Paul R. Lehman, American education perpetuates discrimination

August 7, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, Ethnicity in America, Race in America | 2 Comments
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From the first day the children enroll for school they are placed on the track to discrimination. On the application for enrollment under race/ethnicity when the child’s parent or guardian writes “white” or “Caucasian” the element of race inters their world. For too many years America has turned a blind eye to the problems created by the use of racial terms that should have been jettisoned years ago. But today, since these words are still in use, they continue to create problems relative to ethnicity and diversity.  Most ethnic Americans can explain the term they have selected to identify their ethnicity and culture; hence, Asian American, African American, Hispanic American, American Indian, etc. However, the terms “black,” “white” and “Caucasian” do not lend themselves an easy explanation for children and adults as well.

                What do European American parents or guardians tell their young children when they are asked about their ethnicity? If they answer, “You are white” the children have no base of reference from which to make an association other than their skin complexion. If skin complexion is used as the qualifier, then would all people with fair skin complexions be considered white? Are all white people Americans? Do they all speak English? What if one parent is white and the other is another ethnicity?

                The same situation fall as well on the African American parent or guardian who tell their children that they are black. What makes them different from other people with the exception of their skin complexion, if that can be considered? Not all people who are dark complexioned are Americans. If the children are not given a clear and accurate explanation of who they are, they will answer to whatever they are called.

                What we discover in trying to use skin complexion as the qualifier for a so-called white race or black race is confusion and bias. Historically, the word “white” has been used to identify people, European, European Americans, as belonging to a specific biological racial group; the same thing can be said for the words “black “and “Caucasian.” The problem with using those terms is that they fail to identify ethnicity or culture as do the other above-mentioned ethnic examples. Also, when an explanation is offered for the use of these terms, the elements of bigotry, discrimination, and prejudice must come into play, thus creating barriers between the children of the black, white, Caucasian groups and all the others.

                America’s educational systems on all levels have made little or no attempt to address this issue of ethnicity/race. As a matter of fact, they treat both terms as though they are the same thing; they are not. When we teach our children that all people are the same and then turn around and refer to some as belonging to a white/Caucasian race or a black, brown, or red race, and other ethnic Americans as belonging to other races, we become hypocrites. If we are all the same, then we belong to the same race, the human race. But that is not what American teaches. Let us be clear on this matter of race and ethnicity.

                In the early 1940’s some international scientists came together under the auspices of UNESCO and came to the agreement that the term race was no longer correct or acceptable when making reference to other human beings, Homo sapiens. The word race and its derivatives no longer met the condition for which they were being used. Ashley Montague, the American representative to the group, wrote in 1945, in his book titled Race, Science, and Humanity, that we use the words “ethnic group” instead of “race.”His reasons for the change is that “’ethnic group’ represents a different way of looking at populations, an open, non-question-begging way, and a tentative, noncommittal, experimental way, based on the new understanding which the sciences of zoology, genetics, and anthropology have made possible.” Montague makes clear that “ethnic group” is not a substitute for “race;” it is a totally different word with a new conception. He adds that “It is important to be quite clear upon this point, for the new conception embraced in the phrase ‘ethnic group’ renders the possibilities of the development of ‘ethnic group prejudice’ quite impossible, for as soon as the nature of this conception is understood it cancels the possibility of any such development.”

                The point made in using “ethnic group” is that it is not subject to discrimination because all human beings are included. Race no longer becomes a factor, because all humans belong to one race, but not necessarily the same “ethnic group.”When the term “ethnicity” or “ethnic group” is used, the word race is irrelevant and its use discontinued. Races of people do not exist on the planet Earth—one race of human being exists. Now, how does this information affect American education?

The state of education in America today is on track to create more ethnic bias, prejudice, and discrimination among its youth. Instead of preparing them to deal with the present and the future, we are shackling them with the biases of the past. American education is stuck in the past and continues to prevent our students from making progress towards a new sense of self and community. American education promotes divisiveness, prejudice, and bias from first enrollment, through the material presented, to the ill-equipped teachers and instructors.

                When children are brought to school for enrollment, their parent or guardian must fill out an enrollment form. The problems began with the section of this form that pertains to “race” and “ethnicity.”For some reason, most American public schools are still operating in the distant past with respect to those forms. The schools do not know the difference between race and ethnicity. This lack of information becomes apparent simply by looking at the form and seeing words, race and ethnicity, used incorrectly. Although this might seem like a minor problem, let us take a closer look at several of these enrollment forms for a better grasp of the problem.

                Three local public school districts have sections of their enrollment forms that show a totally misunderstanding of the terms “race’ and “ethnicity.” Oklahoma City and Edmond, Oklahoma Public schools forms are similar; they both ask under the rubric of “Ethnicity” to indicate the selection of Hispanic, Non Hispanic, or Latino.  This feature would be acceptable and correct if not for the fact that all the other “ethnic groups” are listed under the rubric of “Race.” To make matters worse, for European Americans the only choice is “white.” The other selections are not specific because if a check is made in a box, the reader does not know which answer applies. For example, one box offers “American Indian/Alaskan Native.” If that box is selected, which term identifies the student?

                The third enrollment form is from a small school district, Millwood Public Schools. This form asks two questions. The first, about Hispanics and Latinos and provides two choices for a response of yes or no. No rubric regarding ethnic group is used. The second question asks the question “What race is your child? Five options are listed for response to this question. In every instance relative to these enrollment forms, the students and their teachers are placed in a position to view the students as belonging to a specific race, not ethnic group with the exception of the Hispanics. Why? Our schools should know better; indeed, America’s entire educational system should know that the very term “race” unites and separates. Corrections should be made immediately if the problems associated with so-called racial biases and discrimination are to be addressed. More comments on this topic next time.

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  1. This is an excellent article. It points out the awful absurdity of the use of the term “race” and where the battle for change should begin. I remember my first trip to Disneyland as a child. While I was in awe of the sites and sounds of the park, the most amazing thing was seeing people that I had always identified as white and discovering, only after they spoke, that they where actually French, German, or Spanish. I was stunned. They looked white, buy clearly they were not…or were they? How confusing. How ridiculous. Keep up the fight.

  2. I agree — you state the problem clearly and give a great mini-lesson on the history of these labels. How to get this to the policy makers?


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