D.C. Council Member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) joins Kojo and Tom Sherwood to chat about her upcoming fight for re-election.
Sufficient education funding and a well-trained teaching staff are two keys to educational success. But those features alone don’t guarantee student achievement. Join Kojo for a look at how schools and teachers may inadvertently perpetuate educational disparities, especially when it comes to students who are already marginalized through poverty, discrimination, or other difficulties at home.
- Prudence Carter Associate Professor, Stanford University; and author of "Stubborn Roots: Race, Culture, and Inequality in U.S. and South African" (Oxford Univ. Press)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, it's Your Turn to share your memories of exactly what occurred here a year ago. Remember that earthquake? Or is it a fading memory? We'll also want to hear your suggestions for us when we head off to cover the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. this weekend and maybe some suggestions for when we move on to cover the Democratic convention in Charlotte the week after that.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, nearly 60 years after the Supreme Court declared that public education is a right which must be available to all on equal terms, statistics reflect an educational system that's still stubbornly unequal. One in five African-American students will fail a grade in elementary or secondary school, while the average for all students is one in 10. The school dropout rate for Latinos is more than double the national average.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISchools spend $334 more on every white student than on every nonwhite student across the country. Since the landmark Brown v. Brown of Education decision in 1954, educators, legislators and academics have worked to reduce this minority achievement gap whether through major policy changes, like No Child Left Behind or smaller social initiatives. So why does the achievement gap persist?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMy guest today says the answer doesn't lay in test scores but in the often invisible social and cultural dynamics that last long after legal barriers have been torn down. Prudence Carter is a professor of education and sociology at Stanford University. She's also author of the book "Stubborn Roots: Race, Culture, and Inequality in the U.S. and South African Schools." She joins us from studios at Stanford University. Prudence Carter, thank you for joining us.
PROF. PRUDENCE CARTERThank you for having me this morning, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou also can join this conversation at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. How do you think we should close the minority achievement gap? 800-433-8850. Prudence Carter, we spend a lot of time on this show talking about what's working and what's not both locally and globally in education. You took that local-global connection and applied it to the U.S. and South Africa, two countries still grappling with the legacy of segregation.
NNAMDIBut there are some big differences in how the U.S. and South Africa tackled desegregation, starting with the fact that they did nearly 40 years apart. The U.S. had a largely decentralized approach to education, giving states control over their own systems. South Africa, with its black-led post-apartheid government, mandated full rights for its black majority, so you'd think South Africa would therefore have a leg up in establishing equality in its educational system. But what's the reality?
CARTERWell, the reality is that it's just taken -- it's going to take quite a long time for them to reallocate and redistribute resources to many of their township and rural schools. The material disparities between the formerly all-white schools and the black township and colored township schools is just vast, and it's a gross disparity among them all. But another thing that I argue here is that there you have not only change the material context, but you have to change the social, psychological and the political context, the mindsets of people.
CARTERAnd what I found in South Africa was a decoupling of the policies and what was mandated by lawmakers from that which was going on the ground in terms of interactions between teachers, those who were the products of apartheid and those who were students who were like post-apartheid babies. So that's one of the biggest problems I saw on the ground in the schools when we attended daily.
NNAMDIWell, we'll talk about -- let's talk about how you were put in a position to do this. In early 2004, you landed in South Africa to study the dynamics at four high schools.
NNAMDIThree years later, you started your study of four U.S. public high schools. Tell us a little about how and why you selected these schools.
CARTERWell, I first started thinking about this study nearly a decade ago when I visited South Africa for the first time, and I was on an exploratory trip to schools visiting because I'm a sociologist of education. And that was at the time when you had the first cohorts or so who were the beneficiaries of the democracy, the early -- the onset of democracy in South Africa and desegregation in the schools who were attending. And I was talking to a group of kids, a mixed race group, and there was one boy who said something.
