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A new racial literacy for educational equity

Mike Desmond

American schools often demonstrate racial inequality with less money to help those who need the most. That was a topic Thursday night in the symposium "A New Racial Literacy for Educational Equity" at Canisius College.

When students of color do not get the grades white students do, it is usually called the achievement gap. For events like Thursday night's symposium, the discussion was more the opportunity gap - students of color do not get the academic opportunities other students get.

Principal speaker Jabari Mahiri, a professor at the University of California Berkeley, dealt with everything from teacher training to writing. Mahiri said school systems have come to accept that minority students will not do as well as others.

"A normalization of the sense of what the goal is when we look at the European-Americans in terms of their achievement or their net worth," said Mahiri. "So if you have other people who are achieving at higher levels, for example, in STEM subjects, then they are called overachievers and I think that's kind of ironic, since shouldn't that be the bar and everybody come down from that."

Mahiri said Berkeley has changed, with a student body around 40 percent Asian-American and fewer black and brown students. He said there also is major inequality in schools between poor people of color and others.

"It's clear that schools that primarily have populations of African-American and Latino students are completely underresourced," he said. "The newest teachers in the profession are often the ones sent to those schools to learn how to teach in the first, three, four, five years of their teaching and, in terms of the lack of resources, they have to do with very critical things like books."

Mahiri said there are also shortages of computers in the classrooms of minority schools.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Canisius Education Dean Jeff Lindauer said there is also a shortage of minority teachers and a shortage in those training to be teachers, who have other options for careers. As a first-generation college graduate, he knows the problems of rising from poverty to education.

"It's so important to be able to have a good education so that when you graduate from high school, you have opportunities available to you," Lindauer said. "If you can't read, you're not going to be able to graduate and you're not going to be able to earn a good living and have all the things that people want to have in their life."

Research has found that minority kids do better in schools with minority teachers. However, other speakers said it is not easy. If they do not do well, not only will they be seen as a stereotyped student of color, but they do not climb on the ladder that admission to a good college offers with the opportunity to move into affluence.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.