A White teacher's place : unsuspecting white teachers' roles in the school-to-prison pipeline

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A White teacher's place : unsuspecting white teachers' roles in the school-to-prison pipeline
Tretten, Justin K.
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
University of Colorado Denver
Publication Date:

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( Master of humanities)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Committee Chair:
Woodhull, Margaret
Committee Members:
Caronan Faye
Jefferson, Antwan


This paper is yet another voice inserted into the ongoing discourse centered around what has become known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Rather than attempt to unveil new ways students of Color are failing in our public education system, though, this paper instead pinpoints how many White teachers function as unknowing accomplices to the school-to-prison pipeline, regardless of these White teachers’ intentions. From my own perspective as a White teacher, I analyze statistics from public schools across the United States which consistently show dropout and graduation rates both have strong ties to race and racism. Using these statistics as a foundation from which to work, I critique the idea that we are living in a Progressive, Deweyaninspired educational era, and argue that we are instead stuck in a Traditional education system that values established facts, standards, and ways of thinking—all of which originate from predominantly White voices and perspectives. By situating my work within a larger context of the history of the American public education system, by analyzing the relationship between oppressors and the oppressed with Paulo Freire, and by acknowledging foundational developmental psychology work by Lev Vygotsky, this paper has an obligation to touch on the harmful effects that our public education system has on its students of Color; however, the main purpose here is to critique what it means to be a White teacher within a public education system that is mired by White Supremacy.

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University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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Copyright Justin K. Tretten. Permission granted to University of Colorado Denver to digitize and display this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.


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TO PRISON PIPELINE by JUSTIN K. TRETTEN B.A., Humboldt State University, 2012 A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Humanities Humanities Program 2018


ii This thesis for the Master of Humanities degree by Justin K. Tretten has been approved for the Humanities Program by Margaret Woodhull, Chair Faye Caronan Antwan Jefferson December 15 , 2018


iii Tretten, Justin K. (M.H., Humanities) to Prison Pipeli ne Thesis directed by Professor Margaret Woodhull ABSTRACT This paper is yet another voice inserted into the ongoing discourse centered around what has become known as the school to prison pipeline. Rather than attempt to unveil new ways students of Color are failing in our public education system, though, this paper instead pinpoints how many White teachers function as unknowing accomplices to the school to prison pipeline, teacher, I analyze statistics from public schools across the United States which consistently show dropout and graduation rates both have strong ties to race and racism. Using these statistics as a foundation from which to work, I critique the idea that we are living in a Progressive, Deweyan inspired educational era, and argue that we are instead stuck in a Traditional education system that values established facts, standards, and ways of thinking all of which originate from predominantly White voices an d perspectives. By situating my work within a larger context of the history of the American public education system, by analyzing the relationship between oppressors and the oppressed with Paulo Freire, and by acknowledging foundational developmental psyc hology work by Lev Vygotsky, this paper has an obligation to touch on the harmful effects that our public education system has on its students of Color; however, the main purpose here is to critique what it means to be a White teacher within a public educa tion system that is mired by White Supremacy. The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication. Approved: Margaret Woodhull


iv To: Kristin Without your patience, love, vision, and unfaltering support, none of this would have been even remotely possible. & Malcolm Every day, you inspire me to be my best.




1 CHAPTER I AN UNSUSPECTING WHITE TEACHER Introduction As a child, I enjoyed school. 1 In fact, with a grandfather who served as a district superintendent and director of middle schools, principa l, and teacher; with two grandmothers classroom teachers from elementary to high school; with extended family who worked as principals, deans, and university admi nistrators; and with a father who worked as a classroom belonged in school; I was made for school. So when the time came for me to decide my own career path as a young adult, the choice was easy: when I was twenty three years public education teaching force that looked and felt a lot like home. As a White kid growing up in a teaching family in Parker, Colorado, I had little to no idea ab out what it meant to add to a teaching force that was already made up of eight four percent White teachers (Miller, 2017 ; NCES, 2018 ). Very quickly, though, my Whiteness became apparent. Whereas the teaching force in the United States is overwhelmingly W hite like me, the public education student body represents a much more diverse population, one that is nearly half children of Color (Miller, 2017; NCES, 2018). Problematically, racial statistics do not just stop at surface level self reporting and ident ification, though. Instead, it is a well documented fact that, within public schools in the United States, our students of Color 2 are undeniably failing 1 The following personal narrative and subsequent ideas developed within it were originally developed in a present ation given for a final project in a graduate level class in the Spring of 2018. 2 present within this multitude of groups, and I in no way wish to paint communities of C olor as a monolith, a larger


2 when compared to their White peers (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Settersten & Ray, 2010; Jaschik, 2015 ; NCES, 2018; Ladson Billings, 1998; Tatum , 1997) , even in cases where our students of Color come from a more fiscally secure family background than th eir White peers (Singleton, 2014 ) . Furthermore, when our students fail in public education, they are much more l ikely to face fates like incarceration and/or homelessness (Settersten & Ray, 2010; Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Ladson Billings, 2011). Connecting the dots, then, we see a troubling trend: our public education system is failing our students of Color, and our pri sons and homeless camps are populated by the students who fail our public education system. This racialized pattern, in a nutshell, is what is known as the school to prison pipeline. As a person who signed up to teach for no other reason than to help stud ents succeed in the same way that I did, it can be difficult to acknowledge the fact that I have simultaneously signed up to be part of such a virulent system that also destines many of its students for failure later in life. For that reason, my research addresses the school to prison pipeline from many different angles. By analyzing theor ies from Paulo Freire (1993), Michel Foucault (1984), and Edward Said (1978), I explain how disciplinary measures in public education work against our students of Color. By utilizing foundational sociocultural psychological theory from Lev Vygotsky (1978), I explain how the public education system immediately sets our students of Color up for failure by operating outside of their Zones of Proxima l Development. And by ta king into consideration , I show how our public education system, while purporting remained mired in a Traditional and therefore privileged educationa l model, which was born and still thrives in White Supremacy. discussion of each of these individual groups and their contributions to the public education system is warranted, and is not sufficiently covered in my research here.


3 Where my research pushes the conventional discourse surrounding the school to prison pipeline, though, is by acknowledging and addressing the place of the White teacher within the pipeline. Whi le discipline, high stakes testing, and standards cannot be ignored and are undoubtedly important parts of this system, an isolated discussion of these factors by themselves leaves the classroom teacher out of the equation entirely. Instead, an isolated d iscussion of these factors only allows us to focus on the public education system as a whole, or simply paint an isolated picture of victimized students of Color. When we do this when we look at the school to prison pipeline as merely a systematic problem, or merely a problem for the victims of the pipeline we do two things: we minimalize our own contribution to the problem as teachers, and we shirk responsibility for any potential solution. For a young White classroom teacher such as myself, a discussion o f systematic problems and the students who suffer from them does very little to help me understand what I can do to alleviate the problem, and encourages White teachers like myself to buy into the myth of meritocracy (Matias, 2016), thus minimalizing any o wnership we can take in the problem as a who le. For that reason, by looking at the school to prison p ipeline through the lens of Critical Whiteness Theory, my research makes the claim that our current teaching model one that pushes for a classroom centered around diversity, inclusion, and equity is simply insufficient for our diverse student population, and in fact asks many of our students of Color to assimilate to the Whiteness that pervades the public education system (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Ladson Billings, 2011). In essence, when we focus on standards and objectives rather than focus on the students sitting in the seats in front of us, our classro oms and our teaching styles turn away from Progressive educati on, and instead turn towards a t ad of falling into this standardized


4 trap, my research will argue that we must turn our classrooms into a transformative educational without the people, nor for the people , but only with Literature Review The majority of my work rests on a foundation of thought that synthesizes the ideas of three different world renowned thinkers in conjunction with the current American public educatio n system. To give us a place to start, though, we must first try to conceptualize the school to prison pipeline. In its most basic form, the school to prison pipeline is the effect we observe after acknowledging two different realities about the society in which we live: American students who fail in public school are much more likely to experience homelessness and/or be incarcerated at some point in their lives (Settersten & Ray, 2010; Fine & Rugli s, 2009; Ladson Billings, 2011), and our White students o utperform our students of Color in academics, discipline, graduation rates, and advanced track coursing (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Settersten & Ray, 2010; Jaschik, 2015) , regardless of socioeconomic status ( Si ngleton, 2014 ). From a young age, then, many of our students of Color learn that they do not belong in public education, and respond with both disciplinary and academic failure (Tatum, 1997; Ladson Billins, 2011; Fine & Ruglis, 2009). Consequently, these students are separated from their peers both sociall y and physically through suspensions, expulsions, and internal de facto segregation, which in turn (Foucault, 1984; Said, 1978; Freire, 1993). When we step back and view these facts about the public education system together, it is clear that, for many of our students of Color, public school has become merely a training ground for homelessness and incarceration later in life (Ladson Billings, 2011). This is why we refer to this phenomenon as the school to prison pipeline.


5 But if we are to look for the reason that our students are acting out, as a teacher, it is of utmost importance to recognize that when referrals, suspensions, and expulsions all disproporti onately favor a certain race over another (Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002) disciplinary issues are merely a symptom of a deeper problem, and not the problem itself. This in my research. between what a child can do on her own, and what a child can potentially learn to do on her own by imitating and working with others. Ideally, accordin educational setting, it is our job as teachers to find this ZPD in all of our children, and to use this Unfortunately, though, in his work on the ZPD, Vygotsky never explicitly mentions race and the effects that r did recognize that our work inside the classroom does not exist in some sort of cultural, social, ng a child anticipate or understand the previous experiences In my work, I push Vygotsky (1978), then, to argue that any teaching that happens inside a , explicitly including race as opposed to t aking a one size fits all approach to teaching in order to push against the dominant White norm and create the best learning environment for the greatest amount of


6 students. onal model. In order to understand Dewey, though, we must first understand what Dewey was schedules, schemes of classification, of examination and promotion, of rules 17); conjure up the image of students sitting in rows, facing forward, silently copying the teacher as she scribbles notes onto the chalkboard of a windowless classroom. This model the Traditional model of education values rot e memorization and an uncomplicated balance of ndards, subject matter, and methods upon those who are only entirely up to the teacher. Directly a nd unabashedly opposed to this t raditional style of education, Dew ey (1938) believed that in the formation of the purposes which direct his activities in the ). This is Progressive education in its most basic form ; from this theory of learning, my own interest in where to turn as a White teacher when looking at the school to prison pipeline is born. John Dewey (1938) recognized the implicit issues that come with a Traditional model of education, and flipped the cl assroom on its head. Instead of an environment where the teacher decides what is best for the students, Dewey (1938) repeatedly reminds us that the classroom should serve the student and the student alone, and that it is our job as teachers to individuali ze our instruction