CARTERI call him Impeko (sp?) in the book. And I asked him -- I said, what is it like for you when you go back and forth from this, you know, mostly formerly all-white school to your black township and you're crossing borders? And he said something that I had heard so often in the popular conversations in the United States. He said, you know, the folks in the townships say that we are acting white, and here in the schools, you know, we're struggling with just trying to fit in and get along with one another across these different racial and cultural lines.
CARTERAnd I thought this would be really interesting to study in a black majority country, the tensions between trying to become academically and economically mobile and what one has to do in terms of identity in a black majority country and compare that with students in a white majority country like the United States where similar issues are going on. So I decided, once I got a sabbatical, to go back to high school, and that's what I did in 2004 for six months in South Africa. And then when I got some more time, I decided to do the same thing in the United States.
NNAMDIWhat was it like to go back to high school at this stage of your life?
CARTERWell, you know, obviously, I was an outsider. In the South African context, the kids were quite -- they were performative, and they loved having this American visitor in the classroom, it seemed. So they opened up. I would literally sit in on different classes every day. I shadowed a different student and followed him or her to all of his classes or her classes. I hung out with them and their peers. Whatever they did, I did for the day. And I randomly chose kids based on their social backgrounds, and that exposed me to different kinds of classes.
CARTERAnd I did that for three months in a southern South Africa city. I called it Costa (sp?) City in the book, and then I did it also in another large city. And then I did something similar in the United States. All of the schools that were chosen for this study were considered relatively solidly performing schools for their local context. And that was something that was important because I wanted to really just study the social and cultural and political dynamics within the schools.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about educational inequality, comparing the U.S. and South Africa with Prudence Carter. She's a professor of education and sociology at Stanford. She's also the author of "Stubborn Roots: Race, Culture, and Inequality in U.S. and South African Schools." In the months you spent at those high schools, Prudence, you had to integrate yourself not only into the students' culture but into the teachers' culture as well. What did you learn as you navigated the social scene at those schools?
CARTERWell, that's a very interesting one as well. In the South African context, I would sit in in the teachers' lounge, and I would also sit in in classes, try -- I was trying very hard to get to know them and their perspectives on what was going on within their schools. And the -- you know, the most difficult part for me on a day-to-day level was deciding where to sit if I walked into a full teachers' lounge.
CARTERI mean, as I write about in the book, you know, the teachers were reproducing the very things that we saw students reproducing. You'd have the Africana teachers sitting in one place, the English teachers sitting in another place, those of colored heritage sitting in another place and then the lone one or two black teachers sitting against the wall. And so I was often concerned about if I chose to sit with one group or the other, whether or not I would be signifying one allegiance or another.
CARTERI didn't have that kind of difficulty in the United States, but I did notice that in our well-resourced and mostly white schools, there was hardly -- there were hardly any teachers of color. So I rarely had any interaction there. And some were often worried that I was coming in to evaluate their teaching. So those were kind of methodological issues I had to be considerate of and sensitive to.
NNAMDIAnd when you openly asked about students' and educators' tendencies to self-segregate into ethnic, racial, gender group, what kind of responses did you get?
CARTERYou know, it has come to a point, what many of us think that this is just normative. It's natural. It's a natural part of the human condition, and students will say, you know, it's not like we're racist or anything. And teachers will try to indicate the same thing. It's that we just share similar interests and activities, so one gravitates to that -- the person who shares a similar interest or activity. Now, mind you, as a sociologist, we know that these things are often socially constructed because of segregation.
CARTEROf course, you're going to share similar interests with people who live with you, who are part of your daily lives, with whom you go to volunteer associations or church or mosque or whatever it may be. And so, you know, I found that this usually was just one of the ways in which segregation would manifest itself. But to make sense of it and make it appear less nefarious or less in some ways so that it would feel more benign, they will say that this is just about sharing similar cultural interests.
NNAMDIEven though the South African schools you visited were officially integrated, students did say they saw the most segregation in sports. How come?
CARTERRight. Well, you know, and I'm careful, Kojo, to say integrated versus desegregated. Those -- you know, we often are slippery about that, and I'll talk about what I think the difference is. But, yes, you know, one of the ways in which we saw segregation manifest on a day-to-day level in South African schools was through the racialization of extracurricular activities. Rugby was for white boys, as to soccer was for boys of color.
