Paul R. Lehman, Contrary to education report, intelligence, discipline not based on ethnicity

March 12, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Posted in American Racism, blacks, equality, Ethnicity in America, fairness, minority, whites | 1 Comment
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An educational report for the state of Oklahoma, written by Carrie Coppernoll, was published recently in The Oklahoman. The headline read, “Report shows racial disparity in school academics, discipline.” Actually, the reference to race is misleading and not factual, but has been a part of the stereotypical picture of education for so long that not too many people pay attention to it. The report should come as disheartening, but not surprising news for the state, parents, schools and students. Rather than view the report as educational defects, it should be seen as a challenge.

When we read the report carefully, we discover that other elements beside ethnicity (race) play a more important role in the students’ success as measured by their performance and behavior. For example, we read that “In Oklahoma City Public Schools, the state’s largest district, white and Asian students are more likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented programs than blacks, Hispanics and American Indians. They are less likely to be suspended or expelled.” Immediately we recognize that all students are grouped according to an ethnic group with generalized comments that actually focus on things other than race. For example, why would white (European Americans) and Asian students be more likely to enroll in gifted and talented programs? Certainly, not because they are the only gifted and talented students in the district as the statement suggests.

Another statement seems to suggest race as a cause of student behavior:” Black students represent 30 percent of the city district’s student population. But blacks represent 43 percent of in-school suspensions, 50 percent of out-of school suspension and 35 percent of expulsion.” We are not questioning the numbers here, but we must recognize that they include the entire district—schools in very low social and economic areas as well as schools in more affluent areas. We know that the most important elements in a child’s education are the home and family. Behavior, however, is not an ethnic problem.

Often what impacts a child’s education is the attitude of the family towards education. The more educational achievement reflected in the home, the more likely the child is to achieve success in education at school. However, the reverse is also true. The less education reflected at home, the more likely a child is to perform poorly at school. Add to the attitude towards education in the home, the social and economic status of the family and the opportunities for or against education comes into play. Families that enjoy a moderate income usually create a home environment that is conducive to learning with books, magazines, electronic gadgets, and other advantages not found in the average low-income family home. Notice the mention of ethnicity was not present in these comments because it is not a major factor at this point. Also of particular interest regarding success or lack of it in education can depend on a child’s geographic location. The location and per capita income of the community plays a definite role in the quality of the public school education.

In addition to the family and home’s role in the educational process, the school also plays an important part in the success or failure of the students. If teachers in a low social economic area school believe that the majority of the students in that school lack sufficient intellect to acquire the basic knowledge to be successful, the chances are that that attitude will be reflected in the teacher’s efforts. On the other had, if teachers in school expect their students to succeed, that attitude will as well be reflected.

When schools want their students to do well, they create programs and activities that help promote those ends. Usually the government or private companies contribute to help programs for the students.    In those types of schools discipline is not a serious problem. The report states “Blacks and Hispanics are less likely to be suspended in the Edmond district about 12 percent of students are black, but only 8 percent of in-school suspensions are of blacks. Hispanics make up 5 percent of the study body but represent less than 1 percent of all suspensions.”  Basically, what these figures tell us is that race (ethnicity) has little to do with a student’s educational success. When the environment and attitude is changed, the students’ performance will change as well, regardless of their ethnicity.

Other elements that affects student’s performance and behavior are well documented in many studies. In their book, The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett tell of two groups of boys given the same take to perform—puzzle solving. One group of boys was from an affluent area, the other group was from a poor, lower-classed area. Neither group knew of the other’s status. After the first round of puzzle solving, the boys from the poor group actually did better than the boys from the affluent group. Then, the boys in the groups were asked to give their names and addresses. This activity informed each group of the social differences. The groups were given the puzzle solving tasks again. This time, the poor group did poorly; the affluent group did better than before. In essence, the behavior and performance of each group was influenced by the knowledge of social self.

This type of study was also done with African American and European American student. “In one condition, the students were told that the test was a measure of ability; in the second condition, the students were told that the test was not a measure of ability.” The results were that “the white [European American] students performed equally under both conditions, but the black [African American] students performed much worse when they thought their ability was being judges.”

What was concluded from these and other test is “evidence that performance and behavior in an educational task can be profoundly affected by the way we feel we are seen and judged by others.”So not only is family, home, and schools important in a child’s education, but also his or her self-image, regardless of ethnicity. Maybe that might explain why according to the article, that three of the largest districts: Moore, Norman, Tulsa, reported no blacks enrolled in calculus. However, the report states that “Though blacks [African Americans] are less likely to enroll in calculus, they are more likely than their peers to take physics and chemistry in Oklahoma City. On the other hand, in Tulsa, although African Americans represent 34 percent of the study body, they represent 76 percent of all in-school suspensions.

As troubling as this report is regarding the problems in education, the information is from a survey of 2009. If this information is viewed critically by the state, school, and parents, a list of the problems to be addressed can be created from it. We know for certain, however, the lack of success in education and disciplinary problems are not due to a students’ ethnicity. We need to move passed the stereotypes and get to the real problems of creating positive learning environments and opportunities in the home, school, community, state, and nation.


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  1. Enlightening perspective! It would be interesting to view the results of the study based on income rather than race (ethnicity). I wonder if it would look much different?

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