Overcoming Cultural Inertia Part 3

This is part three of my ongoing series.  In this series of articles we are exploring the effects of what I have termed “Cultural Inertia” in our society, with the hope of helping us to recognize and overcome some of the issues that are not only holding us back but in many ways leading us in the wrong directions.

For the purposes of this series, I am using the term Cultural Inertia (#Culturalinertia) to refer to issues that we have accepted in our every day lives as norms.  Norms which have become so deeply ingrained in our society that they influence our discussions of progress without our even being aware of them.   One excellent example was raised recently by Jackson Katz as he showed an audience of about 400 people—students, community members, faculty, and staff—how common language used to discuss the issues is perpetuating gender violence today.

In part 1 we explored many of the high level aspects that bleed through all aspects of our society, including topics like gender norms, bigotry and racism, marriage equality, and many others.   In part 2 we focused on a specific aspect of the history of the denial of racial equality.

Here, in part 3, we explore the cultural inertia embedded within the claims that educational quality in the United States is steadily and rapidly declining.

There are many aspects to this that we could talk about which include:

  1. The school to prison pipelines.
  2. The initiatives to defund public education in favor of private school charters in order to educate a selective audience with a restrictive curricula agenda.
  3. Established racial and class bias in standardized testing, “gifted and talented” advanced placement selection,
  4. Established racial and class bias in selective criteria for allocation of funds and support resources to specific school districts.
  5. Poor pay and support for educators in specific districts leading to less qualified instructors in far too many positions.

Honestly though, many outstanding articles and essays have been written on each of those subjects, and quite a few excellent and thorough studies have been conducted and published on each of them.    There is little point in rehashing them here again.

Instead, we’ll turn our attention to two much more pervasive, less discussed, and deeply intertwined societal norms that contributes to all of it without us even recognizing that we’re feeding the problems with our own accepted bias,

 

Abdication of Parental Responsibility

 

We are told that children have become so disrupted and unruly in classrooms that teachers can no longer control the educational environment.   This has become so problematic that school districts have their own police departments with “resource officers” on campus, or at least at those schools considered most “at risk.”

But a good number of those troubled and disruptive students often turn out to be intelligent students who finish their work faster than their classmates and are expected to sit, bored and quiet, while waiting for others to catch up to them.   They become fidgety and distracted and mislabeled as the problem themselves.   The better educators recognize these kids and find ways to challenge them or keep them engaged in additional tasks to prevent disruption.

If we take those students out of the equation we are left with a much smaller number of real classroom troublemakers; those that are intentionally disruptive and sometimes violent beyond any reasonable expectation of a teacher’s ability to deal with them.

Over the course of the last several decades, especially since society began requiring two parents to work at least one full-time job each — and in the case of single parents, more — in order to receive living wages for their family, more and more parents are expecting schools to raise their kids instead of just educate them.

Many don’t even realize that they have taken this step, but when parents are more and more absent from the daily lives of their children, even if by societally enforced necessity, they are forced to have a smaller role in role modeling acceptable behavior and interaction with them.

This has placed the burden on school educators to not only handle the complex and difficult tasks of conveying knowledge and teaching critical thinking skills, but also constantly interrupting those processes to show kids how to be better humans and how to cope with social interaction conflict.

It is beyond unreasonable to expect the teachers we have to expect those educators — especially with what we pay them — to have the training and qualifications to tailor those lessons to each child’s individual learning style and life experiences every day for every student which whom they interact.  This is completely exacerbated by funding cuts increase the amount of students in each classroom for teachers to reach, connect with, and educate each day.

Add to this, the fact that turning educators into disciplinarians completely undermines their ability to connect with students and earn their trust.  It immediately makes them less approachable.  It also deters students from being completely open with their line of questioning for fear of reproach.

The complete combination requires educators to serve as parental surrogates instead of  teachers for far too much of their time, and the absorption of that role serves to undermine their entire professional purpose.

So what leads to some of these students become unruly in the first place?

Why do they have so little respect for the educators intrusted with their future?