CARTERNetball was for colored girls, you know, as -- and so it was just field hockey was for white girls. And so that was the way in which kids were reproducing racial lines on a day-to-day level. In the United States, there were similar things. There were less -- there were some that -- these were issues about extracurricular but also about curricular options. So tracking was one of the ways in which we really, really can reproduce segregation within so-called diverse schools in the United States.
CARTERAnd we found quite a bit of that, as well as orchestra and band being for the white and Asian kids, while basketball or football might be for the black kids, black boys specifically, baseball for white boys, stepping for black girls. These things happen daily, and we actually think they're quite benign, but these are the ways in which we really reproduce socially in schools the kinds of racial, ethnic and cultural lines that keep us divided.
NNAMDIA couple of things you need to explain, you mentioned the word colored kids in South Africa that essentially mean kids of mixed race and includes a variety of races.
CARTERExactly. South Africa, historically, has had some interaction, miscegenation, inter-relations among people. This goes way back to the slave system in South Africa, so you have the descendants of those people who've mixed across various ethnic and racial lines. And that is an official state category of race, which is called colored.
NNAMDICan you also talk about what you mentioned earlier, the distinction you make between desegregation and integration?
CARTERI draw on this from various scholars who've also said -- there's some legal scholars -- I certainly don't take credit for this. But desegregation -- and I found this quite -- it was quite palpable in the interactions, is one of those things that we see as a process of placing diverse bodies, different kinds of students in a classroom, in a school, in a social environment, but that's not integration. Integration is something deeper, I argue. It's about a deeper form of engagement and incorporation of different students.
CARTERIt's about transforming the climate, the ethos of the school so that all kids can feel a part of it. And so the school is really for, by and is for all of the kids. It's by all the kids, and it represents all of the kids in some ways, all the different families that are part of the community. And it's really rare to find deeply integrated school settings in our societies at this point. We do have desegregation. We do have multiracial schooling. But those mechanisms that I mentioned earlier are the things that keep the line so palpable and so thick among students to create the segregation within diverse schools.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. We go to Dicanti (sp?) in Providence, R.I. Dicanti, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DICANTIYes. Thank you. I just want to, you know, make a comment about two things, and, you know, I'd like for your guest to, you know, please, address it. I'm a, you know, special educator. I've taught in D.C. I've taught in Montgomery County. I've taught all around the country. I mean, I think two aspects, you know, impacting, you know, minority kids, one is cultural bias, you know, in testing. The example -- there's a question on the IQ test, you know, while I was in grad school in Texas. You know, it would ask kids, what's the color of bananas?
DICANTIAnd, you know, that was really simple. But then, you know, it's kind of hard because, you know, if you're a rural kid, you know, you might say green. You know, if you are a kid that's, you know, living in a city, you know, you might say brown or yellow. The other thing, you know, that I want to mention is funding. You know, there's a huge funding discrepancy, you know, in poor schools area. You know, for example, you know, Baltimore City pays substitute teachers $50 a day.
DICANTINow, you know, that is less than $8 per hour. And you wouldn't find that, you know, in affluent areas. So, you know, very, you know, qualified people, you know, wouldn't even consider subbing, you know, in a place like Baltimore City, you know, that really needs, you know, qualified people. Thank you.
NNAMDIAllow me to deal with the cultural aspects first because, Prudence Carter, one of the students you profiled in your book named Judah really seemed to get the idea that schooling has to go beyond test scores and delve more deeply into the cultural differences that divide students, which goes to the point that Dicanti has been making. Tell us about Judah and what you learned from him as you respond to Dicanti's question.
CARTERAbsolutely. Judah was one of the most wise students and civically engaged students whom I met. He attended an affluent high school in a northeastern state and was on the mayor's youth council. And I open the book with a story about Judah because he was really wrestling with what I argue, and that is that schools really embody both the material context that your caller talks about.