7 student in our classroom the most educative experience. This, on the surface, is what we as teachers like to tell ourselves we are doing i n our classrooms on any given day. At some point, though, we are faced with a dark reality: there are requirements for gr aduation. Furthermore, we find exit exams and mandatory standardized testing is becoming more and more of a requirement across the cou ntry for all students (Fine and Ruglis, 2009; Jaschik, 2015), regardless of their unique experiences. And if students do not graduate, we know two things for sure: they will face economic struggles beyond school without a high school diploma, and, conseq nto jeopardy, important as they once were, and the collective wisdom of Vygotsky (1978) and Dewey (1938) is thrown aside. Subsequently, our students a re left wit h two options: defy P rogressive education in an attempt to become the ideal student (Dewey, 1938) and graduate; or learn progressively, do 2009, p. 30). As ed ucators, our choice is clear: we no longer can care what it is our students bring to the table; we must help them graduate, and fast. Their own lives depend upon our ability to do so. This is why it is important to recognize that our public education syst em is set up in such a way that, if we refuse to acknowl edge our own compliance to the s choo l to prison p ipeline, and instead focus on graduation requirements and high stakes standardized tests, we as teachers have subsequently subscribed to be ing active p articipant s in an oppressive relationship with our students. According to Paulo Freire (1993), oppression occurs when a person or group of people


8 take a series of antidialogical actions against another person or group of people. These antidialogical acti ons include Manipulation, Cultural Invasion, Divide and Rule, and Conquest (Freire, 1993, pp. 138 167). In my research, I work to prove that, a s a population of predominantly White teachers (NCES, 2018; Miller, 2017) , if we are not careful, we can effortl essly use every single one of these actions against our students especially our students of Color on any given day in order to get them to comply with our requests. 3 For example: it is our explicit task to teach to a set of common standards which were written by the unseen hands of distant law makers and school board members, the vast majority of whom will never come in contact with any of our students. Because all of our students are expected to accomplish the same tasks with the same leve l of mastery, when we force our students to meet these arbitrary academic goals, s [are] try [ing] to co nform the masses to [our] obje 147) by selling the masses ty of all indi or the common myth in many classrooms that the classroom is, somehow, we are asked to teach to an already decided upon set of common standards , and we as teachers are the ones writing the learning objectives on any given day. Furthermore, with this set of common objectives that we have m anipulated all of our students into strivi ng to achieve, we also work to culturally i nvade our students with our dominantly White standards (Bonilla Silva, s tudents have successfully been manipulated and culturally i nvaded by our common set of standards, it is very easy to discern who is successful in the classroom, and who is not. When 3 ons in the teaching profession was originally presented in a in a final project for a graduate level class in the Spring of 2018.


9 ) third antidialogical step by dividing and r uling (pp. 141 147) ou r students. Whether we separate students from one another by removing them from our classes all together with disciplinary tactics, or we separate our students socially through a hidden curriculum (Giroux, 1988) that communicates a hegemonic sense of norm ality and subsequent abnormality (Foucault, 1984; Said, 1978), Dividing and Ruling our students is a well known, well practiced tactic teachers use to reward the good behavior of the masses, and ostracize the few students who push back on our rules and exp ectations. Finally, when we, as teachers, have succeeded in Manipulating our students into buying into a common objective that could very well Invade their own cultures, and when we have Divided our students in a way that makes it so that we have complete control over a large group of subordinate people at any given someone or something which is conquer (1993) antidialogical actions, the students have become the silenced oppressed, and the teacher has become the conquering oppressor. Methods Much of my work balances o n the idea that a racialized problem the school to prison pipeline undeniably pervades all corners of our public education system today. As a White teacher, this reality can not only be painful to accept, but also potentially career and life changing. Wi th that in mind, when I self identify as a White teacher in this paper, it is of utmost importance to keep in mind that I am instantaneously identifying as a White teacher who believes strongly in the positive power of the public education system. While m any educational theorists approach the contemporary problems within the American public education system with


10 a mind to change the system at its core in an effort to root out the problems that exist today, I do not hope to do so. Instead, I approach the c ontemporary problems within the public education system entirely aware of the positive impact that public education can have on individual students and entire communities, and entirely aware of the positive impacts that the public education system has had and continues to have in my own life. At the same time, through my own experiences in conjunction with extensive national and localized research, when I approach the problems of the public education system from a place of hope and love, it is more than ob vious that our public education s ystem has deep seate d issues , and therefore has the chance and the responsibility to improve. With my personal experience heavily influencing my own interest in this topic, then, throughout this thesis, I weave my own pers onal narratives into the interdisciplinary approach that I take to my research project. In addition to personal narrative, I will utilize nationally recognized research statistics that tell us that students of Color are failing in all areas of public education at disproportionate rates when compared to their White peers (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Settersten & Ray, 2010; Jaschik, 2015; Ladson Billings, 2011 ; NCES, 2018; Matias, 2016 ). These statistics will help me to illuminate the intensity of the problem at hand, and also help me to articulate the vastness of the school to prison pipeline. Furth ermore, with a healthy dose of personal narrative peppering a smorgasbord of consistent national statistics both of which echoing the idea that our students of Color are consistently coming up short in the public education system when compared to their Whi te peers brief overview of legal cases and policy which have shaped the public education system as we know it today. Through all of this by synthesizing personal narrative f rom my experience within the public education classroom today, national statistics that show failure by our students


11 of Color across the board, and a history of legalized exclusion and omission my research works to illuminate our true positions as teachers Finally, throughout the entirety of this thesis, I look at my research through a Critical Whiteness lens as I take a heavily theoretical approach to the vast majority of my work in an attempt to synthesize the data I gather with the claim that White teachers are unknowing accomplices to the school to prison pipeline. This theory includes (but is not limited to) thinkers such as bell hooks (2014), Beverly Tatum (1997), Michele Fine and Jessica Ruglis (2009), Gloria L adson Billings (1998; 2011), Frederick Douglass (1998), Ricky Lee Allen (2004), Tara Yosso (2015), and Cheryl Matias (2016). In addition to Critical Whiteness, I employ a sociocultural psychological lens to my work through Lev Vygotsky (1978), and a philo sophical taste with Michel Foucault (1984), Edward Said (1978), Henry Giroux (1988), and Paulo Freire (1993). Lastly, though his theories are only referenced in passing from here on out, I would be remiss not to mention that much of my work and inspiratio n comes from the educational theory of John Dewey (1938), as his Progressive model of education provides a general goal of where we must aim to achieve if we truly wish to see revolutionary educational change. Conclusion Over eighty years ago, John Dewey ( 1938) published the importance of a classroom made by and for the unique needs of the students in the chairs rather than the teacher standing at the front. This dream, as evidenced by the ongoing reality of the school to prison pipeline, has yet to be ful ly realized. Rather than work with our students as Freire (1993) suggests, we create arbitrary hoops for our students to jump through without their consultation; rather than listen to Vygotsky (1978) and do the necessary work to understand what each of ou r students needs in order to create the most effective learning environment, we tell our students what they need to


12 achieve and how they will achieve it regardless of their own unique needs. And in a system that was created by White Supremacy (Ladson Bill ings, 2011; Collins, 1978) and continues to thrive within White Supremacy (Matias, 2016; Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Settersten & Ray, 2010; Jaschik, 2015; Miller, 2017; hooks, 2014), it should come as no surprise that our students of Color are the ones who are s uffering in our current public education system. From here, we must continue to do the work necessary to transform our public education system from within. While this research points at possible ways out of a public education system that thrives within W hite Supremacy, it falls short in the fact that there is a defin ite lack of practical teaching strategies offered here that we can utilize on a daily basis within our classrooms. By acknowledging the effects of a dominantly White teaching force (Miller, 2 017; Ladson Billings, 1998; NCES, 2018) and by looking in the mirror and acknowledging our own privileges and biases (Matias, 2016), we can start to change teaching in a truly revolutionary way, and we can begin to move away from current popular trends lik that ask our students of Color to assimilate to their White peers. But to start, simply, is not enough. If we truly aim to dismember the school to prison pipeline from within, we cannot stop after taking the first step o f acknowledging the problem; we must continue to work together as a public education system that aims to help all of our students to find a pedagogical pragmatic solution.


13 CHAPTER II WHITE BRED 4 5 My second grade teacher, Mrs. Collier, was leading the w ay down the hallway at Pine Lane Primary in Parker, Colorado. Behind her, like so many helpless little ducklings, my classmates and I followed, on the way to music class. Luke tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see what was up. In between fiendish giggles, he, Kyle, Darian, and Zach were pointing across the foyer area to a water fountain, where another class had gathered, parched from their recent expeditions at recess. Bent over the water fountain, quenching his thirst, was Aaron, the usual catche r on the baseball team that we were all a part of outside of school. Finished with his drink, Aaron braided cornr ows. Even to an oblivious nine year old like myself, these looked out of to get a haircut? How did he decide to get that haircut? David circled around an injured gazelle, everybody laughed. Mrs. Collier turned around, alerted by our elevated sounds of childish delight, shushed us back into single lined submission, and we walked the rest of the way to music class with our thoughts kept to ourselves. When we recall our childhoods, it is interesting which memories fade away, and which 4 This title was also used in an auto ethnography assigned in an undergraduate class in the Fall of 2012. 5 The following narr ative was originally articulated in an assignment in a graduate level class in the summer of 2017.


