Classroom

Public education policy is not an area of expertise for me. Like all American societal institutions, the education system is enormous and extremely complex in its operations. However, one need not be an expert to simply note the devastating disparity that obtains between AA’s and the dominant culture in the area of education. It seems pretty well documented despite pretensions to race blindness in the 21st century.

It is precisely this disparity to which the 2nd chapter of the Covenant is addressed. This chapter (like the rest of the book) is no treatise on ideas, no interminable denouncing of the grave state of affairs, but a pragmatic call to action. It is written on the assumption that continual criticism of the status quo is easy. Constructive engagement and progress are not. We in the African-American community are called to move beyond ‘talking about our pain to talking about our plan’ [hence the title – Covenant].

The essayist, Dr. Edmund Gordon says the most critical problem in education that faces Black America is the academic achievement gap known to exists between blacks and Whites (and Asians?). Commonly noted reasons for this gap include

1. innate genetic differences (remember the Bell Curve?)
2. behavioral differences that are not necessarily inferior, but inappropriate to the demands of high academic achievement,
3. “fear of stereotype confirmation” (or the fear of acting white),
4. Insufficient opportunities, etc.

Gordon proposes an initiative which revolves around nexus of interventions. In turn, they are directed at the following:

1. “Reducing the relatively high levels of academic under-productivity” in our black children.
2. “Stabilizing the social fabric of our families and communities”.
3. “Reducing inefficiencies in and the under-utilization of the power of Schooling and supplemental education”.
4. “Increasing the nurturance and celebration of developed ability….in ‘the talented tenth’ of our people”.

It is clear that the political ideological matrix from which Dr. Gordon works weights the radical rearrangement of social capital. He believes that the most direct approach to rectifying the current crisis would involve national redistribution of income, wealth, and related sources. Also, while stating that ‘education starts at home, in neighborhoods, and in communities’, the emphasis of his initiatives is placed on the state to provide sufficient resources. “We must demand that local communities provide the resources to educate all children, that the state and federal governments provide sufficient resources.”

In addition to a few fact sheets about black educational achievement, Dr. Gordon suggests specific things every individual, community, and elected official can do to improve the state of education in Black America – things like read to your children/grandchildren and guarantee access to resources.

I suppose from one perspective, these things are helpful on the whole. Nothing really jumped out at me as overtly objectionable on biblical and theological grounds (maybe excepting the ‘talented tenth’ talk). If justice rolled down and was established in full on the earth, race-based disparities of all types would no longer exists. Moreover, due to our continued solidarity in suffering as a people group, the need to address the systems of society which so influence the distribution of social and economic capital, remains necessary so long as the present epoch continues. I hear echoes of Perkins’ 3 R’s - reconciliation, relocation, and redistribution - ringing in my ear.

Initially, I’m struck, not by what Gordon says, but by what he leaves unsaid. As a Christ follower, one who presently shares in resurrection life and who by my life, seeks to plant little resurrection flags signaling the honest-to-goodness dawning of a new thing right now, a new creation, I confess that I want so much more for black children than a good education. Don’t get me wrong, my faith; my union with Christ is not just a private pietistic matter. I’m caught up in this big, bold, beautiful thing which has as its’ aim, the renewal of all things (including education). What Jesus is doing is reweaving the rent fabric of the entire cosmos, not just small pockets of it. He comes to make His blessings known ‘far as the curse is found’. While we should be quick to speak to notions of Christian faith which leave unaddressed, serious social issues, we should likewise, address those expressions of orthodoxy which leave out gospel renewal/transformation. Both are in the final analysis, truncated understandings of the truth. This is not revelatory to reformed folks but it seems to warrant repeating.

Perhaps this chapter isn’t intended to be holistic in this way (though with at least four ‘revs’ in on the summit which gave rise to The Covenant, shouldn’t something explicitly Christian and biblical be part of the proposed solutions?) but it behooves us so to be.

Just a few ramblings from an unexamined moderate politically and a novice in educational policy. I’m curious what some of you biblically literate/educationally astute policy wonks think about how to fix the disparity in education between blacks and almost everyone else.

Mark Robinson