Student Reflects on Kozol & the Culture of Power: A Summer Snapshot

If you care about education in our country and haven’t read these books/articles, add them to your summer reading list:

My students and I are spending eight weeks this summer reading these texts (in addition to Susan Neuman’s Changing the Odds for Children at Risk), volunteering in local education programs, and discussing the small and big picture of what education looks like in the U.S. and in Portland, Oregon.  This work is powerful.  I have students who are thinking about shifting gear and working for some of the organizations we partner with (Upward Bound, Schools Uniting Neighborhoods, Portland Parks and Recreation, 9th Grade Counts Program); I have students who want to educate more people on the state of education in Oregon; I have students who are deeply moved and changed by the experience.

A student in my Summer Youth Enrichment Class, Kaitlyn, has allowed me to share a piece of her work from the week.  This is just a snapshot of the thinking that takes place in these classes, and I feel hopeful that this kind of teaching and learning can lead to actual change in our communities for kids and families. Kaitlyn’s words follow in teal. She is responding to an excerpt from Kozol’s Shame of the Nation that was assigned in class and also references Lisa Delpit’s concept of the “culture of power.”

When minority parents ask for something better for their kids, she says,’ the assumption is that these are parents who can be discounted. These are kids that just don’t count—children we don’t value.’”(Kozol 150). I feel like that is the root of the whole issue across the board. It’s sewed into the hem of the choices we make—we make by who we vote for, by our inaction, by our indifference, by our choice to remain ignorant. It’s completely applicable, in that the disparities, the segregation are all taking place in Portland or are beginning too.  It’s pretty heart wrenching, the way the insights of these students are so spot on. In the “Silenced Dialogue,” Delpit addresses how the “culture of power,” turns a blind eye to what is really happening—what is really motivating the differences–it’s all to clear to the ones who suffer as a result.

One of the most hopeful notes in Kaitlyn’s response is the attention to the fact that our voices are part of the bigger message and that we can change the message by raising our voices in ways that advocate for kids.  The moment when she says “It’s sewed into the hem of the choices we make—we make by who we vote for, by our inaction, by our indifference, by our choice to remain ignorant,” she is speaking of community inaction, lack of votes, apathy, and chosen ignorance about the inequities that are perpetuated in the way our schools are structured.  Of course, schools merely reflect our community and the values we have chosen to live out.

What is the end goal?  Make a new choice.  If you are educated on issues of poverty, race, and school equity (to name a few), it is your duty to speak out and to act for those who can’t.  With November quickly approaching and a host of important votes for our country and community, this is a good time to get excited and motivated.  Whether or not you believe that your vote counts, it does.  And your actions count even more.

Thank you, Kaitlyn, for allowing me to showcase your work!


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