14 memories we hold onto as clearly as the day they happened. Until Kyle had mentioned David, I the only Black kid in our class, the only Black kid on the baseball team, the only Black kid in the neighborhood into the discussion ha haircut was not. And if Aaron expected us a group of naïve little replicas of their White washed surroundings, parents, and teachings to let him walk around school acting like he was were all White, and as far as we were concerned, it was always going to stay that way. explanation, and moved happily along my way. When I look back at my upbringing as a child, incarnations of the White privilege that movements through life. In fact, I challenge any person reading this who grew up in the United States to d o the same as me: look back. What stories of White privilege from your childhood can you recall? Talking to many White people, seemingly benign stories like the one I shared above are frequent and prevalent. I recall traveling to a school populated pred ominantly by students of Color to play basketball, only to find my teammates nervous, hesitant, and commenting about the Black friend to our White family, and leaving the dinner with the collective understanding that teachers when I walked down the hall hand in hand with a Black classmate; I can still taste the


15 N word on the ton gues of my adolescent jokes; my ears recollect racial slurs being thrown at my friend of Korean descent; my memory overflows with my friends calling manual labor work only fit for Mexicans as my White mother worked all day in the sun as a landscaper; I see the Confederate flag stuck to the beat up trucks of my majority White high school student parking lot. But exhausting my stories is virtually irrelevant. These stories are in no way unique; we all have them. Peggy McIntosh (1989) gives us a list of twenty six different ways in which her Whiteness benefits her in everyday life, including anything from the safety of her children to the fact that d blemish are made to more or less match a White skin tone. lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit o opener to help us to understand and verbalize our own White pri vilege (Matias, 2015). For many White people, this list can not only seem eye opening, though; discussions and subsequent education on White privilege can also illicit feelings of denial, rage, anxiety, loss, and guilt due to these perceived unintentional advantages (Matias, 2015). Digging deeper, though, countless scholars have found that what we call White privilege today is not unintentional by any means, and has in actuality been very much deliberately manipulated throughout American history to ben efit a select group of people for a select set of privileges and perceived rights (Leonardo, 2004; Baldwin, 1965; Barret & Roediger, 1997; Gallagher, 1997; Wright, 1997; Ross, 1997; Cleaver, 1997; Matias, 2015). Although many


16 Whites in America become defe nsive when told of their privileges due only to their skin color, hat even being a White indentured servant always had advantages over being a Black indentured servant he country also made it a crime for a person of Color to hold public office, made it so that people of Color could not testify in court, prohibited the immigration of people of Color, and imposed curfews on people of Color that were not imposed on White pe ople (Wright, 1997, p. 167). Because of laws such as these and countless others, it has always come as a benefit to be White in America. Consequently, over time, as these laws have evolved, as privileges have carried through our society, and as different waves of immigration have hit our shores, different ethnic groups from throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas have fought to claim their own Whiteness (Barret & Roediger, 1997; Mendez v. Westminster , 1946; Kuo, 1998; Plessy v. Ferguson , 1896; Baldwin, 1965) blurring the constructed hegemonic understanding of Whiteness, any perceived differences within White America have been virtually erased, thus normalizing dominant White culture, and abnormalizing the plethora of cultures that have been divided and conquered because of their inability to meet the White bar. Going bac because, simply


17 privileges largely because they have created a system of domination under which they can thr ive is not enough to think of it as a select set of privileges that people of Color do not get to enjoy, and leave it at that; in reality, White privilege is a select set of privileges that has evolved from a complicated, multi casual history which is flooded with intentional manipulation of law, social reform, and human bodies in order to benefit a select group of people, and thrives in silence, ignorance, and hegemonic normativity. In the introduction to her book, Teaching to Transgress , bell hooks (1994) relays the story of growing up in the American public education system in the midst of racial desegregation. In this story, we see the harm that normalizin g Whiteness in education can have on our students of Color. Starting off at an all teaching core of all Black women was committed to nurturing intellect so that we could become scholars, thinkers, and cultural hegemonic act, a fundamental way to resist every strategy of white racist colonization (p. 2). Where there was once a feeling that she, her peers, and her teachers we re all pulling in the same direction to fight against the oppression that holds many people of Color down in our society, in school, when hooks and her peers the past. Because if we enter the teaching profession with the mindset that Whiteness has little to


18 no bearing on the culture and climate of our classrooms and schools, then we willfully ignore the countless experiences of children of Color (hooks, 1994), a s well as ignoring our own experiences as White children growing up in the society around us (Thandeka, 1999). Entering a profession that is aimed at nurturing, helping, growing, developing, cultivating, and encouraging children in our society to be the b est that they can be, while also attempting to give these children as many useful tools to thrive in a world in which they are already changing, how could than entering the teaching profession as a great White savior who has come from the land of perfection in order to bring her/his pupils out of the world of savagery and barbarity (Vera & Gordon, 2003), most of us enter the profession simply trying to help our s tudents in any way that we can. In order to best help our students, ignoring both our and their realities does not seem like a wise path. In fact, when we do not openly acknowledge our own experiences with Whiteness as teachers, Whiteness does not simply disappear from our classrooms, and instead manifests itself in unspoken, implicit codes of conduct guided by dominant White hegemony (Matia s, 2015; Miller, 2017; Mitchell, 2013; hooks, 1994; Tatum, 1997). Beverly Tatum (1997) famously illustrated racism in general as sive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking (p. 11). As teachers, we cannot simply b when we willfully ignore our own experiences car ry us toward the same destination as those who we are attempting to teach against professor


19 Kara Mitchell (2013) of the University of Colorado Denver has uncovered a handful of harmful majoritarian stories that our classrooms perpetuate. As teachers, if w e buy into any of these stories, unintentionally or not, we simultaneously buy into ideologies of colorblindness and students, parents, and communities for academic failure and suggests students need to adapt to schools and schools do (1934) belief that schools should make a concerted effort to utilize the unique talents of all of our students, Mitchell (2013) points out that many classrooms instead punish diversity and unique cultures by only offering standardized tests in standard English, for example by buying into class, standard English monolingual norm is often considered wrong, less valuab In essence, if we believe that, som schools are positioned as the great equalizers in this country, providing equal opportunity for all made bait that inequalities persist in American society simply because some individuals are less talented and less motivated to succeed than others. A quick look at student achievement by nationality, race, and gender will tell you that massive inequalities in education still exist within the United States (NCES, 2018).


20 (Mitchell, 2013, p. 351). If w racism, though, then we know that simply treating all of our students the same is not enough. words, would be equivalent to simply standing still on the walkway. Instead of standing still on the walkway, we must be willing to turn around, and actively move against it. If we do not actively work against the White norms and White hegemony that we know is around us, then we In short, as White teachers, we cannot pretend that the Whiteness that pervad ed our lives growing up does not pervade the lives of the students sitting in the seats in front of us. Just because we are taught through White hegemonic influences to stay silent about our White privilege (Leonardo, 2004; Matias, 2015 ; Thandeka, 1999 ), that does not mean that our White privilege does not actually exist. Not only is ignoring this White privilege extraordinarily disrespectful to the students of Color who live these realities every day (Matias, 2015), this hegemonically forced ignorance is also abusive to our own White selves as well as the White children learning how to deal with their White privilege from us, their mentors (Thandeka, 1999; Matias, 2015; Douglass, 1995). If the majority of White teachers intend to assist all of our studen ts to succeed in the world as best they can, then forcing them into a classroom culture of silence and compliance works against our ultimate goal of teaching our students to love learning, and to use their minds as a tool to fight against the inequalities that permeate their lives (hooks, 1994). Rather than passively and dutifully sitting on the moving walkway of racism (Tatum, 1997), we, as teachers, have the moral responsibility to turn around and actively resist the hegemonic influences that keep our fe et obediently motionless. The blinders of Whiteness have


21 been hegemonically fitted to our heads in order to obscure the moving walkways of social influence on which we all stand. If we truly wish to help all of our students to succeed in the world around them as best they can, then, it is officially time to take the blinders off, and look in the mirror.


22 CHAPTER III A BRIEF HISTORY OF AN EXCLUSIONARY EDUCATION Looking back at my own experiences as a student in the public education system, I am filled almost entirely with memories of smooth sailing and fitting in. When I was about middle school aged, though, I remember complaining to my parents about some of my classes in school. 6 Not math, where I could merely follow some rules to lead me to these cr azy answers to the world, like some complicated puzzle that only a select few could really understand and solve. have that character become me. And certainly not writing, where I had a captive audience. I always liked getting my thinking across, and I always relished observing how I could make people react to my words. The class I really despised, sadly, was history. stupid. All we do is read about a bunch of My dad, in his teacher/parent way, j about the mistakes of the past. And when we understand the mistakes of the past, hopefully, it allows us to what he was saying, and that understanding has stuck with me ever since our brief conversation. If we look at history like a pre ado lescent, egocentric, White, middle class, privileged boy, where all history is is the stories of dead people that have no tangible effect on our lives today, 6 Parts of the following narrative were originally developed as a journal entry for an assignment in a graduate level class in the Fall of 2016.


23 then I was right: there is no point. But if we look at ourselves as connected to the history that we come from if we look at history as a way to learn about where we come from and, therefore, who we are then our history takes on an entirely different meaning. Today, generally, when we think about public education, we are blinded by our issues in the present as simply that: issues of the present. We fret over test scores, disproportionate disciplinary statistics, graduation requirements that lead to seemingly biased graduation rates, and we teach until our hair turns grey. We envision public educati on as a benevolent system that is designed to give all of our students the best possible chance to succeed later in life. Whether that life be filled with a steady job, a critical mind, or a college education, we the dominant society of teachers, parents, students, and citizens know that a strong public education system is the foundation of a strong society in general. After all, our children are our future; if we teach our children how to be their strongest possible selves, we have our strongest possible future. This is a nice sentiment. And, with this nice sentiment, we acknowledge the aforementioned imperfections in our benevolent system, and we wonder: how in the world could some of our students be failing? In a system that is filled with good inte ntions, how are many of the outcomes so undeniably problematic? If we comprehend the public education system as nothing other than our own contemporary creation having nothing to do with the foundations on which we stand just as I did as that egocentric p reteen questioning my dad we miss a significant chunk of the story. Instead, if we look at the history of the public education system in the United States with a critically reflective eye, it is no wonder why our students of Color are behind their White p eers today. To put our current public education system in its rightful contextualized historical place,


24 we must start at the beginning. Although European settlers began building schools for youth about as early as they began to immigrate to the northeast coast of what is now the United States, began to establish free public elementary schools around the beginning of the nineteenth century. These early schoo ls, while sold to the public as a way to fight against moral ineptitudes and other class and upper middle class professionals, r words, while these schools were supposedly created with all citizens in mind, the system was actually created by the elite, in the image of the elite. Unlike today, looking back at the initial inception of these early public schools, this contradiction did not escape the minds of the masses. In fact, Collins (1979) points out: urban workers were also generally apathetic, especially since the public schools were atte nded most heavily by the children of the upper classes and imposed upper class notions of deference to authority upon working class youths (p. 106). Early on, then, while the upper class elite found the idea of public school important enough to require states to build, fund, and supply a public education to its citizens, the vast majority of the population of the mid nineteenth century United States did not see themselves in public education. The majority of citizens, in fact, clearly saw the upper cl curriculum itself, and responded by simply not sending their children to these newly instated state institutions (Collins, 1979). However, the elites in society were not to be thwarted by the unorganized civil disobedience of a significantly changing middle and lower class. Around the same time that states were being forced to offer a free education to its citizens, the United States, itself, was in the midst of an immigration crisis (Lee, 2002). While state governments were


25 tax 1979, p. 109). Around the same time, in 1882, the United identity as a first time in American history, the United States adopted an immigration policy of gatekeeping accepting desirable human bodies within our borders, and barring less desir able human bodies from the possibility of claiming American citizenship. Spearheaded by the lower class White many of whom were Irish immigrants, themselves the Chinese Exclusion Act not only set off a ripple effect that worked to exclu de less desirable immigrants from around the world, though, it also helped different ethnic White groups to claim Whiteness (Saxton, 1975). In this rapidly changing nation, the elites of society were not keen on seeing the efore their eyes. So even though it was no secret that desire for its practical benefits, but rather in response to the political influence and persistence of the p. 107), the public education push was far from dead. In fact, at the same time that the xenophobic rhetoric of Chinese Exclusion inundated political conver sations in the United States (Lee, 2002), public education attendance was


