Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Reproducing inequality

Back to the Caucasus

My summer session Philosophy of Ed class just finished reading Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow and discussing the role schools often play in reproducing the social order. The framing question my students are asking is: How can I be an ethical, socially conscious teacher in an unjust, inequitable system? Can't wait to read final papers.

The new Jim Crow
Over the weekend, we were handed a gift in the form of a New York Times piece, Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost Its Meaning? by Times economic reporter Shaila Dewan
The use of Caucasian to mean white was popularized in the late 18th century by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German anthropologist, who decreed that it encompassed Europeans and the inhabitants of a region reaching from the Obi River in Russia to the Ganges to the Caspian Sea, plus northern Africans. He chose it because the Caucasus was home to “the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgians,” and because among his collection of 245 human skulls, the Georgian one was his favorite wrote Nell Irvin Painter, a historian who explored the term’s origins in her book “The History of White People.”
Language is an expression of power relationships. Who has the ability and power to define themselves and others and to privilege one language and culture over the other, or declare one "official" and the other not?

Jewish/Israeli charter school franchises. Really?

A charter school operator running a lucrative chain of Jewish charter schools is able to redefine Judiaism as a non-religion to avoid separation of church-and-state issues, even while using his schools to teach from religious texts and celebrate Israeli Independence Day.
For Deutsch, the whole point of Ben Gamla, which opened its first school in Hollywood, Fla., in 2007, is to draw Jewish children who otherwise would attend regular public schools into an environment where their Jewish identity can flourish. -- JTA
Jewish charter schools, run with public tax dollars, explicitly set up to draw kids away from public schools? It sets my mind awhirl with thoughts of the white Christian academies in the 1950s and '60s, created as alternatives to newly-integrated (at least by law) public schools in the south.

Racist attack on Arab language school in N.Y.
I'm also thinking back to 2007 and the anti-Arab uproar in N.Y., led by Bloomberg/Klein and racist N.Y. Post columnist Daniel Pipes, over the opening of the Arab language and culture school, the  Khalil Gibran International Academy. A manufactured crisis over the word “intifada” on a T-shirt made by a local Arab-American organization led to the defaming of the school's  founding principal Debbie Almontaser and ultimately to the school's demise.

In 2009, there was a move to ban all Arabic speech in the Dearborn, Michigan public schools and in Nashville, Tennessee.  And in 2010 there was the banning of a Mexican-American Studies curriculum in Arizona, supported by a court decision a year later.

In Chicago, the closing of public schools, mostly in the black south and west-side communities, while at the same time, opening dozens of new, privately-managed charter schools, is another expression of these racial power relationships, enforced by law.

In the field of sociology, there's a polite name for all of this. It's called social reproduction, emphasizing the structures and policies leading to the transmitting of social inequality from one generation to the next. The schools continue to be arenas in which the battles over social reproduction are continually being played out. 

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