Chris Lehmann on educational colonialism

I am posting Chris Lehmann’s recent post almost in its entirety because it’s that important. Some pictures are below…

there are a lot of powerful folks right now who are advocating for a pedagogy that they do not want for their own children. Some of these powerful people are running networks of schools that have a pedagogical approach that is directly counter to the educational approach they pay for for their own children. Moreover, these same powerful people tend to get upset when asked about the disconnect, saying that that question is off limits.

I don’t think it is.

I think we should ask why people of power advocate for one thing for their own children and something else for other people’s children, especially when those other children come from a lower rung on the socio-economic scale or when those children come from traditionally disenfranchised members of our society. I think that’s a very dangerous thing not to question.

Because we’ve done this before in America, and when we did that to the Native Americans, it did damage that has effects today.

To me, when you ensure your own child has an arts-enriched, small-class size, deeply humanistic education and you advocate that those families who have fewer economic resources than you have should sit straight in their chairs and do what they are told while doubling and tripling up on rote memorization and test prep, you are guilty of educational colonialism.

And it’s time we start calling that what it is.






Image credits

4 Responses to “Chris Lehmann on educational colonialism”

  1. I left a comment yesterday on that same post. It was a powerful reminder and one that, sadly, got little buzz and few comments.

    My school is located right off of Indian School Road in Phoenix. When kids learn the history of the Phoenix Indian School, they instantly make connections to their own experiences as immigrants experiencing assimilation via school.

    The language is decided for them. The dress code is decided for them. The subject matter of American history is void of nearly all Latinos.

    They go to white-washed schools filled with the buzzing white noise that feels so comfortable to teachers and so foreign to students.

  2. Look, we need to be blunt here: young people who dress and talk in “gangsta” style are rarely going to succeed in the mainstream workplace. They’re going to have a hard enough time anyway, just because of poverty, discrimination, and their surroundings, but having certain cultural patterns of dress and speech only harms them even further. Like it or not, most employers expect a certain level of professionalism in behavior, speech, and dress.

    What I’m saying is actually race-neutral, by the way: white kids who dress and act in certain ways (Juggalos, for example: ) aren’t doing themselves any favors, while millions of black people who are middle class to wealthy aren’t exactly eager to hire a black inner-city kid with pants hanging low, tattoos on his neck, and an inability to speak mainstream English, no matter how much potential that kid might have had.

    So if you’re worried about the achievement gap, one thing that inner-city schools have to do is take the same paternalistic attitude that most middle class parents (white or black) take towards their children AT HOME. If my 12-year-old son mumbles when an adult greets him and doesn’t shake hands firmly, I have a little coaching session with him at home. Why? Because I know that little things like that could one day make the difference between him getting a job or not. I want him to have the cultural behaviors that make a good impression on people — a firm handshake, a polite greeting spoken out loud without looking at the floor, etc.

    So here’s where the differing pedagogy comes in: given that my 12-year-old son already has had a great deal of instruction like that at home, along with practice on his multiplication tables and phonics (when he was younger), and the like, he does not need a school that simply reiterates all of those things. He needs a school environment that takes those behaviors and skills for granted and then builds upon them.

    But what about a group of inner-city kids, almost all of whom lack a father at home, and many of whom would otherwise be drawn into a set of cultural behaviors that would only serve to stereotype them in the future? They’re not getting what they need at home — that’s a large part of why the achievement gap exists in the first place. So they need a school that has explicit practice on all of the things that middle-class parents already teach their kids at home.

    Social equity demands such practice, in other words, while failing to provide such practice can only increase inequality.

    So THAT is why different schooling environments make sense for different kids who have different backgrounds and who have gotten very different levels of training at home. It’s not because of some desire to confine inner-city kids to manual labor, as your highly inflammatory pictures suggest. Quite the opposite: it’s out of a desire to have schools address social inequality by giving poor kids the training that richer kids already have gotten at home.

    • Took me a while to get to this post. JSB, I so agree with your post. Colin Powell did a great TEDx session that talked about “structure” in a child’s life. They need it. Your comment post hits the same nerve. How to manifest this structure into a child’s life when it doesn’t exist at home is just another struggle for the multi-faceted professionals we hate to call “teachers”, but where else will they get that structure.

      Powell’s TED speech –

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