26 becoming a larger and larger issue to the socially elite (Collins, 1979). Originally, public education attendance was voluntary. And, in the middle of the nineteenth century, this voluntary attendance was highest for the Anglo Protestant rural middle class, and lowest in the more culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse urban cities (Collins, 1979). So as urban centers and their lower class citizens began to grow with an immigr appealed most to carriers of middle class and rural culture, the effort to establish [compulsory attendance in] publ when public schools were first established at the beginning of the nineteenth century, they were unabashedly created in the image of an upper middle class that aimed to impart its moral and cultural values on its pupils. As time went on, as cities began to overflow with immigrant families, and as the United States began to define itself through political reform as a nation of exclusion, public education was no longer a volunta ry choice for American citizens and their families. With this policy change, public education effectively became a tool used to force cultural and moral assimilation and compliance down the throats of the incoming immigrant populations. Even more probl ematically, public education even a public education that was intended to assimilate and save the incoming immigrant masses was never actually intended to be for everyone because, once again, the laws within public education were not born in isolation. At the same time that public school attendance was becoming compulsory for all immigrants in order to preserve White upper middle class values, and at the same time that the United States ife in the face of


27 borders were also at the forefront of political and social discussion. In 1857, the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford case was decided in the Supreme Court of the United States. In Dred Scott , Chief Justice Roger B. Taney asks whether or not Black people in the United States are questi (Dred Scott v. Sandford , 1857). Because Dred Scott was legally Black, and because he had, at one point, been a slave to a White owner, Dred Scott v. Sandford , 1857). In other words, simply because Dred Scott was Black, Taney pronounced that, according to the United States Constitution, as a Black person, Dred Scott and his family were never intended to be citizens of the United States, and could therefore never enjoy the same rights as their White citizen neighbors. Schools across the country agreed. Taking from the exclusionary tendencies of the time, as the public education system in the United States continued to bud in the mid nineteenth whites from the [public educ ation] system (Kuo, 1998, p. 3); five years later, that assum ption became law, as California officially passed infancy, be tween the years of 1850 and 1860, public education just like the country itself was extraordinarily busy trying to define who public education was actually intended to serve. In that


28 decade alone, going to school became the law of the land in order to pro tect a dominant White way of life, Black citizens in the United States had any semblance of hope for citizenship stripped away by the highest court in the land and were therefore not included in any legal educational considerations, and laws were actively being written across the country to explicitly segregate all other children of Color from their White peers in all classrooms, thus excluding children of Color from an equal public education altogether. In the span of only ten years, public education had effectively laid a foundation to define itself as a White institution for White students with an exclusive set of White upper middle class cultural values, morals, and curricula. So, even after a bloody Civil War, and even though it happened in the mids t of an era Plessy v. Ferguson could not have come as any kind of shock. While states and school districts had already begun to segregate their children in public schools based on race, the C ivil War and consequent 13 th and 14 th Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857 on their race. These amendments claimed, first of all, that U.S. Const. amend. XIII law which shal Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896). In this spirit, in Plessy vs. Ferguson D red Scott (1857). Much like the Dred Scott (1857) decision, and regardless of the since created 13 th and 14 th Amendments, though, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of inequality once again when the discussion came down to racial rights. Echoing the hierar chical racial language present in Dred Scott (1857),


29 Louisiana law defined White people and Black people as virtually separate species, and Plessy v. Ferguson , 1896). When this Louisiana stat e law was challenged in the Supreme Court in Plessy (1896), Justice Henry privileges or immunities of the colored man, deprives him of his property without du e process of does not infringe upon the 13 th or 14 th Amendments of the United States Constitution ( Plessy v. Ferguson , 1896). In 1896, during a time in wh ich the United States was still actively struggling to define what a free education for all This decision had massively destructive implications in the world of public education both immediately and for generations to come. Even though the public education system was born from a White upper middle class elite in response to the changing cultural, ethnic, and racial landscape of the United States (Collins, 1979), in 1896 half a century after compu lsory school attendance laws began to form, thirty nine years after Dred Scott , thirty six years after Plessy v. Ferguson effectively solidified the idea that public education was not only created by a White upper middle class; it was also created for a White upper middle class, and even the highest courts of the United States government would do what was necessary to back that notion up. For the next fifty eight years, all dif ferent people of Color from all around the country relentlessly fought for their right to an equal opportunity to educate their youth while White children and families around the country enjoyed the privilege to learn with clear, inarguable, painfully obvi ous advantages (Kuo, 1998; Orfield, 2001; Dudziak, 1988; Mendez v. Westminster , 1946 ; Brown v. Board of Education , 1954).


30 Although a few legal victories were made during this fifty eight years of educational de jure inequality such as in 1946 in Mendez v . Westminster when it was ruled unconstitutional to segregate Mexican American students from their White peers, or in 1947 when the Supreme Court of California finally eliminated de jure segregation of Chinese American students (Kuo, 1998) Justice Henry Bi Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896 ) words echoed through the halls of a public education system that had already proven to the American public that it was not c reated for the masses. It was no t until the groundbreaking Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that de jure segregation of all kinds in public schools was deemed unfair, unequal, and, therefore, unconstitutional. For well over a century, then, students of Color were intentionally written out of the public educati on system while their White peers enjoyed an unfettered education created by them, and, more importantly, for them. This, though, is usually where contemporary educators stop. Although there was over a century of legalized segregation, inequality, and oth er intentional setbacks within the public education system aimed at harming people of Color, Brown v. Board was decided sixty four years ago, in 1954. To many White educators, the question of why our students of Color are failing in schools today does not and cannot have to do with a time that many of our parents cannot even remember (Ladson Billings, 1998). After all, a bit of quick math can tell you that Plessy v. Ferguson lasted only fifty eight years , so we have therefore been living in a post Brown v. Board world for longer than s de jure segregation was in effect. How, then, could Plessy (1896) and its predecessors have a larger effect on the world of education today than Brown (1954)? One answer to this question is simply that we have not, in fact, been living in a post Brown world for as long as many people believe. Yes, Brown was decided in 1954. However,


31 ten years later, in 1964, (Orfield, 2001, p. 4). In response, at the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a concerted effort was made by the United States federal government to enforce the dictations laid out in Brown (Orfield, 2001). But even though these efforts seemed well intentioned and legitimate, they were doomed from the beginning. In another ten years, in 1974, with a fiscally and socially conservative Richard Nixon holding the Presidency and electing four of the nine Supreme Court that there was no feasible way to provide desegregated education for (Orfield, 2001, p. 5). Following this trend, by the Reagan inspired 1980s, the Justice Dep artment Subsequently, by the early 1990s, such federal policies t o cancel these existing desegregation orders were dutifully put into place and enforced in various states across the country. After over a century of legal and social policy intentionally created to exclude people of Color from all sorts of public benefit s, including a fifty eight year fight to destroy Plessy v. Ferguson , de jure segregation was finally abolished; less than forty years after that, though, desegregation was deemed a failure, and de facto segregation was considered a natural symptom of a fai led attempt to equalize public education. From this belief, the power of neighborhood schools has grown, resulting in a disproportionate amount of public funds being distributed to wealthy school districts, while poor school districts are told that they a re effectively on their own ( San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 1973; State of Colorado v. Lobato , 2013). As a result, today, many school districts across the country are more racially segregated than they were in the 1950s (Orfield, 20 01), and, consequently, the so Brown


32 bitter taste of pre Brown inequality. Furthermore, perhaps an even more tangible reason why a fully desegregated public education system has never been fully realized is because Brown v. Board was a hurried, Band Aid solution to a much deeper issue of its time (Dudziak, 1988). While Brown was and has since been touted as a case stemming solely from the moral shift towards accepting the equality of every race of student in public schoo Mary Dudziak (1988) exposes the ulterior, more clandestine motives behind the shift in federal judicial feelings in the United States in the 1950s. How, Dudziak (1988) wh Brown 64)? In American society in the 1950s, racial issues, while attempting to gain prominence and acceptance, were not culturally moving in a fully progressive direction. As Dudziak (1988) points out, lynchings were all conducted in the same environment as the superficially tolerant decision of Brown . At the same time that the Supr B lack war heroes for using W hite bathrooms, slaughtering entire B lack families for standing up to a Wh ite man, and murdering B lack people for having the g all merely to vote (Dudziak, 1988 Brown 4). The big question again, is, how did such a progressive Supreme Court ruling occur in the context of such oppressive societal acts? For Dudziak (1988), the answ er lies in the fact that in the postwar climate of the Cold War when the United States was actively campaigning to spread democracy in an effort to fend off Sovi et communism around the world r acial discrimination made our cold war imperatives seem hypocrit ical to the rest of the world. At the same time that the United States was


33 petition in the United Nations charging that the U.S. Government had committed ge nocide against American blacks in violation of the Genocide ). If the United States was going to spread its culture and its government throughout the world in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Dudziak (1988) argues, it had better begin to distance itself from the racist inspired atrocities of the Nazis in World War II. From this environment, Brown v. Board was born. Civil Rights redressed: a moral reason, an economic reason, and an international re 101 102). Brown itself, and the historical accounts of Bro wn, overwhelmingly ignore the other two reasons for why segregation would benefit the United States in the postwar climate of the 1950s. If Brown had simply been a response to the shifting moral sentiments of American culture, as history suggests, then th e question of why the effects of segregation still ling er in our public schools today c ould seem even more nebulous than they (1988) conclusions that there were also economic and international reasons for why the United States government would want to force integration within its public schools certainly cou ld account for why students of C olor are still failing at disproportionate rates over sixty years after the ruling in Brown . To be clear, in a school setting, decision have absolutely noth ing to do with how students, teachers , and the curriculum interact with one another once the classroom door is shut . So even though Chief Justice Earl Warren ( Brown v. Boar d of Education , 1954


34 (p. 2) within a segregated public education system, he simultaneously states: our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment (p. 2). m the earliest days of public education. When, in the mid nineteenth century, upper middle class White society felt that their cultural and moral values were being threatened by immigrant hoards from around the globe, attendance in public education was no longer voluntary. About a century later, when upper middle class White democratic values felt threatened by international communist tenets, unspoken. Consequently, across the country, schools for students of Color were deemed no longer acceptable, and dominant White cultural and academic values were imposed on students of all ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds, forcing students of Color into the submission of morally unprepared authoritative White figures (Ladson Billings, 1998; h ooks, 1994) simply due to having nothing to do with the students or the teachers themselves. When Brown v. Board (1954) laid out the new law of the public education landscape over six decades ago, the racism present simply di sappear, and the students simply stop suffering from the racially homogenous authorities and their decision making processes. e ducation system is critical in the foundation of a strong adult mind, that does not mean that most


35 of the public education system is aware of the history that surrounds the academic and cultural values which we teach to all of our students on any given day . And here, once again, I am reminded of my conversation with my dad about the importance of history. As anyone who has spent any significant amount of time with a pre adolescent can attest: apathetic egocentrism is far from a rare condition in these youn g people; and as anyone who has spent any significant amount of time with a pre adolescent can also attest: we hope that, with time and experience, this world aro und her. We, as public education teachers, cannot teach with the same apathetic egocentrism that a whiny privileged pre adolescent boy admitted to all those years ago. When we see that our students of Color are failing, we cannot simply scratch a superfi cial surface of wonder, and go along teaching, hoping things will change. Instead, if we acknowledge a history that was born from upper middle class White values, if we concede that our profession has historically been riddled with laws of exclusion inten tionally aimed at harming some of our students while benefitting others, and if we admit that a post Brown era is not all that our governing officials would like us to believe that it is, then we must begin to look in the mirror, too. As teachers who have joined this system, as teachers that are adding to a history of calculated exclusion and premeditated omission, as teachers who profess that we care deeply about the success of all of our students, it is our undisputed obligation to critically question fr om we walk the same steps that have been taken for close to two centuries; if we truly want to see change, then, we must be willing to break from the path that has already been trodden by the hoards before us.