 

Deconstruction of the Educational Profession

 

The role of an educator is the single most important profession any society has.  We entrust these people to shape the minds, and sharpen the thinking skills, of the entire future of our communities, nations, and world.   They are the ones that convey the necessary building blocks, and inspire the minds, of those that will become our future doctors, community leaders, scientists, and innovators, as well as of all those who will take on the vital day to day tasks that allow those people to focus completely on their jobs.  The fireman, police officers, paramedics, plumbers, carpenters, nannies, day care workers, and workers in every possible service industry — all people whose professions are no less important than those others considered “more prestigious” — to the success of the society as a whole.

At some point in our lives we’ve all heard some form of the phrase “Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.”

The underlying meaning of that simple phrase has pervaded every aspect of all the things discussed above.

In the not too distant past, a good grade school education, from kindergarten through High School graduation, was considered the key to a better future.  so much so that daycares became pre-schools to prep kids for the experience instead of just places for kids to play with their peers.

But over the past few decades specifically, special interest groups have been working hard — primarily through funding of the modern iteration of the Republican party — not only to defund the educational system but to discredit and dehumanize those that choose to work within the profession.

As these special interests work at both the national and state levels to remove as much funding as possible from education they they also worked tirelessly to raise the price of obtaining a higher education out of the reach of many creating an economic disparity that provides a barrier to lower income communities, especially communities of People of Color.

This results in the elusive hope of higher education only being available to the children in those communties through two possible means, enlisting in the military in exchange for an education, or winning the gladiator lottery we call a sports scholorship.

In the most recent years , the Tea Party Republicans, especially, have been slowly stripping away at veteran benefits, including educational fund programs.  This takes away even that hope of improving their lives for many of those people.

As hope diminishes, the incentive to comply does as well.

But, it still isn’t even that simple.

As the narrative pervades the news that the “American educational system is failing” even though that failure is being manufactured, the kids hear and read about it.   It is reinforced as their parents discuss the narrative they’re presented with by the news.  A narrative that says that more and more grossly unqualified people are looking for paychecks as teachers because they cannot do anything else.   This narrative is allowed to survive by politicians, such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who strip away the necessary qualifications to be teachers because they view education as unnecessary.

Now, even the Republican President and his appointed administration including appointees to the Department of Education are furthering that narrative, pulling even more funding from public schools and granting it to religious charter schools, denying science and in the case of the president, communicating in a way that would make any educated person cringe.   All, while they strip away all the civil rights gains on the path to equality of opprotunity for the students we entrust to them.

Why would anyone expect children to have any respect for the authority of their educators, or the quality of the information those educators convey, in a society that is constatly working so aggressively to deconstruct the integrity of the educational system and profession?

What incentive is there for them to comply other than fear of punishment, which has never been a great human motivator to instill respect and compliance?

 

How Do We Fix It?

 

The only way to fix this is to address the core problem, aggressively.

We must elevate the profession of educators at all levels to its proper place at the highest level of of presitige in our nation.

We must pay teachers well enough to attract the best minds for every subject to the profession with the intent of passing on their collective knowledge to new generations.

We need to make teachers into heroes for our children and the schools they work within the places of hope for the children of all our communities to inspire them to want to learn everything they possibliy can from those teachers.

Doing these things, will address not only these issues, but the list of items presented at the beginning of this essay.

The quality of life of our descendents, the future of our communities, the future of our nation, and the future of our world hang in the balance.

It is time to break free of this Culural Inertia and set a new path forward.

If not now?   When?

If not us?   Who?

March To The Ballot — 2016

The 14th Amendment, which gave citizenship and voting rights to former slaves and their descendants, was passed in 1868.

The 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified in 1920.

Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Equal Rights Act in 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created.   Now the EEOC enforces laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age in hiring, promoting, firing, setting wages, testing, training, apprenticeship, and all other terms and conditions of employment. Race, color, sex, creed, and age are now protected classes.

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated five weeks prior to my birth.

