Proclamation on the Schoolhouse Door
Even after we abolish police brutality and the death of minorities, we will still be challenged to consider blatant inconsistencies in our schools. Taking off our blinders will not be pleasant or easy.
In a superficial scurry of effort, we will be tempted to make the “have” and “have not” schools equal—a good start but not an adequate finish. All children deserve the early childhood experiences provided by parents who do not go to bed frightened about losing a roof over their heads. With that in mind, a larger issue haunts education. In addition to making schools equal in terms of safety, teachers, number of computers, and quality programs, we must also face a lack of equity in education.
Equal means that everyone gets the same amount of goods and services with comparable quality. Equity means every student gets what that individual needs in order to have a fair shot at success.
At the risk of stereotyping, most babies born in average or affluent homes, have numerous books, educational toys, and attention from caring adults. A variety of colors and textures surround the baby along with trips to parks, visits with interesting friends, and maybe even field trips to the beach. Contrast the number and quality of experiences in homes struggling to put food on the table. After basking in an array of experiences, one child arrives at school with a firm learning foundation. A child with limited experiences arrives lacking neural connections needed to support learning. This does not happen because parents do not care. Regardless of their love, poverty becomes a thief, stealing opportunities.
What might happen if educators went overboard to provide the enrichment often lacking in low-income homes? What if schools in low-income neighborhoods offer public daycare centers complete with the life advantages that children from more affluent homes encounter on a daily basis such as:
Frequent experiences with books
Exposure to quality music and art
Textures to feel, foods to taste, sounds to hear
Animals to pet
Educators know that these life experiences become the foundation for academics, which will come at a later, more appropriate age and time. In addition, what if low-income schools become community centers with food pantries, free or inexpensive clothes closets, health care, career assistance, counseling, and prenatal and early childhood education?
Could there be a more powerful mechanism for ending low socio-economic prejudice? Probably not. Fair to all? Others may debate the fairness, but the action will be justified and beneficial. What would it be worth to replace anger with feelings of self-worth and acceptance of one another? When we go over the top to enrich the youngest members of every oppressed group, I suspect the outcomes will ultimately beat reparation.
Equal schools will be worthy beginnings. Recognizing and securing equity, although initially costly, might eventually empty our prisons and reduce our need for welfare. A society filled with self-actualized citizens will benefit everyone. The costs will be high; the price tag for ignoring the lack of equity will be far greater.