CARTERIt's about whether or not schools have sufficient resources and teacher quality, you know, having the kinds of tools that kids need to learn, you know, the kind of physical plank, et cetera. That's something that we focus a lot on education, the funding, you know? And I argue that that's absolutely required, but it's not sufficient just to think about the material. And as your caller suggests, the cultural also matters.
CARTERIt's not even just the cultural, but it's also the political. And Judah really was pushing my thinking along with his peers about schools serve other functions. They serve civic functions. How do we actually get along with one another? How can we really diminish these social divides that are so evident in American society? And he raised those questions, and he says, you know, I know it means a lot to have good teachers who can teach me how to read and write and do arithmetic.
CARTERBut I also think schooling is about something else. And I feel like I come out here to this school, and we don't even get to know each other. We -- you know, look at how divided we are in the cafeterias. We sit -- you know, Beverly Tatum wrote "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together," and you can ask why are all the white and Asian kids sitting together. It's, you know, that's a fundamental question because it has implications for how our society will thrive as a democracy, you know, in terms of civic capacity.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on educational inequality, comparing the U.S. and South Africa with Prudence Carter. But you can still join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Do you think it's shortsighted to focus on test scores and resources when evaluating students' performance? 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can go to go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about educational inequality -- Prudence -- with Prudence Carter, who's a professor of education and sociology at Stanford University. She's also the author of "Stubborn Roots: Race, Culture, and Inequality in U.S. and South African Schools." Before I get back to the phones, Prudence Carter, before 2008, all students in South Africa were offered the opportunity to choose between lower-level and advanced classes.
NNAMDIBut then in 2008, the education ministry dismantled that system and required that everyone be exposed to the same national curriculum. What was the before and after effect of that change?
CARTERThat's a very good question. You know, before when I first arrived, there was something called standard grade and higher grade, and it was South Africa's version of tracking. It -- this applies to the test that high school seniors have to take -- they're called matrics -- in order to graduate. And the higher grade exams were more rigorous. They were probably the equivalent of our Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate, if I had to come up with an analogy.
CARTERAnd those -- students needed a number of those in order to gain admission or to be eligible for college or university admission. The standard grade were the more average, regular kind of comprehensive high school exam. And many students could still get their high school matric diploma with that. Now, South Africa is a country that is -- whether educational ministry, whether constitution, where just about every policy has been very radical about inclusivity.
CARTERAnd by the end of 2008, they had actually eradicated that system. And it's interesting because, when I first began, I saw a big racial divide in terms of who had access to higher grade versus standard grade. It was the former all-white and highly resourced schools who had teachers who could teach at that level and who had the resources to teach those courses. The black township schools did not have or could not offer because of the limited resources, those kinds of courses.
CARTERNow, they have elevated the curriculum so that all kids, in theory, would be exposed to the same kind of rigor. It's still a bit early to figure out how well it's working, but we do know after the first year, there was some elevation in the overall percentage of kids who were passing their matric exams. Of course, the former all-white or what we call the ex-model Cs did very well, they did fine. And the township schools, there were some slippage, and a lesser percentage did well on the overall national exam. And one has to just do an analysis of every year to see how it's working out at this point.
NNAMDIWell, one of the reasons I raised that issue has to do with the question you'll be getting from Scotty in Washington, D.C. Scotty, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
SCOTTYYes. I am so thankful that you're having this conversation all the way down to my core. In Washington, D.C., one is -- I keep having this conversation. I used to be a teacher. I used -- I quit teaching and started my construction and development company in D.C. because the kids I was teaching wasn't coming to school with nutrition, wasn't coming to school with (word?).
SCOTTYSo I tried to balance that with, you know, having work for those kids to do and if they show up for school five days a week and didn't have an opportunity, a job for them. But in Washington, D.C., I tell people all the time that we represent Africa, or we are -- we mirror Africa. If you take down all the buildings in this city, you will see the Sahara Desert, you will see the Sudan, you will see the Congo with the way that education is problematic in this city.
