TheGrio Daily

The Connection: Education and the Inequality Pipeline

Episode 38
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“The entire country profits from Black success but we prevent it because we are scared of fixing the inequality because white people might cry.” Schools across the nation spend less money educating low-income students who are disproportionately Black and Latino yet we preach education is key. When will America finally start addressing its poor education system? Michael Harriot explores the school-to-poverty pipeline.

You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Black culture. Amplified.

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] You know, at theGrio Daily. There’s certain things that we believe. We believe that sugar doesn’t go on grits. We believed that seasoning is the key to success. And we believe more than almost anything, that children are the future. If you teach them well and let them lead the way. You must show them all the beauty they possess inside. Now, I came up with that saying off the top of my head. But I want to welcome you to theGrio Daily, the only podcast that is willing to talk about the school to inequality pipeline. I’m world famous wypipologist Michael Harriot. Welcome to theGrio Daily. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:07] So everybody knows that education is the key to success, right? We all agree with that. Kind of like, you know, part of the key to success could be having your parents born with a lot of money or just being white. But we all go with education today. And while we talk about education disparities, the fundamental differences in the statistical outcomes of Black students and white students, we really go deep into that. Right. But we’re going to do that today because as we believe here at theGrio. Education is the key to success. So let’s start with school funding, right? Because you can’t have equal schools unless you have equal amounts of resources. Now, in America, we always talk about money because we live in a capitalistic society. But we also must recognize that majority Black schools. Schools that are majority nonwhite are funded according to EdBuild’s 23 million project, about $2,666 per studen less than a school in a majority white district. And this is true all over the country. In some places the difference is smaller. But you know what’s interesting about this is like I know people are watching this, they’re saying like it is different in the south or because, you know, they have racist in the South. You know, of course, they’re going to not find Black schools in Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia, those uneducated places. 

Michael Harriot [00:02:56] But no. That the most unequal schools are in the most liberal white places New York, California, you know, blue states, states where white people say that they are good people. Unless it comes to their kids going to school with Black students. Right. Like, take New York, for instance. A couple of years ago, the New York City schools decided to stop discriminating against Black students and make the school system more equal by not having these entrance tests. And white parents flipped out. And I know because I wrote about it and I got so probably the most amount of letters I’ve ever received were from white New York liberal parents who said I didn’t understand the issue, that they shouldn’t suffer the consequences of Black kids being uneducated. Because, you know, they believe in education. They believe in equality. They believe in ending white supremacy until it comes to them actually doing something. Until it comes to them giving up their privilege to enact or to counterbalance inequality. In schools all across America there is this funding gap, but we have to ask, why does that funding gap exist? See, in most places, schools are funded by local tax dollars. Usually the tax is on homeowners and in Black neighborhoods because Black homes, even in a identical neighborhood as a white home in majority Black neighborhoods, homes are valued about $48,000 less than a white home. Which means that the schools. Either must tax Black people more to get the same funding for their schools or make do with less. 

Michael Harriot [00:05:12] They must pay teachers less. They must have larger class sizes. They must take away some extracurricular activity. The difference in income in that high rate of poverty reflects in how our school system works. And that’s because for two reasons. One, the history of redlining, right? So there wouldn’t be what we call majority Black school districts or majority Black neighborhoods. If not for redlining, if not for the history of segregation, if not for Jim Crow. So you can’t separate out unequal schools by disregarding history or erasing the past. The second reason is a very interesting thing. White people don’t want to live around Black people. You know, polls that show this, there are studies that show this. As a matter of fact, Black people tend to live in more diverse neighborhoods than white people. About 70% of white people don’t have Black neighbors. So those white neighborhoods, when they sell their homes, because the value weighting of homes depends on who wants to buy it. But when Black people want to sell their homes. They can only sell them usually to other Black people and because they don’t have as big of a population of potential buyers, because white people don’t want to live around Black people. The homes are valued less. Less competitions means lower value. 

Michael Harriot [00:06:50] And so all of this plays into school funding. But it’s not the only reason that schools are unequal because it manifests itself in certain ways. There are studies that show that majority Black schools have fewer books in the libraries. Majority Black schools are less likely to have advanced placement or international baccalaureate programs. Right. So not only are these students up against the wall when it comes to, like, basic learning and basic resources, but they are less prepared for college. And so it reflects in the college acceptance rate and it reflects in how good of a college you get into. So all of this is tied to school funding, but that’s not the only disparity in education that we can talk about. Right. Let’s talk about one of the things that we really talk about is discipline in schools. So Black students are two and a half times more likely to be disciplined for the exact same behavior that a white student engages in, and they are on average likely to get a harsher punishment. 

News Reporter [00:08:11] Video, recorded in March 2015, shows Ahmad Williams waiting in the principal’s office after being sent there by a teacher. He’s exchanging words with school resource officer Steve Challis. Suddenly Challis confronts Williams, putting him in a headlock and eventually dragging him to the hallway. 

