While there are several current issues with the education system in North America, one of the more popular issues to social justice activists is racism, and the influence it has on education. As a result of colonialism, a form of oppression known as structured racism limits the ability of minority students to thrive in the education system. As mentioned by Daniel (2019), many children are traumatized and minimized by their experiences in the colonialist education system that does not care about them and makes minimal effort to help them succeed. These negative experiences for minority children in education lead to a reinforcement of very discriminative and outdated colonialist views which currently plague the education system.
It is important to analyze racism and colonialism in the education system through critical race theory, which is described by Solorzano and Yosso (2000) to be a framework that deals with the discourses surrounding race and racism in society. This theory attempts to analyze how educational structures influence and subordinate minority or ethnic groups by challenging dominant ideologies and pedagogies surrounding race. This theory can assist in establishing solutions to racial injustices in the education system that have been created due to colonialism.
The major problem of structured racism in education stems from colonialism, which Peterson (1971) mentions is the cultural dominance over another people or country. Over the past several decades, decolonization has ended many of the formal structures of colonialism. However, many aspects of colonialism are still relevant today. This includes the idea that racial minorities are still inferior to the white settlers who colonized their land all those decades ago. In the year 2019, these ideas of colonialism are clearly observable. As mentioned by Daniel (2019), micro-aggressions such as hyper-surveillance, more frequent learning disability testing, and more frequent discipline all play into stereotypes which were established by colonialist views. Over the past several decades, educators in North America have been taught to do their job in accordance with colonialist beliefs, and because of this, a structured racism is created. This structured racism limits the ability of minority students to succeed, with many children falling in line with the colonialist belief that they are inferior and incapable of succeeding in education. Additionally, this is enhanced due to a lack of diversity in their teachers and cultural representation in the education system. As an example, Professor D’souza (2019) mentions that racialized children will not feel as accepted or as likely to succeed if they do not see themselves in their teachers. This is especially concerning, considering that many children will go their whole educational career without having a racialized teacher.
In terms of establishing solutions to structured racism in the education system, there is no eliminating racism, instead there is a more practical method of exposing racism known as racial realism (Bunyasi, 2018). This concept states that although progress is low in terms of attaining racial equality, the situation is much better than even a few decades ago when the civil rights act was not even in existence. Although activist groups lead by youth protest have had an impact on achieving social justice such as the BlackLivesMatter movement, they ultimately do not move the needle as much as a systemic and structural change would (Dixson, 2018). Instead, what must be demanded are major foundational changes in the education system such as curriculum and diversity in educators. These changes can eliminate some of the problems in structured racism like a child feeling that they cannot succeed or pursue a certain goal because they do not see any people that look like them in places of power. By hiring a more diverse group of educators, there are more diverse ways in which teachers can be pedagogical figures to their students other than strictly being an instructor.
Additionally, curriculum changes must be demanded, as the same issue arises for children when all the examples in their textbooks or lessons relate to white, straight, Christian, heterosexual boys and girls. These figures that cater to the colonialist society in which these children live do nothing to help them find their place in society. By establishing that only white children can be the relevant examples in education, the education system is essentially abandoning or at least disregarding minority children. This is mentioned by Daniel (2019), where black children who could not succeed in the education system were taken out of schooling by their parents and became homeschooled. The issues of bullying and anti-black racism were very influential in that situation and demonstrate foundational flaws in education. Critical race theory would challenge the dominance of white privilege in society and education, determining that ultimately, the system is what fails these children who do not fit into the social construct of a normal child/person.
In terms of a solution that teachers can implement in classrooms to reduce the influence of structured racism, a structured open dialogue about race and racism is an interesting idea put forth by Rector-Aranda (2016). In this situation, teachers can allow for students to voice concerns and opinions on race, but at the same time ensure that each voice is respected, and all students are empathetic. By allowing racialized children to express their concerns and experiences with racism from either the education system, teachers, students, etc., it creates an environment of empathy and understanding. This all relates back to the idea of racial realism, in which confronting the issue of racism leads to empowerment of racialized bodies and the gradual improvement of racism due to exposure of injustices. This exposure to racial injustice in a student’s educational career can allow for teachers, principals, parents, etc. to empathize and establish methods for enacting change.
The issue of structured racism in the education system has massive implications for educational settings. As previously mentioned, racialized/minority children are currently being oppressed in school due to colonialist views that have been passed on from multiple generations of teachers/educators. The foundational flaws in the education system have created an environment in which racialized children feel as though they cannot succeed, and they have no business achieving goals that people do not think they can attain. A lack of racialized teachers as well as a white dominant curriculum have a significant impact in establishing this environment. By making fundamental changes such as curriculum, faculty, policy, etc., these social injustices can significantly reduce the impact of racism in the education system. As previously mentioned, racism will never be fully eliminated, and will always be present in some capacity. However, ridding the education system of seriously outdated and discriminatory colonialist views and beliefs can establish school as a place where all students can succeed and achieve an equal education. If a less watered-down curriculum and more diverse faculty were put in place, the children in future generations will be the test subjects for how strong the correlation is between these reforms and the impact of structured racism. It is very likely that the results would show that over time, racism and social injustices related to racism would improve.
In conclusion, the current education system adopts very outdated and discriminatory views of colonialism, which in this context relates to white dominance/privilege in society and education. Critical race theory attempts to challenge the dominant pedagogies of race in education and exposes social injustices that occur in the education system. The issue of structured racism in education can result in the minimization and degradation of racialized children, to the extent that the colonialist views are validated and passed on to future generations. In order to create solutions to the issue of structured racism in education, significant foundational aspects of the education system must be reformed. This includes faculty as well as curriculum, as these are two aspects of education that have the most impact on a child’s educational career. The end goal of these foundational reforms is to create a diversity in a child’s education that allows them to receive more than just the white-dominant watered-down version of education that previous generations have received. By establishing racialized teachers and curriculum as new pedagogies in education, racialized children can feel empowered and more confident in their abilities to achieve goals that may not have been viewed as attainable in the previous system. This has serious implications for education, as these racialized children can potentially be the next leaders of the world, and by limiting and minimizing their abilities to succeed in their educational career, a serious social injustice is being done.
- Daniel, K. (2019, September 30). Why Black-Canadian families are choosing to homeschool their kids. Retrieved October 22, 2019, from https://www.todaysparent.com/kids/school-age/why-black-canadian-families-are-choosing-to-homeschool-their-kids/.
- Dixson, A. D., & Dixson, A. D. (2018). “What’s going on?”: A critical race theory perspective on black lives matter and activism in education. Urban Education, 53(2), 231-247. doi:10.1177/0042085917747115
- D'Souza, C. (2019, September). Lecture 3. St. Catharines.
- Patti McGill Peterson, 'Colonialism and Education: The Case of the Afro-American,' Comparative Education Review 15, no. 2 (Jun., 1971): 146-157. https://doi.org/10.1086/445527
- Rector-Aranda, A. (2016). School Norms and Reforms, Critical Race Theory, and the Fairytale of Equitable Education. Critical Questions in Education, 7(1), 1–16. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy.library.brocku.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eue&AN=112363352&site=eds-live&scope=site
- Solorzano, D., & Yosso, T. (2000). Toward a critical race theory of Chicana and Chicano education. Charting new terrains of Chicana (o)/Latina (o) education, 35-65.
- Tehama Lopez Bunyasi. (2018). Structural Racism and the Will to Act. Radical Teacher, (1), 33. https://doi.org/10.5195/rt.2018.358