36 CHAPTER IV THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE Like most teachers, I entered the teaching profession knowing that I was entering a profession with a high burnout rate, a low salary, long hours, and an overwhe lming amount of emotional attachment dedicated to students and families that I am only in touch with for an intensely brief amount of time. With these realities in mind, though, I still decided to enter the teaching profession because of the potential pos itive influence I could have on the countless students who pass through my classroom door. Whether these students come from an affluent family or a homeless one, whether they come from the same neighborhood as me or from a country that I have never before heard of, whether they speak the same language as me, have the same political views as me, or flat out hate everything about me, I entered the teaching profession with the intention and the belief that I could and would positively impact the young minds i n front of me and subsequent future that I may or may not be privileged to be a part of. So, while studying to achieve my undergraduate degree, when I first started hearing rumblings of the dark cloud that hangs over public education today this domineer ing entity known as the school to prison pipeline I had to take notice. How could a profession with such noble intentions yield such harmful results? How could the same public education system that people have died to protect produce consistent data that suggests students of Color receive a disproportionate amount of disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and expulsions (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Settersten & Ray, 2010; Ladson Billings, 2011; Ladson Billings, 1998; Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002), fail high stakes standardized tests at a disproportionate rate as compared to their White peers (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Jaschik, 2015; NCES, 2018; Mitchell, 2013), and ultimately graduate high school at much lower rates than their White peers (Fine &


37 Ruglis, 2009 ; Settersten & Ray, 2010; NCES, 2018)? As an undergraduate, I essentially shrugged this problem off as simply one more topic that I was being asked to read about in order to meet the requirements for graduation. At the time, I did not take the school to prison pipeline as something that directly affected me. Being the inexperienced pupil at Humboldt State University that I was, I wholeheartedly understood that the public education system which I was primed to enter in the coming years was much larger th an myself. Therefore, I reasoned, the public education system has its problems; that does not necessarily mean, though, that those same problems are my problems, too. Unfortunately, time and experience has taught me that my superficial undergraduate reas oning was deeply flawed. When I entered the public education system as a teacher at the age of twenty three, I entered a profession that looked and felt a lot like me. In fact, estimates today suggest that the United States public education system is fil led with well over eighty percent White teachers just like myself (Miller, 2017; NCES, 2018). On the contrary, while the staffing of the public education system has remained predominantly White over time, the students within the public education system ar e much more diverse, as students of Color make up nearly half of the student body population (Miller, 2017). So although I told myself while studying at a predominantly White university in Northern California that a racialized problem like the school to p rison pipeline had little to do with me as a White teacher, clearly, I was wrong. Race is a foundational discrepancy within the public education system when comparing the teachers with the students. The teaching profession has remained White; the student population that we tirelessly serve every day, though, is racially diversifying right before our eyes. If we, as teachers, truly entered the profession in order to help all of our students, and nationwide data consistently shows that our students of Colo r are continuously being left behind their White


38 peers in all significant academic and disciplinary measures of success in the classroom (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Settersten & Ray, 2010; Ladson Billings, 2011; Ladson Billings , 1998; Skiba et al., 2002; Jaschik , 2015; Mitchell, 2013; Miller, 2017), then we must be willing to dig deeper. To start, as I discussed in the previous chapter, across the student populations have remained racially segregated despite over six decades of attempts at desegregation (Orfield, 2001). Problematically but unsurprisingly, many of the schools that serve a student population that is pred ominantly of Color lack the fiscal and practical resources to keep these schools of Color on an equal playing field with their White counterparts (Kozol, 1991; Fine & Ruglis, 2009). In urban areas in particular, where public schools serve a majority of st udents of Color (Ladson Billings, 1998; Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Kozol, 1991), the actual school buildings themselves face problems such as incessant water leaks and mass flooding, inexcusable overcrowding, lack of basic resources like toilet seats or toilet p aper , and unbearable heat and/or intolerable cold (Kozol, 1991; Fine & Ruglis, 2009). In addition to a lack of basic physical resources, these urban schools of Color also face extreme shortages in qualified substitutes, and even licensed full time teacher s (Fine & Ruglis, 2009). While the embarrassing conditions that many of our students of Color face across the country is hard enough simply to witness or to read about, perhaps the biggest issue here is that this inequality does not go unnoticed by the s tudents attending these schools. Far from it. As construct identities, build a sense of self, read how society views them, develop the capacity to sustain relation attempting to meet academic standards, students in these downtrodden schoo ls predominantly


39 students of Color consciousness of class structures, the stability of inequit y, the illusion of mobility and their ceiling, a lack of toilet paper, or an unqualified, uncertified teacher who will disappear midyear, they internalize this sense of inequity as a microcosm of a larger societal ill from which they cannot escape. Ultimately, the same is true today that was true all those years ago when Justice Earl B. Warren ( Brown v. Board of Education , 1954) ordered nationwide desegregation : when the schools that our students of Color attend are foundationally inferior to the schools that our (Fine & Ruglis, 2009, p. 21). By viewing the school to prison pipeline as an issue having only to do with a lack of physical resources and de facto segregation, though, only scratches the surface. As I touched on in the previous chapter, the very birth o f public education has its roots in White, middle class ideologies, morals, and cultural values (Collins, 1979; Ladson Billings, 1998). Furthermore, Brown v. Board was at least partially decided with clandestine political motives (Dudziak, 1988) which def ined desegregation as bringing our students of Color up to the standards of their White peers (hooks, 1994) rather than a pure integration of cultural, academic, and educational values for all races, ethnicities, and cultures in the United States (Ladson B illings, 1998). Essentially, there are continuing psycho cultural assaults that are apparent as a result of structural and symbol[ic] systems that serve to co Billings, 1998) and other communities of Color. In other words, while flooding hallways and


40 uncertified teachers are clear violations of an equal education, the public education system, itself, is set up to keep our White students as the dominant members of society. The fact of the matter is that the public education system is unabashedly standardized. These standards that we ask all of our students to meet not only have deep financial ties to text book companies 7 serving the wealthiest and most powerful school districts in the United States (Ladson Billings, 1998), they also come from the same White, middle class history that the system itself comes from. As a result, the standards that we ask all of our students to meet class history, culture, and values almost to the exclusion of all other Billings, 1998, p. 251). Because this is the case, all of our students who do not identify as White and midd le (Mitchell, 2013; Ladson Billings, 1998). And when we force our students to sit back and listen to what we have to teach rather than doing the work to see what it is our unique students bring to their uniqu e classrooms, the teacher becomes the subject, the students become the object, and we have effectively subscribed to an antiquated one size fits all banking model of education (Freire, 1993; Dewey, 1938) where our students are only asked to assimilate to o ur way of learning . Even if our students of Color have the resources to learn White standards side by side with their White peers, because the public education system comes from these aforementioned White values, and because the public education system re fuses to move past these strictly White forms (Ladson Billings, 19 98, p. 248). 7 Though fin ancial ties to the common academic standards are a well documented conflict of interest in public education, Glen n Singleton (2014 ) has shown how White students still outperform their peers of Color in all academic measures, regardless of socioeconomic sta tus. While capital interests in public education clearly deserve further research, then, the discussion here still remains constant: race matters.


41 It should come as no surprise, then, that our students of Color statistically struggle on the high stakes standardized tests required for graduation and/or college across the country (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Jaschik, 2015; Settersten & Ray, 2010) . Just because it may not be surprising, though, does not make it any less problematic. For years, we have known that English Language Learners, special education students, and students of Color all fail high stakes standardized tests at an alarmingly di sproportionate rate as compared to their English speaking, regular education, White peers (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Jaschik, 2015; NCES, 2018; Mitchell, 2013). This is such a widely known fact that members of College Board have even begun to discuss whether o r not he average for white gap is not as wide as it once was, while the average score for White students is remaining flat, the average score for Black students is actually falling (Jaschik, 2015; NCES, 2018). High stakes standardized tests have always shown a bias towards White test takers; now, we are finding, that gap is actually widening. Additionally, fresh research on the SAT shows that particular types of q uestions heavily favor White test takers over test takers of Color (Jaschik, 2015). In fact, this research found: students have an edge based not on education or study skills or aptitude, but because they are most likely growing up around white people (p. 2). Reminding us of the theo ries presented earlier tying the White origins of public education to a contemporary lack of success in our students of Color (Ladson Billings, 1998; Mitchell, 2013), this recent research clearly suggests that, if our students come from a White background, they


42 have an undeniable advantage on high stakes standardized tests like the SAT. While this is the case, while research has repeatedly shown this to be the case time and time again, and while authorities in power have even openly acknowledged that stude nts of Color do not pass high stakes standardized tests at the same rate as their White peers (Jaschik, 2015), high stakes tests like the SAT are actually gaining in popularity across the country, and many states have even implemented these types of tests as graduation requirements from high school (Fine & Ruglis, 2009). As if this issue was not clearly aimed at disadvantaging our students of Color enough, we o Data have consistently shown year after year that students of Color are at an extreme disadvantage when taking a high stakes standardized test, yet states with more people of Color are more likely to impose these tests as a final hurdle for graduation. Once again, when digging discrimination targeting our students of Colo r. With all of this in mind, it is no wonder why our students of Color face a disproportionate amount of disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and expulsions (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Skiba et al., 2002; Settersten & Ray, 2010; Ladson Billings, 2011). After al l, if a person is given less aggression? When looking at the disc iplinary angle of the school to prison pipeline with this lens, it can again be tempting to define the problem as systematic rather than personal, and it can become all too easy to once again push the problem off of ourselves, and onto the victims. Howev er, recent research suggests that teachers have more to do with racial disciplinary


