The InEquity NonPoem (a manifesto)*
In my school district
we’re having the conversation about equity,
and mostly, we’ve been asked to focus on potential
inequity between white kids and our students of color
and how to minimize or abolish that inequity.
Let’s do a quick little statistical analysis, shall we?
Of 80 students in my IB English classes, 72 are white or
Eastern European white. One white kid identifies as Hawaiian,
but not ethnically. Another white kid identifies as Cuban,
which, despite her light skin, makes her decidedly not white.
One is Mexican and a native Spanish speaker. One is Vietnamese.
Two are black. One is mixed-race, partly black.
Another one, mixed-race, but not black.
Of my 7 students of color in these high level classes,
three are struggling; that’s almost half of them. But
the other 4 are completely on top of the game,
some of my very best students.
There’s that. The same could not be said of the white kids,
that almost fifty percent of them are struggling.
But there are a lot more of them. If I pulled
the right 6 or 7 kids from the white population,
I might find fifty percent of those kids were
struggling also and the other half were on
top of the game. More interesting to me than
the fact that 3 of my 7 non-white kids in IB English
are struggling is the fact that there are only 7
non-white kids in the entire group of 80.
Let’s talk about equity, honestly,
and come to terms with the fact that in a junior class
of which a full 20% are non-white, only 13% of those
are enrolled in a college level English class, while
33% of their white counterparts are enrolled
in a college level English class. And while we’re
at it, let’s remember that equity is not only about
race but also about gender, and let’s wonder why
girls outnumber boys in my IB English classes
2 to 1, while boys outnumber girls in my “regular”
English classes 2 to 1. And guess which gender is
typically more challenging, behaviorally and
academically. The boys are. Which gender has
the highest number of failing grades? The boys do.
Could we complicate things even further by
thinking about income inequality? No, we can’t.
I’m told no one has access to that information
except the cook and the bookkeeper and that they
are explicitly told to keep that information
confidential. Here’s my guess. The students
in my IB English classes are mostly from middle
class families and above, and the students in my “regular”
English classes are not–for the most part; and also, it is likely
that most of the kids I have who are successful
are from middle class families, while the kids who
struggle are not. How do I know this?
Statistically, it is true that the greatest indicator
of a student’s success on a standardized test is the neighborhood
he or she lives in, the student’s socio-economic status,
and most of the students in my IB English classes
are doing just fine on their standardized testing.
There are always exceptions. There are always exceptions.
Generally speaking, though, the above is accurate and true.
So what does it mean? First of all, it means that, yes,
we have issues of equity in my school and in my district.
Secondly, the inequity is systemic, and not related
to how kids are treated in my classroom.
And finally, to conclude the inEquity nonPoem,
I must now reach a more satisfying conclusion. I conclude that working
for educational equity is the most important kind of school
reform we could ever undertake–but that working for equity
is not so simple a thing as race, gender, or class considered
in isolation, and that gender inequality should not be ignored
because most of the kids suffering are white boys–who
historically were not the ones underserved, but the ones
on top, and finally, that economic inequality should not be ignored
simply because we can’t see it with our eyes. And ultimately,
the way we battle any kind of inequity is the way we
make effective classrooms possible: knowledgeable, caring professionals
who understand or can learn the culture of their various students;
a humane teacher-to-student ratio that makes it possible for teachers
to KNOW their students in meaningful and significant ways;
a challenging, rigorous curriculum and high expectations for every kid,
despite race, gender, or class differences–which means ultimately
accomplishing the thing I’ve been railing about for 25 years:
the elimination of a tracked curriculum where the haves
are separated from the have-nots, where mostly white kids
and girls are taking high level college credit classes and getting
the very best education tax money can buy away from “those other kids.”
This abruptly concludes my manifesto: The InEquity NonPoem.
*this piece was composed and organized in lines so that I could call it a poem. Because that’s how I roll. The “nonpoem” in the title is just a way of expressing my misgivings that there’s anything poetic about this piece at all. Maybe I have invented a new genre: the essay poem–not to be confused with the lyric essay, a poem disguised as an essay; this is rather an essay disguised as a poem. O genre gods, forgive my trespasses.