Today, these laws are being reversed with the creation of religious right to discriminate laws

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLCreports that “With only weeks left before Election Day, and Donald Trump refusing to say if he will accept the legitimacy of the vote, the radical right is warning of civil war and violence if Hillary Clinton wins. “

“Racists have fretted that the deck is stacked against Trump, and ultimately them. And after last night’s debate, the festering worry boiled over into forecasts of violence.

“’Either way the wind blows this election something’s gonna break,’ a user called ‘StanLeMan’ wrote in August. Another Daily Stormer user identified as ‘AryanUprising,’ offered a less-nuanced message: ‘They want violence? Just let the [sic] try declaring Hillary winner.'”

For most in my generation or younger, this Presidential election presents the first opportunity for us in our adult lifetimes to take a united stand against racial and gender based oppression — to send the message to everyone in this country and abroad, that the majority of our people are still striving to maintain the ideals laid out at the founding of our country for us to eventually attain — that all are created equal and all have the unalienable Rights, to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness and all the other rights granted by our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

We can say, in no uncertain terms, that we support the women and men of our nation, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, sexuality, or skin color simply by showing up en masse to vote against Donald Trump and every politician at every level of government that has not openly and aggressively denounced him and his rhetoric of misogyny, racial and religious discord and calls for sedition.

We must not only make sure that he does not win this election, but that he loses by such a staggering margin that the signal is sent to all those like him that it is time for our country to take our next great step forward on the path to becoming the nation we were created to be.

One where we do not define or attain our own success by the failure and defeat of others, but instead by our combined achievements together to lift our nation and all its people higher and carry us forward into the future.

So if you know someone that is a disenfranchised voter, please share this closing thought with them:

You may not like the choices we have.   I have never wanted to vote less, nor needed to more.  But for the sake of everyone you care about now and in the future, it is imperative that we vote.   And that we vote at every level of the ballot, from National through State and County down to City elections.

If we don’t, the next oligarch dynasty to rule over the United States won’t be the Bush and Clinton families of the last 35 years, but the Trumps of the next 16 to 24.   Consider that both Donald Jr and Eric will be eligible to run by 2020, and if this election, this year, is anything but a stunning and crushing defeat, one of them will.

For our modern civil rights movement we don’t need to congregate in one state or one place to march together.   We just need to all march to our nearest polling station.   Be brave.  Be undeterred.   Send the message.   Together.

Nobody Gets a Free Pass

Every generation we seem to have the exact same civil rights battles over again for a new group of marginalized people.

Whether it is the Native Americans, People of Color, Jewish people, Interracial couples, Women, Muslims, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Queer/Transsexual/Asexual people, Atheists, or some other group of people; we are constantly fighting repeatedly to allow them to vote, marry, and be able to enjoy the same civil rights as those in power.

As soon as one group successfully obtains any sense of equality, the attention turns to another.

Even the language used to fight the battles against them is the same.  Substitute the words “Jewish People” for “Muslims” and today’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is exactly the same as that used to oppress the Jewish people half a century ago.   Substitute the words “Interracial Marriage” for “Same Sex Marriage,” and the today’s rhetoric is the same as that used half a century ago.

The terminology used by Trump and his supporters against Mexican immigrants is exactly the same used to fight the end of Black segregation.

So what do we have to do to reach the point where we can say once and for all:

All people deserve human decency, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, skin color, sexuality, gender, or any other arbitrary criteria that can be created to attempt to marginalize and oppress any of them.

All citizens are entitled to all Constitutional rights of citizenship regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, skin color, sexuality, gender, or any other arbitrary criteria that can be created to attempt to marginalize and oppress any of them.

A person demanding equality with the laws of the society is not asking anyone to give up anything thing they already have, except unfair advantage and privilege.

No one wants White people, Christians, or men to be treated worse, we just want everyone else to be treated equally as well.

When anyone is being mistreated based on these arbitrary criteria it is up to us, each and every one of us to step up and put an end to it.   Any abuse of racist or misogynistic abuse or religious oppression that we allow to go unchallenged is one we have not only permitted but condoned and enabled to continue.

