Combatting Injustices in the Public School System



Although it is summer, as stationary stores and commercials tell us, it’s already time to start thinking about the fall and what the school year brings along with it. As we sharpen pencils and preemptively pack our backpacks, it’s hard not to take a moment to reflect on why we go through this ritual every year. Education is seen as a pathway to the American dream, and is key to lifting Americans out of poverty.

About 20% of our country’s children live in poverty, and this rate is further exacerbated when looking at children of color. 38% of African American children, 36.8% of American Indian and Native Alaskan Children, and 33% of Hispanic children are living in poverty, showing how disproportionately certain communities are impacted. For all children, education is especially crucial to create opportunities, but for many students of color, this promise is not necessarily their reality. A child of color is over twice as likely to be poor as a white child. Millions of students go to schools that are underfunded and that lack important resources. Schools where the majority of students are African American are two times as likely to have teachers who are less experienced than a school with a majority of white teachers, which therefore leads to even more inequalities in the classroom.

The inequities present in schools even carry out in the disciplinary process. African American students experience disparate disciplinary actions much more frequently than their peers. And, although they comprise only 16% of the students enrolled in public school, African American students make up 34% of the 3 million students expelled from school annually. This divide even begins in preschool: though African Americans are 18% of public preschoolers, almost half of preschool children with over one suspension are African American.

Our public education system adds to broader issues of structural racial inequality, and creates obstacles to achieving full racial justice. Our school systems can be sources of hope and possibility, but they can also be obstacles in the pursuit of the American Dream. Even the ways in which the disciplinary process is handled further reflects these inequalities and demonstrates the immense amount of work that needs to be done in order to make schools more equal.

Jewish tradition places great value on the sanctity and welfare of children, translating over into the need for us to combat inequalities in our school system. Children, like every human being, are created in the image of God. It is humanity’s obligation to protect and nurture this divine spark, enabling children to reach their fullest potential. Children are the inheritors of the future and must be taught how to be stewards of the world, teaching that can occur in great school districts. As it is written, “One who teaches a child Torah is considered to have taught that child and that child’s children and grandchildren, to the end of the generations” (Kiddushin 30a). By helping our children develop into educated, healthy, vibrant adults in high quality schools, we reaffirm the value of life and God’s handiwork. Our schools must reflect these values and provide important opportunities for children to succeed. Our schools can provide important supports for those who need them.

Check out the RAC’s resources on economic justice for more information.

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Melanie Fineman

About Melanie Fineman

Melanie Fineman is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She graduated from Brown University in 2014 and is originally from Newton, Massachusetts, where she is a member of Temple Shalom of Newton.

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