43 discrepancies than either the public education system as a whole, or the students themselves (Skiba et al., 2002). When considering discipline in terms of the school to pr ison pipeline, the issue at hand is time spent in the classroom: if a student is not in the classroom for instruction, then the student cannot possibly be learning what she needs to be learning, and the student is therefore at greater risk of failing and u ltimately dropping out of school all together. This is why a disproportionate amount of suspensions and expulsions for our students of Color is so problematic (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Skiba et al., 2002; Settersten & Ray, 2010; Ladson Billings, 2011). Howev er, while this racial discrepancy has been consistent since the first studies conducted in the United States happened over four decades ago, studies today suggest that the rate of expulsions and suspensions merely mirrors the rate of disciplinary referrals written in the classroom (Skiba et al., 2002). In other words, yes, more students of Color are being suspended and expelled than their White peers; these administrative decisions, though, could very well be simply a symptom of the fact that more discipli nary referrals are written for students of Color in the first place. Rather than blame disciplinary discrepancies on a larger systematic or suspension for black Furthermore, a closer analysis of the actual referrals themselves shows that referrals writ ten for systematic issue that is out of teacher control, and rather than blame the students of Color


44 themselves for aggressively acting in de fiance to the undeniable disadvantages the system puts them up against, we must face the facts: the foundational issue here is the discrepancy in both the type and the amount of disciplinary referrals submitted for our White students as compared to our stu a system; referrals are written by teachers. In this case, the writing is on the wall. Teachers not the students, not the system are to blame for the racial discipli nary discrepancies seen across the Unites States public education system. Across the board, then, data throughout the country indisputably show us that our students of Color are dependably failing within the public education system at alarmingly consistent rates. Devastatingly, this is happening in a time when it is more important than ever to receive a high school diploma (Settersten & Ray, 2010). Starting off at the most basic level, a close to ten thousand dollars more per year than a salary for a working person who has not earned a high school diploma skills and a diploma have more positive out comes in terms of economics, health, and criminal increases, so does the income. In 2002, a college graduate could be expected to earn over fifteen thousand doll ars more per year than a working person with a high school diploma, but no college experience (Settersten & Ray, 2010). And just as high school graduation shows an undeniable racialized pattern of success and failure, so does college graduation. This may be (Settersten & Ray, 2010, p. 27). Regardless of the implica tions of that fact, in 2005, of people


45 aged twenty five to thirty seven percent of Whites held ttersten & Ray, 2010). To add salt to the wound, these discrepancies in decades, and show no signs of slowing in the future (Settersten & Ray, 2010). The prob not attending college has life threatening implications. In 2005, for example : three in ten white men between ages sixteen and twenty four with only a high school degree were not in school, in the military, or at work. For young black men, the proportion is staggering: more than half were not in school, in the military, or at w ork (Settersten & Ray, 2010, p. 28). For dropouts in particular, the consequences are much worse. Settersten & Ray (2010) show that aged forty five to fifty fou Department of Justice estimates that one in three black males, one in six Latino males, and one in seventeen white males will go to prison at some point in their lifetime. Fine & Ruglis (2009) h ave uncovered similar findings. Whereas over seven in ten black male dropouts in 2004 were jobless, only just over three in ten White male dropouts found themselves in the same predicament (Fine & Ruglis, 2009). Going hand in hand with unemployment, Fine & Ruglis 30s, 6 in 10 black male dropouts had spent time in ly to end up in prison or jail and to be on that succeeding in the public education system today is more important than ever is an almost


46 cynically comical un derstatement. The results are clear. Unlike how I believed, as an undergraduate, that the school to prison pipeline is a distant entity having nothing to do with me as a teacher directly, the complete opposite is actually true. The school to prison pipel ine is alive and well, and we, as teachers, are an integral part. In a system that was born from Whiteness and continues to operate from an undeniably White perspective (Coll ins, 1979; Ladson Billings, 2011 ; Mitchell, 2013), our students of Color are bein g left behind in terms of discipline, high stakes standardized tests, the standards themselves, advanced track coursing, high school graduation, and college acceptance and graduation (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Settersten & Ray, 2010; Ladson Billings, 2011; Lads on Billings, 1998; Skiba et al., 2002; Jaschik, 2015; Mitchell, 2013; Miller, 2017). As teachers, we must accept responsibility for these issues because we are not only the ones who are writing the referrals for seemingly biased reasons with undeniably bi ased results (Skiba et al., 2002), we are also the ones responsible for teaching the standards, and including the students within the curriculum (Ladson Billings, 2011). When our students of Color are failing at disproportionate nin e percent of all federal prison inmates and 75 percent of all state hide from the fact that the outcome of our actions within the classroom have concrete, life thre atening consequences. Rather than push a problem like the school to prison pipeline onto my role? After all, if we, the teachers, refuse to acknowledge our own place and subsequent influence withi n the school to prison pipeline, then we simultaneously subscribe to the notion that we, the teachers, are not an integral part of the public education system, and we, the teachers, do not have a tangible influence on the outcomes of what our students beco me later in life. If this is the case, if a teacher has no effect


47 on our what our students become later in life, then we must ask ourselves a second question: what was the point of signing up to teach in the first place?


48 CHAPTER V AN OPPRESSIVE EDUCATIO N So, it happened again. Only, this time, you were prepared. The time in the day had just come for your students to move along to their electives or specials, leaving you by yourself in your classroom with a little bit of time cut out in the day to al low you to get the extra work done that you need to get done. Emails, calls home, some shavings littered in a circle around his desk. Thank goodness for planning period. To a younger, less experienced you, this time would have seemed like the best part of the day. To a younger, less experienced you, a slight glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe you could get out of school today with no extra work to do once you get home. to do list, you check your planner. Today is Wednesday, which means that you have a meeting il shavings might as well get comfortable on the floor there. You grab your computer, maybe a pen with which to possibly scribble down some notes if the mood strikes you, and you head down the hall to your designated As promised, the meeting takes every minute of your plan time, you rush back to your classroom, and you spend every bit of your energy teaching your butt off for the rest of the day, almost forgetting about the meetin g entirely. Once you get home, though, you finally have a chance to reflect: what did I learn today? At the meeting, the results were consistent. Your students of Color, your English language learners, and your students with special needs all did disp roportionately poorly on the


49 and, furthermore, the data is consistent across the district, the state, and the nation (NCES, 2018; Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Jaschi k, 2015; Settersten & Ray, 2010). Did you learn anything new with documented discrepancy in success rates on high , you know the students in your classroom none of the data you received today is shocking. Because you are very well aware that we cannot afford to add to the imbalance of prison records vs. Bachelor 009), though, you ask yourself: How do our White students continue to pass the test at such disproportionately high rates ? What is it that our students of Color do not quite have yet that makes this data so predictable? And here, somewhere between draini ng yourself of energy to teach all of your students to be the best versions of themselves and knowing that the current public education system does not int you can do to turn this trend around, your first reaction is to think of what is wrong with the system, or, perhaps, what is wrong with the kids. Rather than ask your self what it is that you can do to them from you in a distinctly dehuma nizing fashion. Unfortunately, by focusing too intently on throughou


50 slaveholders once claimed that slaves needed the protection and security of a strong White owner lists justified Native American genocide and slavery in the U.S. in part by painting native people or Africans deficits in their students of Color and wonder how we can better pull our students of Color out of we do this, we reduce our students to mere objects that must be studied or solved in an effort to fix or impr interests, and personhood. Instead of taking on a Difference as Deficit mindset, we ought to neither by the leaders for the people, nor by the people for the leaders, but by both acting together in embarrassing situation that is the public education system, then, we cannot work for our students; we must work with them. After all, this is their life. Unfortunately, the way the public education system is set up today makes it all too easy to enter an oppressive relationship with our students if we ar e not aware of our actions. As I briefly mentioned in my Introduction, Paulo Freire (1993) defines an oppressive relationship as a minority class holding absolute power over a majority class by participating in four antidialogical actions. These antidialo gical actions include Manipulation, Cultural Invasion, Divide and Rule, and Conquest. Once we impose all four of these actions within a relationship, Freire (1993) claims, we have created a relationship with an oppressor and a subsequent oppressed. As th e minority class of teachers, if we are not careful, we do this every day to our subordinate majority class of students.


51 To begin, as teachers, we Manipulate our students in school by selling them on a set of 1993, p. 147). For example, we tell our students frequently that t h e work they are producing in school is theirs, and has nothing to do with any outside entities. In reality, though, nothing about the work that our students produce is for them. To begin, the standards our students are being forced to attempt to meet we re created by a dominant elite having little or no interest in the interests of the vast majority of our students (Ladson Billings, 2011; Collins, 1978). At the same time, though, we reinforce the innate significance of these dominant White standards by s ubjecting our students to immensely important graduation requirements (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Settersten & Ray, 2010) in the form of high stakes standardized tests and standardized graduation requirements. When we do this when we create a remote bar for whi ch all of our students must strive we subsequently create a mandatory norm. This norm, in turn, defines what makes a successful and unsuccessful member of the public education society (Said, 1978; Foucault, 1984). Problematically, though, this artificial ly created norm is and always has been created by and for a White dominant elite, excluding the interests and strengths of many of our students of Color (Ladson Billings, 2011; Collins, 1978). Although some students are necessarily strive to penetrate the normal caste of public education in a desperate attempt to belong and be successful due to the powerful nature of our manipulative myth score or grade is something created with all 1984). education another common myth any well. T eachers (or text book


52 companies) write the units that students will be learning based on the State Standards; teachers base the tests they give to students on these standard inspired units; and the only tangible product students receive back for t heir work is to get judged in the form of grades based on their performance on these tasks. Nowhere in this cycle is the student ever given a voice. If, by chance, a student has the rare opportunity to actually create something of their own choosing, Kar who create art must flatter, or at least not affront, their patrons f a student creates any piece of work , it is still subject to grading , and can still be used to label the student as a failure. E in other words, she still must not offend the authoritative figure for whom the creativity is being p roduced . Clearly h a plethora of other myths we preach to our students, we have manipulated her into believing that the work she produces is only designed to benefit herself. (1993) second antidialogical action, we see that we Culturally assimila te to a dominant White culture if they want any real chance to succeed in dominant society (Matias, 2015; hooks, 1994; Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Settersten & Ray, 2010; Mitchell, 2013; Ladson Billings, 2011; Ladson Billings, 1998; Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peter son, 2002; Jaschik, 2015), and it is a well known dark mark on public education and American cultural genocide that stole Indigenous children from their families, forcibly assimilating them in physically, sexually, and mentally abusive boarding schools. I t goes without saying that forced assimilation to a dominant class is culturally insensitive and culturally inappropriate. However,