On White Privilege

Over the last few years, I’ve posted many messages, and hosted many discussions, about the social injustices created by deep seated and systemic racism.

One of the most controversial recurring topics is the concept of “White Privilege.”

Currently, the majority of white people who want to help are asking their black co-workers and acquaintances to explain how they as white people can help. Every person of color that I know is sick of having to attempt to respectfully explain the concept to people who take the term itself to be a direct and personal insult. Now, imagine for just a second if you get so angry at being called privileged, how upsetting it would be to be told for your entire life, by an entire society that you were unworthy of obtaining that privilege based on the skin color with which you were born. The fact that we can dismiss even having to talk about centuries of oppression by taking offense at the way it is phrased is the essence of that privilege.

It should not fall on the oppressed to educate their oppressors. That falls on those in the privileged class who have the ability to recognize the injustice and use their privileged status to begin to affect change in the system.

So, I am going to use this essay to attempt to address the very real issues of White Privilege by explaining the concept from the perspective of a White male in our society, who has inadvertently benefited from that privilege.

To do so, I would like to begin by sharing with you two very common types of responses I get from the white people when this issue is raised to them. I have edited them just slightly to make the context more appropriate to the generalized discussion of the essay without altering their meaning or intent.

White Person 1:

“I’m going to go way out on a limb here…let’s face it, ‘white privilege’ is an accusation against people you may know nothing about. it’s a derogatory label. and means nothing to racist people, but it hurts people who’ve strived their entire lives to be good, do good and stand up for justice – it can make you feel guilty for something you have no control over – the color of your skin. ‘white privilege’ divides people, it doesn’t bring them together. it puts an entire race of people in a box. we should find a better conversation to solve OUR problems – us vs them never helps. ‘he who forgets the past is doomed to repeat it’”

White Person 2:

“From personal experience I can assure you these types of situations happen not just to people of color, but whites, latino/hispanics, and peoples of all race and creed. The problem I have with ‘white privilege’ is that it feeds stereotyping in the same derogatory way that the proponents of this ideology claim they are victims of. I find it to be a narrative, founded in fact, and important to recognize, but in doing so, the narrative to be complete must acknowledge that this is not a phenomenon particular to the ‘privileged whites’ and ‘non-privileged blacks’, but is a phenomenon that occurs between those ‘in power’ and those ‘with no power’. While this does happen to the black community, and probably statistically more so, it happens to everyone else too.”

Instead of attempting to address each specific question and comment within those statements, I would like to start with a clarification of what “White Privilege” really means, why it isn’t a derogatory accusation, discuss some very specific anecdotal instances where it has affected my life personally as a white man and how I have benefited from it, and what I am doing and what you can do to help address it.

“White privilege” isn’t an accusation, it is not something we should feel guilty for (unless we become complicit in maintaining or worsening it), it is something we must, however, acknowledge and work to address — not by removing any of the privileges associated with it from white people, but by making sure those same privileges are made available to all people.

If we see injustice and do nothing to address it, we become complicit in it. White privilege begins with the ability to convince ourselves that since we aren’t actively racists that fixing racist oppression isn’t our problem.

Allow me to use an analogy. I do not abuse my children. If I see someone else abusing theirs and I do nothing to help, can I honestly claim that I carry no blame in the harm they receive from that point on?

No.

I would become complicit in allowing it to continue by convincing myself that since I’m not the one hitting the child it isn’t my problem to fix.

In reality I have a responsibility to do everything within my power to protect that defenseless person from further victimization, by interceding to stop it, by calling the police and reporting what I’ve seen, by making sure the child is removed from the danger of immediate threat.

People of color are quite literally the abused children in our society, subjected to emotional and physical abuse on a daily basis by our society.

That is not to say that there are not also a significant number of white people who also are subjected to societal abuse, suffering from injustice, poverty, and other problems, but they have the privilege of knowing that the color of their skin isn’t the cause of it, and won’t be the reason they can’t someday manage to rise above it.