Michael Harriot [00:08:28] If a Black student acts up in class, they might get suspended, whereas a white student might get sent to the principal’s office and a note home to their parents. This statistic is proven nationwide, as a matter of fact. You know, people who say that, like Obama never did anything for Black people. One of the things that Obama did is use his education department to warn every school district in the country like, oh, we see you, we see what you’re doing. And they even filed suits against school districts that disproportionately punished Black students. And it’s not just evident in the way that Black students are punished in school, but Black students who are punished in school tend to be kicked out and funneled into the criminal justice system. So it doesn’t just reflect in how many days your kid misses in social studies class. Because of the way the educational system in America is built, because of the way it’s funding, because of the history of segregation and redlining in America. Black children are more likely to end up in prison. As a matter of fact, there was a study by the New York Times that showed a Black kid in general who grew up with wealthy middle class parents is more likely to end up in prison than a poor white child who grew up in a single parent home. It’s a fact. Studies show it. 

Michael Harriot [00:10:04] And it all goes back to our education system. But again, you can’t divorce education from white supremacy and America’s history in how they treated Black people. And let’s even go deeper. Right. So when it comes, we were talking about Black boys, but Black girls even face harsher circumstances. Black girls are more likely to be sexualized in school. They are more likely to be pointed out for their behavior. As a matter of fact. It extends to all Black students. There was another study, and this is one of I don’t want to call it my favorite study, but the most eye opening things that I’ve ever read. So there was a study that got teachers to just look at students on a screen, right? To monitor their students on a screen to see which ones were acting up. But they actually lied to the teachers. They weren’t trying to gauge whether the students were acting up or whether the teacher noticed which students were acting up. They were actually tracking the teacher’s eye movements, and they noticed that teachers who are looking for behavior problems are more likely to focus on the Black students. And that’s one of the reasons why it’s important to have Black teachers in schools. 

Michael Harriot [00:11:37] Black teachers in schools have an effect on Black students in a number of ways. Black students perform better on standardized tests when they have Black teachers. Black teachers are more likely to make students more emotionally stable. They are more likely to make students have less discipline problems, and they are more likely to understand the circumstances in students homes. Again, this is, in my opinion. These are peer reviewed research studies. And so all of this combines in this maelstrom. Well, that’s a good word. I really just started out, I didn’t read that off the teleprompter, anything that just came off the top of my head. But, it combines to create the storm, this perfect storm, where the entire education system is tilted against Black students. Now, you can say that I’m playing or playing the victim, or you can say that this is a white privilege, because I always explain white privilege as this. It’s not white people getting something that they don’t deserve. White privilege is the ability of white people to exist and thrive according to their abilities and their talents. But Black students who have the same results, who are just as smart as white students, don’t get that opportunity. And the difference in the opportunity is what we call white privilege, because white people always say we’re playing victims, so we can’t call it racism or discrimination or what it really is, is a systemic and institutional way of advantaging whiteness or white supremacy. 

Michael Harriot [00:13:45] Because of these inequalities. We know that crime. Whether or not you were incarcerated, how much you were likely to earn over the life of your career. How much you are able to give a son or a daughter a two parent home. All of that hinges on educational success. People with two parents homes tend to be more educated. People who have educated parents tend to go to college more than people who parents didn’t graduate from college. People who have more money tend to have better health outcomes. They tend to be able to live in more affluent communities, and then they tend to go to better schools. So because Black kids don’t go to good schools. It perpetuates a generational cycle of impoverished or lower quality Black schools. And it’s not because of white teachers. It’s not because of white neighborhoods. It’s because of the way our society is constructed to disadvantage Black students. Because of history, because of government policies, because of our unwillingness to correct them, because white people might start crying. And all of this creates a generational cycle of poverty because, again, more than how smart you are, more than whether or not you were raised in a two parent home, more than the neighborhood you grew up in. Education is the marker for future success. And by ignoring the disparities in America’s educational system, we are condemning. More Black children, true poverty, more Black children to the criminal justice system. And we are condemning this entire country to a lower economic status, because it’s not like Black people spend that money in a vacuum, right? 

Michael Harriot [00:16:11] When Black people have more money, they spend it at Wal-Mart, they spend it at Target, they spend it in white communities. They spend it on homes that, again, pay for schools. The entire country profits from Black success. But we prevent it because we are scared of fixing the inequality because white people might cry. So, what we have created is a school to inequality pipeline. And if we can fix that, we can fix part of America. It might not stop white people from being racist, but it might stop America from being as unequal as it is now. And it also might make people download theGrio app because smart people do that. Smart people subscribe. Smart people tell their friends about this podcast. And as always will end with another Black saying. Today’s is education is the key. Unless they change the locks on you. Thank you for listening to theGrio Daily and we’ll see you next time. Thank you for listening to theGrio Daily. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app. Subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts at theGrio dot com. 

Michael Harriot [00:17:49] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified. 

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