Is Black Culture the Problem With Education?

A reader says the burden on fixing disparities in education falls on the Black community because of cultural reasons. But the White Guy says it's not the fault of the Black community--and it will take an effort from ALL Americans to fix education.

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Ask the White Guy Luke ViscontiQuestion:
Why should public schools receive equal funding? If some communities choose to pay higher property taxes, why shouldn’t they be entitled to a more well-funded education if they so choose? Why must the state ENFORCE a faux equality? We all know the D.C. public schools and the California public schools receive some of the highest funding in the country, yet perform miserably. Yet when you look at the states that succeed the most academically, you’ll note that while Wisconsin and Minnesota pour money into their public schools, Wyoming and Montana don’t. Yet all four states perform in the top 10 in the country. The one common denominator? They all have predominantly white populations.

Let’s be honest: This is a cultural thing, if we’re going to throw the genetic component out (and I think for sanity’s sake, we should). Name for me a single Black community that outscores the state average for white students. I’ll be waiting awhile.

The problem isn’t an uneven playing field. The problem is that Blacks are simply not even playing the same game as Asians and whites. Until a cultural emphasis is placed on success in the Black community (and it’s decidedly not), things simply will not change.

It’s not intellectually honest to discuss Black educational underperformance as if it is something that arrived on the current scene fully formed. The state isn’t trying to force “faux equality.” It’s (ineffectively) dealing with centuries of oppression. Equality in opportunity has never been part of the American experience. We can’t run away from that reality because it is responsible for the disparities in outcome by race in the facts you cite.

The good news is that getting to a solution for the disparities in education is not difficult when you accept that we are genetically all one human race.

This doesn’t mean everyone is of equal talent, but it does mean that every group of people has an equal percentage of talented people. Therefore, if education is managed correctly, every town–Black or white–SHOULD have the same outcome if the process assumes equal outcome as the only acceptable result.

So let’s not worry about the past–let’s worry about the future. If our country is going to be sustainable in this global economy, we need to develop ALL of our talent. It doesn’t make economic sense to under-educate talented people.

If we believe that all people are created equally (and that’s a genetic fact), then the only sensible thing for us to do is make sure that all students graduate from public schools with the same qualifications (within the statistical spread that accounts for all individual performance, measured not by group but by the entire United States).

If we accept equity in outcome, then we will be forced to reverse our thinking about education. Instead of applying the same failed solutions to the same problems and hoping for the best (or in your case, blaming the victim), we would have to impose conditions on the end result (percent graduating with the same skills, verified by testing).

What I think we’ll quickly find is that we IMMEDIATELY have to keep schools in low-income areas open 24/7/365 and serve hot meals three times a day–for the parents too, if they’re hungry. And while they’re there, let’s give skill assessments to the parents and give them education if they need it.

Studies show that people who are malnourished have behavior problems–and I’m sure even you would admit that you can’t learn if you’re hungry. And please, let’s not have talk about the responsibility of parents when it comes to hungry children. Let’s just feed the kids.

To get to equity in outcome, we’ll have to come to grips with the fact that the typical school schedule is simply inappropriate for most places in the country–especially underperforming districts. There are no cows to milk in the inner cities, so there’s no reason for students to go home at 3 p.m. In most cities, there are no crops to tend to in the summer–so the students can stay in school all year long. Further, a recent New Yorker article presented research that demonstrated that poor teachers have a higher impact than poor schools. Let’s get to a place where we pay teachers for accomplishment, not just the amount of time on the job.

You didn’t mention immigrants in your e-mail, but let me add that studies show that learning English is more important than learning the coursework. If we’re going to have secure borders and a coherent society, then we need a common language and it’s the obligation of “we the people” to provide that education up front.

Is this going to cost money? You bet it will, but not over the long run. Imposing the condition of equitable outcome would create the greatest economic development boom ever seen in our country. The government conducted a study and found that the GI Bill (which gave returning World War II and Korean War veterans free higher education) had a SEVEN to ONE return on investment when you consider tax revenue from better-educated people.

In this time of economic crisis, is there a better way to spend federal and state funds?

In closing, I agree with you about a shift in “cultural emphasis,” but not in the way you framed it. The burden isn’t on just Black people–it’s on all Americans. The change in “cultural emphasis” needs to be that we no longer accept differences in outcome that are based on race. Equity in outcome is the only way to build a sustainable country in a global economic environment.