For some context, I am not rich, but I am also not poverty stricken. My children have a home and they have everything they need to live happy, healthy lives, despite the fact that they do not, and will not, have everything they want, or that I want to be able to give them. But in my life, I have inadvertently benefited from my white privilege in many ways that I can specifically point to, and probably many others of which I am unaware.

As a boy in school, I was privileged to never have to worry about being failed by a teacher who did not like me or my parents due to their own racist prejudices. I had the privilege to never have to worry about people burning crosses in my yard, throwing bricks through my window with death threats attached to them, or waiting to get a group of their friends together to beat me or someone in my family at any time solely because they hated people that looked differently than them.

As a young man, involved in a car accident or traffic stop, I had the privilege of not giving a moment’s thought to the fear that I might be beaten or shot by the police officer because I look scary, despite being a 6’ tall athletic young man at the time. I did not think for a moment I would be killed for not maintaining my composure and showing nothing but the utmost respect during one of the most traumatic events of my life up to that point.

In my early 20s, I was informed by a hiring manager that I was not receiving a job that I was the best applicant for due to the facility needing to hire a certain number of minorities. Despite my outrage at the time, I was privileged in many ways in this one incident. I had the privilege, first, of assuming that he meant I was best qualified because I was more skilled at the work, not because he would have preferred a white person. I had the privilege of receiving another and better job offer within a week; an opportunity that may well not have been available to that person of color at that time in that region of the country due strictly to his skin color.

At various points, I have been privileged to know, without even having to think about it at all, while applying for a car loan or home mortgage that I would not be denied my request because the person sitting across from me harbored racial animosity towards people like me, but that my approval or denial would be based entirely upon the merit of my application.

I have the privilege now of knowing that if a police officer knocks on my door, it is probably because they want to ask questions about something in the neighborhood, without worrying about if the neighbors have filed a false complaint against me about something in order to harass me because they don’t like people that look like me living here.

I enjoy very much having the privilege of being able to raise my children without having to teach them to avoid interacting with, or accidentally offending, the very police officers that are sworn to protect and serve them and us.

My Hispanic wife is certain that she has received at least one job offer for a position for which she would not even have been interviewed if she had applied with her maiden name on the application instead of her married name.

I also have the privilege now, as I am able to look back and recognize these instances, to be thankful for them and the opportunities they’ve provided me, without feeling guilty about them.

But I have an obligation, having recognized them to fight for all to be able to have that same sense of security and opportunity. It isn’t about removing what I’ve been afforded, it is about making sure that these things that I’ve mentioned are no longer available only to those of privileged status, but instead become the norm of decent human respect and treatment. A place where all being equal means all being treated at the highest standard, not dropping all of us to the lower. I am striving to elevate us all, not bring anyone down. And I am more than happy to use whatever privilege I may have to help accomplish that.

If I know about it, and don’t attempt to help fix it, I am complicit in allowing it to continue unchecked. It is no longer good enough to say “I’m not part of the problem,” because we have reached a point where if you aren’t part of the solution, you are the problem.

That is why athletes and celebrities speak out, they aren’t just the jesters and gladiators that gain some privilege that we can yank away if they get uppity. They are humans that have been lucky enough to break through some of the barriers if not all, and using that to help others do the same in any way within their means is exactly what they should do.

This is why protests happen, because after 400 years, there are still people living without the privilege of not needing to fear for their lives every time they leave their homes, or worse at home, for no reason other than that they look different than the people with more privileged standing within our system who know they can get away with the abuse and torment, because in the end, “Hey, it’ll just be their word against mine, who are they gonna believe?”

And when we chastise peaceful protesters for their method of protest, we are specifically telling them, “I don’t care what you have to say because I don’t approve of you.” Whether intentionally or not, we are inserting ourselves as nothing more than one more obstacle that must be overcome on their way to merely getting their voice heard, before we can even begin to address what they are saying.

That is a sure-fire path to forcing them to resort to more violent means of protest in order to bring the attention they need to the issues at hand.

And having the privilege of being able to tune out screams for help because we disapprove of the methodology of the screaming is the height of “White Privilege.”