SCOTTYIn Ward 3, Wilson High School and Deal, they are building are additions to that school because they're overcrowded, and the majority is white neighborhood. And in Ward 7 and 8, we're not even doing -- we're not even (word?) education than what they do in Ward 3. And I'm so happy that you're having this conversation, and I hope you have it on this level as was the economic level in the economic disadvantage we have...
NNAMDIBut since Prudent Carter is not here, you should know that Ward 3 is one of the more affluent wards in the city. It's where the station is located and that I can see both Wilson and Deal High School if I look out the window of the studio. And Ward 7 and 8 are among the more -- among the poorer wards of the city, and I guess what Scotty is asking for is essentially what you just -- just witnessed in South Africa.
CARTERAnd I witnessed in the United States. You know, it -- one of the things that was reinforced for me by doing this study was that the amount of inequality that exists in both South Africa and middle-income country and the United States, the world's wealthiest nation, is so high and it is so rampant that it would take literally generations for groups that have been historically disadvantaged to catch up.
CARTERNow, that's something that -- it's horrifying to actually be able to say that and have to say that publicly or nationally. And I asked educators in South Africa especially, how do you get up daily to instill the value of an education to this group of severely under-resourced kids? To come to school, how do you instill the value of education to them, make them want to get up and do it when you know that they can't afford to go on to university which is really requisite or required in order to get some of the better jobs in this country?
CARTERAnd these were committed educators who wanted to just at least give the kids some hope. And, of course, a few would slip through, and they would go on to be more economically viable and mobile but many would not. And that was the hardest thing to see. But you have these children. They would believe. And if you surveyed them, they believe that education was the key to success because that's what was being taught to them, but then they would face a really grim reality by the time they were 15, 16 years old. And many of them -- yeah.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please.
CARTERAnd many of them, unfortunately, would end up dropping out because they needed to support their families or to offer something. Or they weren't doing as well on those tests. I mean, because by the -- between the transition of grades nine and 10, the tests were becoming more difficult for them.
NNAMDIOn to Marnie in Washington, D.C. Marnie, your turn.
MARNIEHi. Good afternoon. I'm a third grade reading teacher in a D.C. public school, and I've only been an instructional coach for the District for a few years. So I see the benefit of being able to go into many classrooms across the District. So I've had the benefit of being able to go into many classrooms across the District.
MARNIEAnd what I found is that the classrooms that had a teacher who made a commitment to the next three components -- the social-emotional side of educating the whole child, environmental literacy and evidence, research-based instructional strategies -- were able to actually start closing these gaps that we're speaking of. And it really is a similar analogy to something I heard Jesse Jackson say many years ago, which is when all the rules are fair when you're playing a sport, everybody has an opportunity to succeed.
MARNIEAnd when a teacher is considering the social and emotional side, doing the instructional strategy to the research-based and that environmental stewardship piece, then every student has an equal playing field in which they have an opportunity to learn.
NNAMDIOK. And I'm pretty sure that a lot of people would agree with that, Marnie, but what we have in this country is that we still follow a tracking system. Prudence Carter, in responding to Marnie's suggestions, what kind of steps should we also be taking to ensure that minorities participate more in high-status academic courses?
CARTERAbsolutely. This is one of the central tensions in the -- in this research. And that was, you know, I actually was doing research in so-called -- what we deemed as a very good schools in the United States. These were multi-racial schools that or rated according to their annual yearly progress as exemplary or rated number four and five on their state accountability systems, very good exemplary schools. What happens?
CARTERIn one of my schools, there -- more than a quarter of the kids were African-American, and I surveyed the teachers and the students to ask, who would you deem as a high-achieving kid? And out of more than 300 and something kids, they could only name five. And this was a school that was lauded one of the state's best high schools. So for me, that was an indication that there was something's truly amiss.
CARTERIf there -- this was one of the highest performing schools in this -- in the state and yet subgroups within that school were not fairing well. And when we would walk in, my research team and I, and sit in on those classrooms, we would not see kids in the highest echelon courses. We didn't see them in the advanced placement. We saw one or two, mostly female. We didn't see them participating in Model UN or the student government. They've really had second-class citizenship in some of these schools.
