Dr. Jeff Duncan Andrade – Associate Professor of Raza Studies and Education Administration and Interdisciplinary Studies SFSU / Founder of Roses In Concrete Community School in Oakland, USA.
This society is…is fundamentally unequal. You can literally measure out and predict it the social reality we built the economic reality we built it’s so far afield…from…the rhetoric on which this nation was both founded and continues to spew. One wonders how long can we continue to lie… to say that this is our national agenda this is our national goal, this is our national hope while then constructing a national reality that looks nothing like that rhetorical commitment to justice and equality and equity and democratic ideals. You can’t build something this stable that is this unequal by accident.
Malcolm X said once: of all the forms of study, the one that’s the most likely to reward your effort is the study of history because the truth is lying there and you know, there was a time in this country when we didn’t feel the need to kind of coat things right? we just said it. And, so if you look historically at… even the foundation of public schools in this country you know, public schools were not designed to be what we now say they were designed to be which is the great equalizer, they were designed to to school people into very specific stations in life and based on who you were that station was largely predetermined for you.
There was intentionality around creating some pressure releases knowing that you couldn’t you couldn’t create absolute caps because then you would have a pure kind of apartheid state right? so you have to have this cracks, right? in the ceiling that allow the quote and quote deserving few from your poor, from your downtrodden right? to gain relative access to power otherwise you can’t maintain the myth of meritocracy. But if we look at the historical record and if we look at the data and the aggregate it’s clear that the structure is designed in, you know, frankly a fairly impressive way to maintain relative social and economic stagnation while maintaining relative social order it’s really quite impressive because if the design where so explicit as to say that you’re born poor, you’re going to stay poor you’d have social anarchy.
But because we’ve given some opportunity to everyone then you’ve got this sort of permanent out-card where you can get people to kind of blame themselves and that’s part of what’s coded into school right? this idea that you’re responsible for your own success and of course there is some, absolutely some truth to that but to tell somebody that they’re responsible for their own success while engaging them in what is effectively you know a rigged game of cards or a rigged game of monopoly where the person that they’re playing against has starts the game with way more like might I be able to catch up might I be able to beat you in this game, sure, yeah right? if we play a million times I’ll probably get a few wins but in the aggregate the starting point is gonna hold at the ending point because the advantages are just so extreme in the game that there’s just no way that you could overcome that in any kind of equitable fashion and of course it doesn’t match up to what we know in the research what we know in the research is that talent is randomly distributed throughout the population artistic talent, athletic talent intellect, mathematical talent, right? all of this things are randomly distributed throughout the population but of course access to the positions in society that allow you to actually pursue those those talents are not randomly distributed throughout… If schools were actually maximizing the talent of the children that came there then you would have a random distribution of physicist, chemists engineers, mathematicians doctors, lawyers statesman…artists, right? across the population, but you don’t… what can’t help but conclude that there has to be some institutional collusion there, right? that has created this almost perfect results mapping.
The institution of schooling is a marvelous agent of social reproduction but not an institution that actually cultivates the random distribution of talent in society. Those who need the least get the most and those who need the most get the least in US schools. If for thirteen years your relationship to opportunity is limited, right? you get the least experienced teachers… you get the least prepared teachers you get the least supported teachers you get the least amount of resources in your school you get the least amount of options in your school for thirteen years then when you come out into quasi adulthood, right? you’re eighteen, you’re entering into your kind of civic responsibility then that is the relationship and the expectation that you have of what you will get from the broader society which is limited scarce resources but if you grew up around abundance… right? your entire school experience is that you have tons of adults with tons of resources with multiple options where failure is actually an opportunity for you to grow… and you experience that for thirteen years… then when you come out into adulthood that is the relationship that you have to the broader society that is the relationship that you have to institutions of power right? the world is your oyster.
You think about anything that you do consistently for eight hours for thirteen years it’s pretty norming… in the way in which you see the world OK? so no matter who your parents are… no matter what neighborhood you live in, right? kids are in school for a massive amount of time and if the majority of that time is teaching them implicitly, not even explicitly implicitly you have little to no value it’s really hard to imagine outside of a rare exceptional few a group of young people that aren’t going to internalize that and the opposite is true if for all those hours in school you experience opportunity, opportunity, opportunity… investment in you, investment in you… at every corner you turn, right? there’s clear investment a clear valuing of you and your potential it’s really hard to imagine with the exception of an exceptional few… a group of young people that don’t come out of that experience thinking that I can do anything I want that I’m valuable that I matter that’s what you see getting normed in schools.
