Rated E for Education, Graded F for Failure

by Zarya Shaikh, January 12, 2021

***FALL 2020 CONTEST WINNER***

In 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched Pre-K for All to encourage “free, full-day, high-quality pre-K.”1 The program increased enrollment in Pre-K among different communities, especially within low-income families. Its success led to the creation of 3-K for All1 and yielded similar outcomes: “[o]f the 52,741 children enrolled in pre-K, 37 percent were Hispanic, 30 percent [B]lack” with no ethnic majority.2 One would expect that a student body with multiple ethnicities represented would have access to a teaching curriculum tailored to different backgrounds. The Pre-K for All handbook’s page 21 includes a list of “ emotionally responsive books about being safe” which says otherwise.1 Of the three books presented, all are written by white authors. This booklist is not an anomaly; authors of color are missing from the handbook and the curriculum itself. An analysis of the Pre-K For All curriculum reveals that “there are 0 Black authors, 0 Native authors, 0 Middle Eastern authors, 1 Latinx author, 1 Asian author, and 40 white authors” of the 42 total texts available.3 The number of white authors to authors of colors writing for younger ages is grossly disproportionate. It exemplifies the concept of a dominant culture – a “relatively small social group that has a disproportionate amount of power” – represented by the 17% of white students enrolled in the program.4 Some may argue that this is not an issue since there are Black characters in some texts. It is important to consider that “20 of the 22 books that center Black characters are written by white authors”3 who have not genuinely experienced life from the standpoint they’re writing from. The author may thoroughly research what would be their character’s background beyond the book and consult individuals who identify with the character’s community. Regardless, they may still inadvertently overlook or dismiss important details about the culture or traditions associated with their character’s identity.

The Introduction to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies textbook defines institutions as forms of stratification among individuals by “gender, class, race, ability, and sexuality”.5 The Pre-K for All curriculum is, unfortunately, another example of an institution prioritizing white students over students of color. As coordinator Natasha Capers of the Coalition for Educational Justice phrases it – how can students of color “create a world view” from the books they read “[i]f they never see themselves in it”?4 Teaching students of color with textbooks and educational sources that do not reflect the perspective and struggles associated with their ethnic background is unfair and demeaning. Returning to the idea of the curriculum as one aspect of an institution, the common thread is neglecting authors of color and perspectives of BIPOC by BIPOC in favor of instilling at a young age that the normal “thought and behavior” is to exclude, misrepresent, and misunderstand BIPOC.5 Although the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in 1954, racial discrimination continues well into the 21st century since we are still “teach[ing] these expectations . . . to younger generations” with alarming confidence in the school system to change course.5 BIPOC students should have the opportunity to see themselves represented in the education system as their white classmates do. That liberty should extend beyond elementary school as well. 

Education as a service to the LGBT community fails to deliver similarly in the reading curriculum. In the Ready NY CCLS and EL Education middle school curriculums, “there are no main characters that identify as LGBTQ+.”3 It would be beneficial to increase the representation of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities as written by individuals who identify with either or both within school curriculums. 


References

[1] NYC Department of Education. (n.d.). 3-K for All & Pre-K for All Handbook for District Schools and Pre-K Centers. New York, New York: NYC Department of Education. 

[2] Potter, H. (2016, September 20). Diversity in New York City’s Universal Pre-K Classrooms. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://tcf.org/content/report/diversity-new-york-citys-universal-pre-k-classrooms/?session=1

[3] Education Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative. (n.d.). Diverse City, White Curriculum: The Exclusion of People of Color from English Language Arts in NYC Schools. New York, New York: NYC Coalition for Educational Justice. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.nyccej.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Diverse-City-White-Curriculum-3.pdf 

[4] Elsen-Rooney, M. (2019, December 09). More than 80% of books in NYC schools’ curriculum for pre-K to eighth grade written by white authors: Report. Retrieved October 03, 2020, from https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/ny-school-curriculum-diversity-20191204-b mpmgjusevgtxnofdalchpq6ti-story.html 

[5] Kang, M., Lessard, D., Heston, L., Nordmarken and Kang, S., & M. (2017). Introduction to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries. 

[6] Sergent, J., & Bravo, V. (2019, June 14). 7 maps show the mess LGBT laws are in the USA. Retrieved October 01, 2020, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/06/14/lgbt-laws-hate-crimes-religious-exemptions-a doption-differ/1432848001/


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