On Education Reform, Blaming the Victim Doesn’t Fix the Problem

While convenient, it is never productive to blame the victim in seeking a solution to a problem. Recently a dear friend and colleague of mine, Matthew Clair, citing an op-ed by Patrick Welsh, a high school english teacher writing in the New York Times, as well as Bill Cosby, asked the question "Is the black community to blame for America's education crisis?” The simple answer to this is no.

Clair wrote that fixing lower class black communities would be a solution to helping boost minority education levels. While it is true that minority kids in low socio-economic communities are at the fore of America’s education crisis, neither they, nor their communities, should be to blame.

Perhaps it would be fair to place blame on minority communities if they had ever been offered adequate education or access to economic opportunities in the first place. Instead, minority communities, especially African-Americans, have been perpetually denied any real opportunities for upward mobility. The black community is not to blame for the education crisis, rather the continual education crisis is to blame for the state of the African-American community. While my colleague would prefer to lean on Booker T. Washington’s ‘pick yourself up by your own bootstraps’ philosophy, I ascribe more to the words of Frederick Douglass who stated “the destiny of the colored American ... is the destiny of America.”

Not only does America owe an insurmountable debt to the black community for hundreds of years of free labor which literally built this country, this country also owes it to herself to live up to the truest ideal of “liberty and justice for all.” For those who caught themselves rolling their eyes at yet another ‘blame it on slavery’ reference, consider this: there are currently more African American men in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began. There is no coincidence that African-American men are also the lowest performing subgroup on every educational achievement indicator.

Let’s stop trying to blame “cultural differences” for the cradle-to-prison complex, broken families, a dependence on the welfare state, and other social ills in the African-American community. We should recognize that better education is instead the solution. This is not a ‘chicken or egg’ paradox; America needs to figure out a way to do what it has never done before in providing an adequate education to minority children in low socio-economic communities.

Clair calls America’s education issue a crisis, and he is absolutely correct. In a country where we are set to have a majority-minority population by the middle of this century, and those minority groups that will make up that majority are the most undereducated, impoverished groups today, we are setting ourselves up for the rapid decline of the United States from its former glory.

We’ve spent enough time playing the blame game. Let’s get serious about fixing the problem of educational inequity. If we can find solutions to educating what have proved to be the most challenging groups in our country, we will ultimately raise the level of education for all American children.

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