but the student
refused. When the incident was reported to the Dean of the College,
who was Black, he refused to meet with the student. The offices
of Student Services and President arranged for a Black Vice President
from a neighboring university to meet with the student and tell
him to stop making waves. The student reported the matter to DEA.
The faculty member reportedly fled to another country and the matter
was closed. Some employees who opposed the way this and other incidents
were handled were retaliated against and either fired or subjected
to harassment until they left.
h. Even when making highly publicized "diversity" hires,
educational institutions frequently underpay these employees, sometimes
violating their own personnel policies.
i. Students of color are routinely discouraged from aspiring to
professional occupations like law and medicine. A Black high school
student reported that when asked by her career counselor what career
interested her, she replied law. The counselor then told her that
was unrealistic, that she needed to pick something else.
j. Students are routinely lied to about the preparations needed
for their desired careers. A Black returning adult male with years
of experience in the field of journalism was about to graduate with
his bachelor's degree. Thinking about a graduate degree, he met
with the department head, a white male, and asked about getting
into the master's program. He was told not to go to graduate school
because it would hinder him in the business of journalism where
people with graduate degrees are disliked.
k. It is widely known that educational institutions across the nation
often hire people of color who are willing to be tokens and willing
to denigrate others in their own ethnic groups. Students or employees
who attempt to point this out are castigated. It is a common practice.
l. Discrimination and cronyism in teacher credentialing commissions
are ignored. These represent a tiny fraction of the problems. What
is the Dept. of Education doing about them?
There are hundreds, if not thousands of educated professionals who
are respected by grassroots people because of their documented
years of work advocating justice, equality, fairness and all the
other things claimed in the mission of every educational institution
and, I am certain, in the mission of the US Dept of Education. Yet,
people like us are not consulted, let alone hired. At stake is not
only the issue of integrity, which stands like an elephant in a
room, but the fact that although the US remains at this time a country
with a White majority population, that majority is declining, just
as the representation of Europeans in the world is now miniscule.
It will not forever be possible for a small group of people to control
the masses. Now is the time that energies should go into building
bridges, cooperation, collaboration and collegial spirit. Those
that continue to deny the harsh realities of life with racism and
racism plus sexism for women of color, are as much a part of the
problems as those who openly promote hatred based of asserted differences.
is no such thing as race, other than the human race. The ancestry
of all human beings is African. That this is fact is no longer deniable.
Why isn't the Dept. of Education exercising leadership on this point
instead of looking backward,
holding on to the failed strategies of the past. Although we are
all humans, we have many cultures and traditions. The time has come
to accept that Western traditions will no longer dominate the world.
We need to educate our entire population in multiple languages,
cultures and traditions on an ongoing basis, not allow hatred of
Hispanic/Latino immigrants be an excuse to rob their communities
of their language while discouraging others from its study by denigrating
those for whom it is a first language with discouraging national
policies. After all, we are not building a wall across Canada.
there needs to be a complete overhaul of prison education, which
is too often taught by other prisoners or volunteers or others,
most unqualified, though their motives may be good. The Dept. of
Education should promote educational requirements as a condition
of prisoner release, in which prisoners would leave with a minimum
high school education with computer skills and have the opportunity
to work in higher education. In addition, curricula should include
courses in psychology, women's studies, domestic violence, men's
studies, ethnic studies, family dysfunction, addiction, gangs and
more to help prisoners understand their own behaviors and to set
in place a system in which the way out is through education. This
would undermine gangs and corrupt guard domination activities and
prepare prisoners to pursue further education and responsible living
I lack faith in only appealing to the Dept. of Education as a citizen
interested in the well-being of my country, whether a victim of
discrimination or an advocate for justice, unless others are aware
of my having written yet again, I will share this letter with others.
I will encourage them to send you their information, experiences
and reports to expand your knowledge. I will copy it to others working
on these issues and include it in my online column, "Women
of Color" in blackcommentator.com where all of you can also
find many other writers and columns addressing issues which merit
your attention. I also recommend the books (below) and their writers
as the kind of reading in which you should be engaged and the kind
of consultants you should hire if you have interest in improving
education for all in the US. I encourage you to take advantage of
these resources and to reach out to all of us at your own initiative.
CEO, International Association for Women of Color Day
Parker is currently Assistant Chancellor for Equity and Diversity
at the University of Washington Tacoma (UWT). She has enjoyed a
thirty-year career in public administration addressing issues of
social justice and equity as a diversity practitioner, researcher,
and consultant. Prior to joining UWT, she served for six years as
Principal Investigator with the Campus Diversity Initiative (CDI)
Evaluation Resource Project based at Claremont Graduate University
in southern California. Her service also has included work in higher
education institutions where she led initiatives on diversity and
social responsibility; non-profit advocacy organizations, such as
the National Institute for Women of Color, the National Commission
on Working Women, and the American Institute for Managing Diversity;
and independent consulting. Dr. Parker is a USA citizen of Native
American (Susquehama, Tslagi) and African American heritage.
Donald H. Smith:
Up The Mountain Children: The Journey of an African American Educator,
by Donald H. Smith, 2002 (Available from the author). A native of
Chicago; attended Chicago Public Schools. Received his bachelor's
degree from University of Illinois, masters from DePaul and PhD
from University of Wisconsin. He has taught at all levels, K-12
through college, university and adult education programs. He has
developed innumerable innovative educational programs and organizations,
including Open Admissions at New York University; positions at Baruch
College, City University of New York, Northeastern Illinois University
and many others. He is the founding president of the NY Alliance
of Black School Educators and numerous other important roles. His
research and scholarship have produced many important reports and
studies, including Saving the African American Child.
Consultant, Educator, Education Administrator; Reading Specialist;
Master's Degree, Harvard University; PhD, UCLA. Develops cultural
models and trains administrators.
scholar / cultural worker / intellectual Michele Wallace has been
furthering the difficult work of decolonization since her first
brave and controversial book "Black Macho and the Myth of the
Superwoman" appeared in 1979, when Wallace was twenty six.
She was attacked, like Ntozake Shange, for her refusal to be reticent
about the corrosive and painful effects of sexism and racism on
Black women. As she commented in her interview in Marlon Riggs'
"Black Is, Black Ain't", she is still, in many ways, being
punished. Wallace's exemplary critical writing on visual art is
cogently presented in such essays as "Modernism, Postmodernism
and the Problem of the Visual in Afro-American Culture" and
her afterward in the book Black Popular Culture. (based on a path
breaking conference organized by Wallace at the Studio Museum in
Harlem in 1991), "Why Are There No Great Black Artists? The
Problem of Visuality in African-American Culture". Her attention
to the invisibility and/or fetishization of Black women in the gallery
and museum worlds has made possible new critical thinking around
the intersection of race and gender in African-American visual and
popular culture, particularly in what she has called "the gap
around the psychoanalytic" in contemporary African-American
critical discourse. Presently, Wallace teaches in the English Department
at the Graduate Center of City University of New York (CUNY).
Columnist Suzanne Brooks is the founder and CEO of International
Association for Women
of Color Day and CEO of Justice 4 All Includes Women of Color.
to contact Ms. Brooks.
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15 , 2009
published every Thursday
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Est. April 5, 2002
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