Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Little Color Blindness Would Be A Lot Less TAKS-ing On Our Schools

Even though I get a lot of my news online these days, another article in the paper has prompted me to post. Today, it's a column by Steve Blow that was prompted by the controversy over a local high school principal's singling out of black students to do better on the TAKS test, in an announcement given over the PA system at school. All the usual things followed: The principal, Kathy Culbertson, apologized; the superintendent denounced her remarks as inappropriate; and some parents want her head on a platter.

Blow asks two interesting questions in his column:

Is it still possible to even talk about race anymore? As I noted in the Farmers Branch post the other day, it's hard for people in the majority to even criticize anyone in a minority group these days without being branded as a racist. Blow ponders this point:
the question that kept coming to my mind was: Is there a way she could have made her point without giving offense? Surely we can agree that her basic message was a good one – a challenge to study harder and bring up test scores.
Is it inherently impolite to publicly single out one group of students, no matter how valid the message might be?
Or is a third factor at work here? Have we reached a point of such sensitivity that any mention of race is doomed?
I don't want to believe it's the latter. Racial understanding really rests on our ability to talk openly and honestly about difficult subjects.
And, yes, to blunder, to apologize, to forgive and move forward.
I really hope that we haven't reached that latter point either, because ultimately, dialogue is stifled and the problem never gets solved. It allows one group of people to use racism as a weapon, one that is wielded even in inapproprate situations like the one in Farmers Branch. And in the meantime, the group of people that is being so accused gets to the point where they hear it so often, in every little situation, that they become immune to it even in times when the charges are legitimate (the "kid who cried wolf" syndrome, if you wish).

Does race have a place in standardized testing at all? I don't think so, and neither does Blow:
As I pondered all this, it suddenly struck me that the real culprit here isn't Ms. Culbertson. The travesty is that she was forced to think in racial terms at all.
But that's exactly what state and federal policies require educators to do. By law, TAKS test results must be broken down by race – white, black and Hispanic. "Economically disadvantaged" students are also divided out.
If students in any of those categories don't do well on the standardized test, the school as a whole is downgraded.
Why inject race into this? Why are we judging children by the very thing we teach them not to judge by?
And with today's booming middle class of educated, prosperous minorities, what do those labels really tell us anyway?
A black child? Is that an attorney's daughter? Or a crack addict's abandoned son?
Hispanic? Is that an immigrant child with no English? Or a business owner's child with no Spanish?
I believe that he's absolutely right here: The only category that needs to be singled out is "economically disadvantaged" students, which Blow classifies as "students from poor, uneducated, limited English or dysfunctional families." They are the ones that need special attention, regardless of skin color. Because Blow is right--the principal used some badly-chosen words, but in a truly effective setup, she--and we--wouldn't be forced to think about race at all in this case.

And I'll save my thoughts about how we need to de-emphasize the TAKS test altogether for another post.

This'll drive you bananas: Remember the animated badgers from a few years ago? Here's the sequel: The Banana Badgerphone. (Don't blame me; I'm only the messenger.)


SuperanonymousJP said...

Amen brother.

Shawn said...

I don't remember the animated badgers... and so that was just a giant WTF.

Kev said...

Shawn--here's the original.

Jazzy G said...

Kenya is a gem, too.
I love Weebl and Bob. =)