CARTERAnd, unfortunately, in those schools, the educators appear to be just more acquiescent or nonchalant about that pattern. And it seems to signify that there is a belief in the master narrative about the kind of intellectual inferiority of some groups over others. Now, fast -- move 1,000 or 1,500 miles north to another school or even 15 miles down the street, which was a predominantly African-American school, not as wealthy, still a solidly performing high school.
CARTERAnd we saw vastly different resources and differences for kids who share the same backgrounds as the kids in the well-resource white school that I just mentioned. And to me, that was fascinating. We wanted to really understand how some kids who share the same class background, racial and ethnic background could do better in some schools than others, even when the schools they were doing better in were less resourced.
CARTERSo I argue here that it is about good resources. But it's also about a high expectations culture, as I think your caller was also suggesting, treating the social and emotional aspects but also maintaining some semblance of a democracy within the school and participatory for all kids so that it doesn't look like the school is just for an elite group versus another group.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Marnie. We now get to a real phony area because while the U.S. leads the world in investment and education, last year alone, we spent some $686 billion on K-12 education. But researchers are finding that money and resources often cannot compete with the power of peer influence in fighting the minority achievement gap. What kind of impact can urban, often poor, minority kids have on their better-off peers? What does the peer impact, in your view, have to do with all of this?
CARTERThat is a very dicey issue. And certainly in my earlier research, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the influence of peers. Let me say first that there is no research in the United States that suggests that any group shares -- any group of kids by race or class possesses these similar views about the value of education. Kids do want to do well in school. The problem is how we engage them.
CARTERAnd this engagement in the process, when it don't feel like -- particularly low-income racial and ethnic minority kids who don't feel like the school is about them, who are really struggling whether or not this has anything to do with their own material, their cultural, their political reality, they do find themselves disengaging.
CARTERAnd part of what I found in my research as why they disengage is because they -- one, they're bored. Two, they fear if they're not as smart or they don't get it as quickly as their more resourced peers then they feel like they look dumb, and they feel like they're stigmatized. And so they get shamed by it. And, you know, Judah, whom you mentioned earlier, was one of those kids who was quite sharp.
CARTERBut he also knew that he was working almost doubly as hard as his peers -- his more affluent peers, who had tutors on the side and set to do well in advance math classes. And he feared that he was going to end up working for them one day. Now, so these are kids who are dealing with their own sense of their own efficacy as students. And then, of course, I mean, they are also dealing with what's going on ecologically in their lives. You know, what's going on at home?
CARTERWhat's going on in terms of employment, unemployment? And then there can be some influence. We do know for boys, especially in my research, we shown that there is a lot more influence for -- on males in terms of how their peers think about them. And interestingly in South Africa, I heard the same thing. Boys in South Africa said the same thing to me, we care more about competing with one another and what our male peers say. And girls tend to do a lot better in terms of steering away from the peer influence.
CARTERConsequently, we have a gender gap in the educational system. But I didn't study peer influence exactly in this study. It wasn't something that I really focused on. It was more at the school level. We do know it matters. How much it matters, though, is still the question on the table.
NNAMDIA lot of our callers seem to want to talk about that. So let's try Henry in Bowie, Md. Henry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Henry doesn't simply want to talk about peer pressure. Henry wants to talk about communities in which these young people live, correct, Henry?
HENRYHow are you doing, Kojo? Thanks for taking my call.
HENRYOK. So what I have to say is as far as the minority achievement gap, the way it's, you know, reported by the media, I mean, I think there's something to that, for sure. But what I think we really have more is an economic achievement gap because, you know, if you go to these poor white communities or poor Hispanic communities, and, you know, it's not like they're performing great in school either.
HENRYAnd, you know, as a general rule, you know, if a black person comes from a family that did better and grows up in a better environment, they won't have the same kind of struggles in school. So I think it's really, you know, a problem with the communities, and I think the government is not doing enough to fix these communities. Now, I would identify myself as a libertarian.