It’s the internalized expectation about a child’s value… to this society… and once you get the person to internalize that then the rest kind of just takes care of itself they literally will follow… this is what sociologists refer to as as social reproduction, right? you literally fall into that reproductive line… So Biko said the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the minds of the oppressed. If you get people to believe that thing about themself, right? And the arc can go either way, right? you can get people to believe in their capacity and in their agency and in their value… and those people become agents of change right? and you can get people to believe in their lack of capacity and their lack of value and their lack of potential and those people, right? will… will truncate their own dreams… right? you don’t need an institutional structure to do it because they’ll do it themselves. If it was just, right? every day all say, you know, you ain’t shit you have no value you would have an apartheid state you would have total social unrest if the message was you’re never getting out of here you’re never gonna have.. you’re never gonna get the boot off of your neck. I think that the colonial project learned right? there’s not enough guns there’s too many, right? people not enough guns, right?… so and this is Beko’s point, right? that how do you… how do you get people to believe, right? well, the way you get people to believe is by creating the exception to the rule and you could be that exception to the rule what you gotta do is just like get in line with the program, you know, right? and then some people too, right? and then they get, they get those opportunities and then they get on the flyer, they get on the… right? and see, we have a black president we’re not racist in this nation…
So you create the exception to the rule if you look at the aggregate which is… what you should be doing as a democratic state our schools serving the groups of people that need them the most that’s a true test of the democracy. We are complete and total abject failures at meeting the needs of that group and the aggregate. Multigenerational entrenched poverty is normed in this society and then silenced to not talked about it all and schools play a really critical role in that.
You will be hard pressed to go into a school and find any explicit messaging that you have no value. The messaging is you have value when you act like this. You have value when you act like you’re middle class white, heterosexual protestant, christian male. The closer you can get to that you are on your road to success. So everyone of those bullets you can’t check off you’re further and further from the center and the center is where success lies. So the better you can lie about who you really are, the better you can wear what Dunbar calls the mask the more permissive they’ll be about giving you access to some of the trinkets of success. But the true test of the multiracial pluralistic democracy is can I show up as who I am and be valued for that? And in schools, in most schools the answer to that question it’s no, you can’t.
And even we struggle with that. It’s releasing ourselves from our own biases, from our own training, from our own cultural indoctrination about what it means to be successful. So, is not a question of whether or not schools are going to have to wrestle with that. Because we have five hundred years of a legacy of building that norming that paradigm. So there’s going to be a lot of unlearning that has to happen. So the question isn’t really whether or not schools are gonna have to wrestle with it the question is whether or not they will, right? And so, you know, even in the school that’s designed to be directly disruptive to that right? we still catch ourselves all the time, I’m like like we… that is not aligned with who we wanna be right? and to me that’s the real, like… that’s the real module of growth, right? not whether or not you’re gonna bump up against those things but whether or not when you do do you have a cultural paradigm in the institution… to really confront, address that hold each other, not accountable to it right? but hold each other in that because it’s painful, right?
We don’t come here, teachers don’t come to school to harm kids, teachers don’t come to school to hold up the paradigm of inequality we fall into that, right? because it’s so much of the institutional culture so to disrupt that… you have to be willing to go to really painful places, right? and if you don’t have a group of adults that love each other enough to really be honest about when we do that and then to embrace each other, right? around… I love you and that’s why I’m naming this and… and I want you to name it on me when I’m doing it and let’s battle through this together because it’s what’s good for our children… that’s really where we are our willingness and our commitment to be honest about… where we’re really at… to be honest about what we know and to be honest about what we don’t know and to engage in that work first and foremost as adults… OK? because we know that our willingness to combat that toxicity inside of us is the best teaching we can give to our children right? and the mistake that I think a lot of social justice paradigms make that we’ve made, that I’ve made is acting to kids like we got it all figured out…when we don’t and the truth is… is that…you know, frankly I believe that my generation can’t… that we’re to far in it… right? but the young people.. They’re not jaded enough yet, they’re not…they’re not acculturated enough yet… they’re not comfortable enough yet… with the level of inequity that we have grown to just…live with… that if we can model for them…that you can, you can create a fundamentally different society… I believe that in a generation we can raise a group of young people that actually do it, because they grow up believing… that this is not right they grow up believing that I don’t have to accept this I don’t have to find my place in this… they grow up believing that that that’s not right and is not normal and that… that we can change that.