53 forced assimilation to a dominant class is still alive and well within the public education social system. If we take the thoughts of Edward Said (1978) into consideration, we find that public and lazy work in the classroom. In education today, not only are many of our students of Color being asked to assimilate to a dominant White culture, they are also then asked to turn around and learn about themselves as the object of learning (Freire, 1993). While many academic standards in the United States include mention of culturally and ethnically diverse themes, these standards are still written from a White perspective, and then taught from a predominantly White perspective, as well (NCES, 2018; Miller, 2017; Matias, 2015; Ladson Billings, 2011; Tatum, 1997). When this happens, public education effectively plays into the discourse of Orientalism al groups constantly define themselves and each other in incessant and unremitting opposition to one another (Said, 1978). Much like the Difference as Deficit (Gorski, 2007; Mitchell, 2013) majoritarian story, according to Said (1978), this Othering from our cultural invasion in public education works to rationalize colonialism, yet again, by objectifying different cultures as 48). students of Color, is encroaching on a full half of the student population overall (NCES, 2018). After we finish Manipulating and Culturally Invading our students, those who still refuse to co antidialogical action of Divide and Rule manifests itself in disciplinary practices and statistics. As has already been discussed in previous chapters, it is a wel l documented phenomenon in


54 American public education that students of Color receive more disciplinary referrals, more suspensions, and more expulsions than their White peers (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Settersten & Ray, 2010; Ladson Billings, 2011; Ladson Billin gs, 1998; Skiba et al., 2002). While these statistics are immensely important in a discussion about the most obvious factors having to do with the school to prison pipeline, they are also integral in a conversation about oppression. In its most basic for most efficient way to divide and rule a restless majority is to physically separat e the masses. As has already been discussed, by doling out disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and expulsions, well documented, inarguable reality in our p ublic school system. Similarly to physical separation, furthermore, we divide and rule our students through academic objects. mirror this theory as well. When a set of norms are e stablished within a societal system in the form of state academic standards in the public education system but achieving all of those norms is unattainable by a vast majority of our subordinate masses, a stratified social class division is naturally create d within our student populations where the dominant class is always holding the bar just high enough to keep the gates closed to the masses below (Foucault, 1984). As is the case with Whiteness in our greater society, when one class of people is slightly another class of people, these two classes naturally separate in a blind yet fruitless race to the top


55 of the social class ladder, identifying the differences that separate them, and losing sight of the similarities that would otherwise hold them t ogether (Allen, 2004; Barret & Roediger , 1997 ). In public schools, not only are our students of Color disproportionately physically separated from their peers, we also see social cliques of students and families naturally separating themselves from one an other, allowing the dominant yet minority class of White teachers to maintain control of the masses in the seats in front of them, as well as control of the curriculum, learning objectives, and agendas for the day (Foucault, 1984). Finally, after we have M anipulated our students into believing a set of myths designed only to benefit the dominant elite, after we have Culturally Invaded our students by forcing them to learn dominantly White standards from a dominantly White perspective, after we have Divided our students both physically and socially in order to Rule them both behaviorally and academically, we have succeeded in Conquering them. At this point, by successfully stripping the masses participating in the public education system of their ability to work together in order to voice their values and interests, we the White dominant elite have remained in control. By nqueror and someone or something which is Personally, to enter a relationship like the one described above is not exactly why I first beca me a teacher. To be honest, though, if there were no discrepancies in academic success or the public education system all together, none of this would be of any importance.


56 have written more referrals for my students of Color, even if it is embarrassing for me to admit urden a time or two by adopting the Difference as Deficit belief system, even if it is painful to admit that I ask my students to believe certain myths about public education, or that I have culturally invaded my students on more than one occasion, or that I am an oppressor when all I want to do is help, I cannot simply turn and look the other way. Just because I am embarrassed or pained to realize some of my past mistakes, it does not mean that prisons and homeless camps are not being filled by those I fa il. The fact of the matter is simple: our students of Color deserve better. Just because the system has always been White, or because we do not intend to perpetuate an environment in which our students of Color have a distinct disadvantage is no longer a authentic intercultural educators only when we ensure that our work every moment of it we tr uly love our students, it is a small first step to take to admit to ourselves that we are not perfect if that means that we could potentially be saving lives. I signed up to teach because I ticing that the difference I am making can sometimes be negative means that I must change some of my most closely held teaching strategies and beliefs, changing the way I teach at its very core is exactly what I must be willing to do.


57 CHAPTER VI LEARNING TO ASSIMILATE; ASSIMILATING TO LEARN the types of organizational strategies employed by the teacher. In a first grade classroom, is there a calendar? A central rug for the students to congregate during reading? In a high school a pair of thick goggles? For the purposes of speaking more concretely, step into my classro om: a secondary English classroom located in a suburban district, outside a major city on the high plains of the western United States. When you walk through my classroom door, look at the wall on your immediate left. On the table right next to the door, you see a place for students to turn in their work, organized by class. On the wall above the turn childhood, one for each of the major sports teams in the region. Next to the banners is a daily bell what they should expect from me. As you pan around the rest of the cl assroom, there is more of the same. One wall is entirely filled with a classroom library of donated books from assorted teachers in my life, chalkboards are filled with daily agendas, school wide news, and important reminders. Gandhi thoughtfully in the corner, right next to a bulletin board filled with student work from throughout the year. There is a half of a wall where I have dedicated space to allow Jimi Hendrix , Bob


58 included a special shrine to my three favorite hockey players of all time hanging directly over my sroom itself, is intentionally designed to encourage community, conversation, listening, and eye contact. In fact, the entire arrangement of my classroom, of any classroom for that matter, is intentional. Regardless of whether or not your own classroom l ooks anything like mine, regardless of how many sports teams are represented, or how many standards are displayed, or if you like your window open or closed, or if you even have a window, the point is the same: if we are afforded the privilege to have a cl assroom of our own, we spend valuable time and energy to make our classrooms look and feel exactly how we want them in order to create the best learning environment for our students. That some spaces are more conducive to learning than others goes without question. For example: if we were to teach our students a certain standard from within the tight spaces of a maximum security prison cell, and then we taught that same standard in the fresh air and wide open spaces of a well manicured lawn, we could expe ct the learning outcomes of the two experiences to be entirely different from one another. But if we think about our job descriptions as teachers, and if we were to take a random poll of what it is that a teacher is being academic standards does it say that we must create a physical environment that is the most conducive to learning? The answer to this question is obvious, and a further discussion on whether or not teachers should be allowed to design their own physical c lassroom environment is


59 When I design my classroom, I am not required to justify my decisions based on some state standard or an explicit teaching manual. In fact, the vast majority of decisions that go into the way that I design my classroom go entirely without question from students, parents, administrators, and teachers. Though it is the case that my classroom se tup is not usually overtly discussed, that does not mean that my classroom setup does not matter. In short, the physical environment in which our students are expected to learn makes a sizable and well documented difference on the learning outcomes that o ur students achieve, even when we are teaching the same students an identical set of academic standards (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Kozol, 1991). It is not a big jump, then, for us to understand Giroux (1988) when he explains the nature and the function of the hidden curriculum, that is, those messages and values that are conveyed to students silently through the selection of specific forms of knowledge, the use of specific classroom relations, and the defining characteristics of the school organizational st ructure (Generating a New Discourse section, para 3). If we keep in mind what we have learned about the history of public education in the United States, if we are willing to acknowledge the deeply problematic contemporary social phenomenon that is the school to prison pipeline, and if we can conceive that the Whiteness that inevitably pervades our daily lives can manifest itself in oppressive ways from within our classroom walls, then we must also be willing to question what it is our students are actua lly being taught in our classrooms. It could be the case that our focus is always on the academic standards, and it might be that we have the good intentions to always get all of our students to achieve the same standards with the same rates of success; h owever, when we acknowledge that it is not only the academic standards that determine what it is our students are learning, we must be willing, yet again, to dig deeper. After all, we know that our physical classroom environments greatly affect what it i not said is as important as that which is said , Generating a New Discourse


60 section, para 3). These realities are not new to anyone who has spent time in a classroom. Where we must be willing to go from here, though, is to do the work necessary in order to see specific messages that stalk behind the language of objectives and a New Discourse section, para 3). With this in mind, it is imperative that we view the learning that happens within the public education system from the lens of a sociocultural psychologist. According to Wertsch al approach to mind is that human mental functioning is other words, as teachers, if we are truly concerned about why it is that our students of Color are failing school in disproportionate rates compared to their White peers, we need to understand that learning does not occur on an island within individual human beings. A sociocultural view of education recognizes that our histories, our cultures, and the interactions that we have with others significantly affects how, why, and what we learn. This approach to education can be mental processes such as thinking or memory independently of the sociocultural setting in which educational system on grades, high stakes tests, and individual measures of success, it cannot go without sa ying that a sociocultural view of learning can come into conflict with many individuals within the established public education system. While it may be difficult to acknowledge that our modes of measuring and understanding what and how our students are le arning may be antiquated and obsolete, however, Lev Vygotsky (as cited in Wertsch, 1991) makes the seemingly obvious yet deeply profound observation that the development of human language,


61 itself, is a purely social tool used to communicate with, learn fro m, and influence those around us. Therefore, because the public education system relies heavily on various forms of language, and because language is, at its base, a purely social act, those concerned with how and what our students are learning within the public education system would be remiss not to acknowledge which h, 1991, p. 88). When we make this jump, it should come as no surprise, then, when we find out that what a teacher is spending her energy teaching is not necessarily the only thing that her students are teach student s to be less racist. In fact, the opposite may be true . Bronson & Merryman (2009), or six years old, White children being raised within White families are nonetheless for Black people. Even when parents intentionally do not discuss race, Bronson & Merryman (2009) found children still learned about race based on unsaid, unspecified understandings of the world around them. Furthermore, w hile eship learning environments in Liberia, Lave (1996) found similar affects the ass umed to mere ly reproduce existing practices i.e. the overt curriculum the apprentices were also learning an unspoken, to grow old enough and


62 mature enough to become master tailors, and to see the truth of the respect due to a master of specific curriculum; and in both instances, students came out of the learning experience with understandings unforeseen by their respective teachers. So, if learning always comes, in some way, from the ways that we interact with one another, and if we are able to grasp the fact that there will alwa ys be unforeseen learning outcomes in our classrooms based on unspoken and/or spoken social interactions happening on the interior and the exterior of our classroom walls, then continuing to believe that we are merely teaching the state academic standards as public education teachers is not only careless, it is also irresponsible and willfully ignorant. This is why it is of utmost importance to consider the words of Lev Vygotsky (1978), one of the most foundational sociocultural thinkers in our history, wh en ont of our classrooms believing that the one way that we teach is the best way to teach all of our students, then we ignore the fact that all of our students come from different backgrounds, have different experiences, and, thus, have been affected by soci ocultural influences in different ways throughout their lives. Therefore, when we teach to a certain academic objective, we cannot assume that our students grasp our methods of teaching in equally effective ways. After all, just because a student can tak e a math test quickly and efficiently does not mean that she can write an essay quickly and efficiently. Just because a student has one set of skills, it does not mean that the student can translate these skills seamlessly to an entirely separate task. V ygotsky (1978)