HENRYAnd the fact of the matter is that the Democrats have dominated the black vote since, you know, the 1960s, and things have really only improved marginally. And I think that, you know, you can fund the schools all you want, but until the government really buckles down and gives some serious help to these communities, you know, I don't really think you're going to fix the achievement gap. Thank you for taking my call, and I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIYou're welcome. Prudence Carter, I heard Sylvester Monroe -- reporter on Marketplace, who I also happen to know last week -- talking about growing up in the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, but then going on to prep school in Harvard, but going back to that area for reunions every few years or so. And when he interviewed a lot of the kids in that neighborhood, what he found -- and what, I guess, he had experienced also -- was that they did not have much of a view beyond that neighborhood, the notion that they didn't have a view of what success in society really meant.
NNAMDIAnd most of them had no idea what they wanted to do or be later in life. But you said earlier that valuing education is not limited to people in affluent communities. How do you balance those two views?
CARTERSo there is an abstract view, as the sociologist Roslyn Mickelson talks about, and there's a concrete view. And the abstract most of us know because that's what we're taught from the day we come into this world, basically that education matters. But when it comes to the concrete view, the more kind of -- the view that's closer to home, we often base that on what we see around us.
CARTERYou're absolutely right that there is some limitation in the vision that kids have, and one of those things is really a limitation on what they see in the dominant media. You know, what is possible for a minority kid, for a poor kid, and what representations do they see in the popular imagination for themselves? So I absolutely feel, you know, feel that there is something to that, and there's a big social-psychological component.
CARTERMost of the kids -- the first study I ever did, which you mentioned earlier, I had so many kids that talked about the doctor and lawyer and business person. That's all they knew. They couldn't go beyond that. And those are admirable fields, but that's all they saw on TV, if they saw any representation in terms of upper-class status of themselves. They couldn't even -- they couldn't imagine being a zoologist or, for that matter, even an astronaut, even though we've had African-American astronauts in the history, or female.
CARTERSo, I mean, I do think the representation of what's possible is so limited for many kids from these communities. The other thing is we absolutely cannot ignore the entire ecology of children's lives. Schools cannot do a whole lot, I would suggest, and I argue based on this research, without considering what's also going on in the economy and how it affects their families. Poverty is a big deal, and what we're doing is comparing apples to oranges, in many cases.
CARTERReally wealthy kids who grow up with resources like private tutors, or they can supplement their education by going to these, you know, review centers. They have great vacations in the summer. You know, they have all kinds of things they can just kind of supplement the kind of education they're getting in school. And then you have kids who are going home to unemployed situations, to single-parent homes, to parents who are afflicted with some kind of addiction, who don't get summer jobs, who don't get to travel, and then we want to make them the same.
CARTERAnd, you know, some schools are obviously reducing the test score gap. But we have to ask if that test score gap, even if you reduce it, is going to ultimately lead to an attainment gap, a reduction in the attainment gap. And that's my biggest concern, is how do we get these kids and keep them on the trajectory for economic viability and mobility?
NNAMDIAfter President Obama was elected president, you wrote in the Harvard Educational Review that the Obama administration -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- must develop educational policies that demonstrate a mindfulness of the massive educational debt that people of color have inherited from systems of colonization, genocide and slavery. How, four years later, do you feel about the administration's efforts so far?
CARTERMm, that's a big one. That's a big one. It's a big question. You know, I do feel that both presidential candidates have said quite a bit for the middle class and upper class. What have we said about the poor? I don't hear that discourse about poverty and the poor as much. And this is something that came out in my research from the kids in terms of how we care about one another.
CARTERAnd how we care about one another also means reaching beside, behind, beneath and moving beyond our own self-interest. Right now, the -- it's very common in the American system and American public for us to be socialized to just think about making sure we have our own, we get our own, that our own children do well. And consequently, it's harder to invest in policies or to think beyond that which will help us and will help others. And I think that's a big dilemma in the American context at this moment.
