Growing up as a poor person of color in the south, these readings touched me in a both educational and personal manner. Going to a public school segregated by both race and class I have experienced first-hand the violence of the Southern American educational system. I developed a natural desire to analyze the educational institution critically and also change it. In the readings Freire argues that after students develop a critical consciousness praxis allows for them to alter the structures in which marginalizes them.
Historically we have constructed a society in which institutions marginalize the poor, women, racial minorities, and ethnic minorities. The educational system is no different. We can see this historical process of marginalization if we look at a few select historical examples. In 1864 Congress made it illegal for Native Americans to be taught in their native languages. This is part of a larger historical process of imperialism that has violently indoctrinated minority students into an educational system that undermines any history that (de)normalizes whiteness. From 1893-1913 the size of school boards in the country’s 28 biggest cities was cut in half. This resulted in local immigrant communities losing control of their local schools. Local businessmen on school boards were replaced by members of the capitalist class. This is part of a larger pattern of the American educational system functioning under neoliberal policies.
We can go through a long historical analysis of ways in which the American educational system has worked to marginalized minorities. But, I cite a few examples to move us away from the utopian view of the educational system as an institution in place to better the life chances of all citizens. These examples allow us to conceptualize the academic imperialism that the American educational system embodies. These readings allowed me to reflect on the ways in which the educational system has been historically used as a tool violence towards marginalized groups and it seems America doesn’t learn from the past too well.
All of the readings speaks to the ways in which education can and has been used as a tool of marginalization. For bell hooks she talks about an education of liberation (which is understandable given she is greatly influenced by Freire). She argues that education is more than about developing a person for the work force, but about allowing students to be constructors of their own educational experience. She argues that the educational system is upheld by sexist, racist, and imperialist ideals. We must constantly challenge the structure. In reflecting upon hooks’ book the sections on language and class really stood out. hooks speaks about how we must use the language of our oppressor to communicate with him. However, blacks in America have altered American English in profound ways. Typically this is referred to as slang or ebonics. However, hooks argues that this broken form of English serves as a resistance to imperialism. Frantz Fanon says, “to speak a language is to appropriate a culture”. In the American educational system students are forced to appropriate the standard American English language. Through this process indigenous languages, black urban vernacular, and other tongues are marginalized. For me, we must construct the educational system in which students can use their true voice in their process of liberation.
Coming from a working poor background I was personally invested in hooks’ chapter on teaching and class. hooks says, “It only took me a short while to understand that class was more than just a question of money, that it shaped values, attitudes, social relations, and the biases that informed the way knowledge would be given and received”. The educational system is structured around capitalist middleclass norms. hooks continues to argue that, “values of those from materially privileged classes are imposed upon everyone via biased pedagogical strategies”. When this occurs we treat the bourgeois as experts and the poor as void of knowledge. However, individuals from poor and marginalized backgrounds have a worldview that can enhance the educational system.
Reflecting on the readings have me excited to start my work with E-SToPP and specifically the Positive Peer Leadership Mentoring program. The readings helped give me a theoretical framework that can aid me over the summer. The most useful component is from Freire when he speaks on not polarizing the educational experience. Where we must move away from teachers/professionals being seen as experts that are there to liberate students. Freire says liberation cannot be a gift. I feel well intentioned people such as myself go into these situations wanting to help. But, to help is a very paternalistic notion which Freire warns us of. The students who I will work with over the summer are the experts when it comes to their lived reality. It is not my job to help them progress through life positively, but rather the students and I construct mutual relationships built on honesty and in turn we will learn from each other.
The readings have me excited about working in the detention centers this summer. As a student who frequently got expelled (never was sent to a detention center) I understand the stigma that comes with individuals who are punished. Too often society gives individual explanations for why this occurs such as the students have poor behavior. But, rarely do we engage in a meaningful conversation on the ways in which both the educational and criminal justice system fails poor students and students of color. bell hooks talks about the way in which sexism, racism, and classism upholds the educational system. We can get a lot closer to finding solutions if we try to create structural explanations in understanding this populations experiences opposed to using individual ones. I am excited about meeting and learning with the students. I anticipate my reflection will be much more nuanced after learning with the students.