63 activity can affect the development of another only to the extent that there are elements common order for a student to be able to build a new understanding of a new task, skill, or activity, then, the student must have some sort of similar prior experience with which to lay the foundation of this new, more complex understanding or skill. This, Vygo actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collabor is where we get the teaching strategy of he student might feel comfortable enough using her foundation of prior knowledge to make the next step with just a minimal amount of guidance. However, just because a student can spell the word sentence of how to feed seven cats at the same time. Because the student only has a minimal amount of prior knowledge in regards to this next task, we would not expect the student to be able to write this sentence successfully. Any time we ask our students to take a small step forward based on t c


64 in no way new, groundbreaking, or controversial. With this common understanding in place, then, it is my contention that we can and should ory by using a distinctly contemporary sociocultural lens, too. If we can understand that our individual students enter our classrooms with differing learned abilities for particular different academic tasks, and if we can understand that our students als o enter our classrooms with differing sociocultural lived experiences, when we put these two realities together, then, we must also be able to understand that it is appropriate to expand our one of P roximal D evelopment . For decades, educato rs around the world our uniquely talented individual students achieve uniform academic tasks. If we expand critical sociocultural and racial lens, we can comprehend that, by treating all of our students in our classrooms the same, regardless of their prior racial and sociocultural learned experiences, we are actually doing a disservice to any of our students who have dissimilar live d experiences than the dominant societal norm. Just like if we were to ask all of our students to achieve identical academic tasks by u sing identical academic methods by asking all of our students to achieve the same White normalized standards through the use of the same White racial and sociocultural ZPD. By using a critical sociocultural lens, we know that many of our White students have prior knowledge and experience with these White methods of learning before they White students are able to grasp new ideas and m ethods so seamlessly. Our White students have the prior knowledge to build upon; many of our students of Color are learning these White


65 methods and standards entirely for the first time. This is a slippery slope. Because the public education system valu 1978; Foucault, 1984), essentially setting our students of Color behind from the beginning (Yosso, 2005). If we, as White teachers, refuse to see this systematic disadvantage, we ca n consequently to teach in the most effective way; howev er, when we find that our students of Color are not keeping up with their White peers, we simultaneously find ourselves unconsciously lowering our sociocultural Zones of Proximal Development througho ut the entire teaching process. Soon, rather than finding out what it is our students of Color can do, we find ourselves predominantly noticing the things that our students of Color cannot do, and we lower our expectations, effectively losing all sight of Color academic ZPD , too (Yosso, 2015). Eventually, we not only place the entire onus of learning academic standards on our students of Color, this method of thinking also seeps into our teaching and classroom culture, and is perceived by our students both White and of Color in the form of our hidden curriculum (Giroux, 1988). Aside from maybe grasping an academic standard or two, the sociocultural learning outcome for all students in the classroom, then, is that students of Color do not have the same innate abilities as their White peers. This internalization has dire, well documented consequences for both students of Color and White students alike (Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Matias, 2015; Ladson Billings, 1998; Douglass, 1995; hooks, 1994; Ta tum, 1997). In the end when looking at the realities of the school to prison pipeline, when asking


66 why it is that our students of Color are failing at disproportionate rates, when we know that the public education system is overwhelmingly White in all m easures except student population, and when taking into consideration the discussion above about the merits of a sociocultural psychological approach to learning within the public education system it is my proposal that step further, therefore placing it within its rightful sociocultural place. From the discussion above, we remember that our students are always learning from a hidden curriculum that yields tangible learning outcomes (Giroux, 1988), which we, as the teac hers, do not have to foresee if we choose to ignore it. In addition, we also know, set of prior knowledge and/or experience with which to attach this new learni ng. According to a well known fact that teaching in the American public education system, a system that is made up of nearly half students of Color, should take White standards, f rom a White perspective, using White norms that have been established from over a century and a half of a White public influence? Once again, even if we walk into our classrooms with the naively good intention to teach all of our students the same standar ds in the same way, this, simply, is not enough. We must be willing to leave our comfort zone of teaching because many of our students of Color have already left their comfort zones of learning when we ask them to grasp new ideas in the same ways that we are asking our White students to grasp new ideas. When we ignore the fact that many of our students of Color have significantly different sociocultural learned experiences than many of our White students, but we still insist on


67 asking our students of Colo r to learn in the same ways that we have always asked our White students to learn, we are doing nothing more than unabashedly asking our students of Color to make an impossible choice: assimilate to a White norm, or drown within the school to prison pipeli ne .


68 CHAPTER VII BITING THE HAND THAT FEEDS In a world that begs me to love it, in a world that caters to me everywhere I turn, in a world that loves me, listens to me, and holds me above the rest, life is good. Why would I ever want that to change? In my second full year of teaching, we had a professional development week just before the students came. During this week, there were a plethora of those usual meetings that drive us all insane. You know the type: sitting in uncomfortable hard plastic cha irs, staring at various doodling notes into a Composition notebook designated precisely for the purpose of looking more intrigued than we actually are, and trying d esperately and unsuccessfully not to think of all of the work we could be doing in place of sitting through these seemingly pointless, mind numbing hours of getting talked at. The students were coming, and the smell of stale sweat from the flip flopped fe et around me penetrated my nostrils. The Wednesday before students came, though, there was a meeting a little different than the rest. In this meeting, our school psychologist one of the few faculty members of Color in our school stood up, and led the me eting from beginning to end. Touching briefly on the importance of recognizing that our students are more diverse than our teachers, she ended our meeting, we did not m erely read the famous short essay; instead, we were all asked to rate own lives based on our own life experiences scoring each question as either a five, a three, or a zero, respectively. After adding up our answers, we were then asked to


69 stand around the cafeteria based on our scores. As staff members began to filter to their correct places around the perimeter of the cafeteria, one thing was abundantly clear to all of us: the lighter the skin, the higher the score. All of our thirteen staff members of Color clustered together with scores ranging between zero and about forty, and all of our over one hundred White staff members bunched tog ether on the opposite side of the room. That day, we had effectively created what has become known as the Color Line. White Privilege, in all of its quantitative glory, lay bare in front of us. To the naïve me, I believed this undeniable visual could sp ur actual change in some of the White faces around me. The next day, I got to know my new students, blissfully unaware of the inner workings of the school system around me. That day, while I concerned myself with the usual first day worries, a series of racist poems was found written on the white board in our staff lounge. That day, while I concerned myself with the usual first day worries, racist pamphlets were found in the neighborhoods surrounding our school. That day, while I concerned myself with t he usual first day worries, a local news crew set up outside of our school, tipped off that we had been teaching our teachers to feel guilty of the fact that we were White. That day, while I concerned myself with the usual first day worries, White Suprema cy came crashing down on our heavily diverse school in an avalanche of ugly, White Privileged kneejerk reactions. This research, in part, is a response to that White Supremacy. Too long have we, as White teachers, been silent to the fact that our jobs, our positions, and our lives cater to a certain group of students, regurgitate a certain set of morals and values, and railroad a certain population towards a doom we refuse to acknowledge. In a system that was born within White Supremacy and continues t o thrive within White Supremacy (Collins, 1979; Ladson Billings, 2011; Mitchell, 2013), we simply cannot stand still and hope that our students of Color dig themselves out of the


70 graves we have been digging for them for close to two hundred years. It is n o longer the case that we can sit back and feign blindness to the problems around us. The problems are real, are well documented (NCES, 2018; Fine & Ruglis, 2009; Jaschik, 2015; Settersten & Ray, 2010), and have to do directly with our interactions with o ur students on any given day (Freire, 1993; Dewey, 1938; Foucault, 1984; Giroux, 1988; Said, 1978; Skiba et al., 2002; Matias, 2016). To simply say that the school to prison pipeline is a symptom of a greater system is to say that we have no power over wh at our students become. In a system that is made up of over eighty percent White teachers (NCES, 2018; Mitchell, 2013), we are the system. Pretending otherwise is not only willfully ignorant, it is conveniently cowardly, too. If we can cease our seemin g need to blind our eyes, if we can do away with our cowardice, if we can face the facts and gain a willingness to accept change, then we can also see how I have shown throughout this research that public schools today undeniably function within a White cu lture. When we do this when we function as a White culture, and subsequently ask all of our students to do the same we set our students of Color at a decided disadvantage, as we teach to the developmental abilities of our White students, while essentially ignoring the sociocultural needs of our students of Color (Vygotsky, 1978). Because compliance is key to a Traditional model of education (Dewey, 1938), and because a thoughtless loyalty to a standards based education harkens directly back to a need for our White middle class families to preserve their way of life in an ever changing American culture (Collins, 1978), blindly following the systematic oppression that has been told countless times through centuries of social and physical colonization by a dominant elite over a subordinated mass of Others (Freire, 1993). Rather than ask our students and families of Color to continue to assimilate to this White cultu re, it is time to


71 begin walking against the moving walkway that has hegemonically been built beneath our unknowing feet (Tatum, 1997) if we truly want to begin to value our students for who they actually are as human beings (hooks, 1994; Ladson Billings, 2 011). It is time to lose our egos, it is time to see our students as equal beings, and it is time to let ourselves become the students as well as the teachers (Dewey, 1938; Freire, 1993). As our racial consciousnesses continue to collectively grow, though , it is of utmost importance to understand that there is no simple step to take in order to become a truly anti racist teacher or human being. Growing up within a White Supremacist society, we have been conditioned from our first days of socialization to comply to the White hegemonic values that pervade our every move (Matias, 2016; Thandeka, 1999). Unfortunately, there is no magic wand to wave that undoes all that we have internalized, so we will all continue to make mistakes, and we must all continue to fight for a better world. Guilt, shame, anger, helplessness, sadness, confusion, denial, and anti racism all exist upon the same continuum of racial consciousness (Matias, 2016); and, since we are all ever changing, ever growing human beings, it is only natural to slip back and forth on this spectrum from time to time. As teachers, we cannot expect and there. Instead, we must be willing to always remember t hat we have the potential to learn, to change, and to grow just as well as the students we believe in every day. Pau without the people, nor for the people, but only with p. 131). Therefore, if we truly wish to serve all of our students, the time has come for us to put away our egos, address our privileges head on, and listen to what our students need from us rather than telling our students what we can do for them. As a group of people who have collectively benefitted from the same system of


72 oppression that harms almost half of our student population, the time has finally come: bite the


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