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  •  Just changing the ideal to equal results does not change the necessities of getting there. You only briefly touched on the subject of money and then only to say that, indeed, it would cost a pretty penny. This I agree with, however, I believe that there is a very large disconnect between that statement and the reality of the American School System and how it functions.
    School Districts are independent governments that exist within the United States. They are not a single unit being led from the top by anyone. The School Districts have jurisdiction over a defined geographical area and are subject to the laws of those other governments who include that geographical area, but they have no control over anything outside their area. School District money comes from people who live within the defined geographic area of the school district. Therefore, a school district’s funding is dependent, almost exclusively, on the wealth of the people within its borders.
    Sometimes Federal or State money exists which a School District can obtain, but this money always comes with attached strings, or even worse, requirements. This money is often unobtainable by a school district that needs the money because the school district is not living up to the requirements necessary to get the money.
    This means, in short, that poor school districts will remain poor and unable to enact the kind of sweeping changes needed to improve their situation, because the people that live in the school district are poor. Simply raising taxes on the citizens who live within the districts borders does little to help the school district, because ultimately “the well goes dry”. There is only so much money in a school district and all districts are not created equal.
    Beyond this, the evidence suggests that just increasing offered programs, and changing the way a school does business as suggested, will not result in better final results. A lot of emphasis needs to be put into parental attention to their children’s education. In the end it doesn’t matter if school programs are offered for free 24/7/365 when the parent can’t be bothered to make sure his or her kid gets to school in the morning.

  • Bravo. We need, however, to begin long before kindergarden. We need national daycare in this country that ensures that young children a get adequate nutrition and are being intellectually stimulated during critical early developmental years. We need ALL our nation’s children to arrive on theor first day of formal education ready and excited about learning. We also need natioanlly funded equal education for all our children. Funding education with property and other local taxes creates inequality of opportunity!

  • Excellent response! Children are born with the desire to learn and to please. Poverty, crime, hunger, neglect, etc. burn that desire right out of them. I think year-round neighborhood schools with extended school days would go a long way toward alleviating some of these conditions, even if it can’t be 24/7. At least it would allow the “working poor” to hold down a regular job. As Marvin Gaye sang, “save the babies!”

  • Often times, there is the perception that ignoring the issue of race within a community, will cause it to go away. There has been a move especially lately to ignore the need to teach our children regarding Sociological concepts, and give them answers to the questions that they need, simply because it is ‘easier’. Especially in areas where there are low income inhabitants, education becomes even more prevalent, in it’s need. It is not necessarily true that those of ethnic minorities receive more funding. However; it is true that it takes more in those particular areas to supply the educational needs of the children. Could it be perhaps that this is because of their impoverished situaton? It makes sense, if you think about it. Higer turn-over rates for children, Tougher teachers needed to address testing issues, and many more advocates towards promoting ‘accurate’ information ..especially regarding the areas of Sociology, and history. These are needs that should be better addressed, and not just simply ignored, because persons are now embarrassed about the fact that there are sometimes displaced ethnic persons of lower incomes. I agree..we all need to come together, but we all need to be learning ‘the truth’ together. And not just a complacent version of the truth, that is used to placate those that simply do not wish to deal with the problems associated with the socialization of poverty. It’s simply just not that easy.

  • Education can be rewarding to both parents and children if they were being taught the truth about their heritage; knowing who they are and from whence they came. This hidden information is the core of racism in our Country today. As long as all black children are being taught that their ancestors were slaves, African Americans and Freedmen, and that all of their elders documents were destroyed by fire; the Educational System will always be staring racism in the face because there is always a few elite in every ethnic group of people that will find out who they are and from whence they came. Maybe a combination of subjects should be taught in the Black History Curriculum, such as: Black Native American History, Black Aboriginals, Black Frenchmen, Black Spaniards, Black Mulattos, and how their ancestors can be found on the Native American Rolls, such as: The three Mississippi Choctaws Rolls, The Oklahoma Dawes Five Civilized Tribal Commission Rolls, and the meaning of Card and Roll Numbers, and the many surnames that were given to black people that were already on this land. Not knowing ones history keeps them in bondage. Yes, Black Culture is the Problem with Education.

  • I teach immigrants from African countries that have ben oppressed and brutalized.These folk blend in and contribute to American culture. Dont tell me that a culture thats been in a democratic country with educational acts that favor their success cannot make it in the US. We have set the bar so low because this is what we expect of African American culture- not acceptable from AA culture or the American public at large. We KNOW AA culture can do better, its time to expect it because we know it can be done.

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