CARTERSouth Africa is facing some similar things. Their middle class has grown over the last 15 years, and their black middle class has grown. And the biggest issue right now is, what is going to be done to help their poor? We've seen in the media most recently the mine strikes and the violence that ensued from that. People are tired of being disadvantaged, and that is collective disadvantage, cumulative disadvantage. And I think it's real. It's something that we have to attend to in this country and globally.
NNAMDIThirty-four miners killed last week in South Africa. Despite the fact that South Africa is just, well, barely out of the apartheid there, you found evidence of what you call racial fatigue there. Can you explain that, please?
CARTERYes. Yes. Absolutely. You know, I would walk in -- I went back in -- you know, after finishing the research in 2004, I also -- it was a multi-year study. So we went back to follow up with the kids once they were grade 12. They had been grade eight when I first arrived. And I sat in a classroom with a group of kids, and my research assistant and I just said, you know, how has it been?
CARTERAnd I heard so much from white kids, especially white youth who are in the minority, who are very fearful at this point and made comments like, you know, apartheid, that was our parents' generation. It's not about ours, and we don't need to be taught about this apartheid history anymore. You know, we're the ones who are being discriminated against. Why do we have to talk about these things?
CARTERI mean, a very recent history that now we see a desire among kids who feel that they have to be more competitive with the wider population and who don't want to talk about that history anymore. And that's what I heard. You know, it's not about us. We didn't do it. Similarly, in the United States I heard white youth talk about that being the problem of their great-grandparents, you know, their great-great-grandparents. It's not their problem today.
CARTERAnd one of the things that I realized is that many of these kids don't realize the impact of history and the residual from those kinds of really exclusive systems of segregation, discrimination, genocide, slavery, depending on where you are in the world, and how that has impacted groups historically, and how the state has been complicit in that over time in terms of the policies that have created middle classes and how that has affected subsequent generations.
CARTERSo our kids don't know because they have some amnesia, I would argue, but they're also tired of hearing about it because they don't feel like it's something that they created.
NNAMDII have time for one more call in this segment. Here is Gabrielle in Washington, D.C. Gabrielle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GABRIELLEHi there. Thanks for taking my call. I just -- I really am glad that you pointed that out about what I would coin -- what actually I didn't coin, but Francois Bourguignon in the "Journal of Economic Inequality" pointed out as an inequality trap. It's really important to note that, you know, an inequality trap is a situation. It's about the persistence of a situation over time, and that's something that folks in, you know, my generation and younger, I think, need to realize.
GABRIELLEAnd I think that putting things in that context rather than, you know, the, you know, perhaps the same old discourse that we're sick of hearing, that may, you know, be a lot more effective in getting people to understand that basically, you know, there's a persistent and relative position and a distribution across time periods.
GABRIELLEYou know, that is a, you know, this might come about because, you know, the circumstances enjoyed by one group today are mathematically and directly depends in it, upon advantages and levels of advantages enjoyed by, like, the preceding generation.
NNAMDISo that while one today may not be personally responsible for the situation that exists, Prudence Carter, one has an obligation to understand its effects.
CARTERExactly, exactly. And there have been many to talk about this, as your caller says. Thank you for that comment.
NNAMDIGabrielle, thank you very much for your call. Prudence Carter, thank you for joining us.
CARTERThank you. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIPrudence Carter is a professor of education and sociology at Stanford University. She's also the author of "Stubborn Roots: Race, Culture and Inequality in the U.S. and in South African Schools." We're going to take a short break. When we come back, your turn. Any suggestions for us when we head for the Republican National Convention in Tampa or the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte? 800-433-8850. You can start calling now. And what are your memories from the earthquake exactly one year ago today? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
D.C.-based writer Paul Goldberg recently published his first novel, "The Yid." We talk with him about the story, how living in D.C. shapes his work and his 'day job' overseeing the influential Cancer Letter project.
Julette Saussy was hired by D.C. government less than a year ago to oversee reforms in the city's troubled fire and emergency medical services department. But she recently announced that she'd be quitting the post - and she says the department's failure to change is putting lives in danger.
Concerns about the mosquito-borne Zika virus have escalated - both among those who may be traveling to affected areas, but also now locally, where three cases were recently identified.