In my second grade classroom, my teacher interrupted my classwork one day, ti state that my traditional African hairstyle was distracting, and directed me to change it by the mext day. When the next day came, and the hair tying me to my culture remained, she pulled me out of class, sent me to the office, and called my mother. My mother, an educated white woman, was livid, and informed the administration of their wrongdoings, saying that the teacher targeting me and my hair was racism-a word I had never heard refering to our modern world.
Issues such as racism, mass education, and low teacher expectations are often thought of as problems of the past; however, the challenges faced in education have merely changed throughout time, with some issues fading away, to be replaced with modern problems, while others have remained present, continuing to plague our education system. One such problem is racism, which, as evidenced by my second-grade hair troubles, is still an issue to be reckoned with in the classroom, though in far less blatant ways than in the past.
Too large classes and a lack of individual attention have also remained a problem through history, and teachers cpntinue to underestimate their students, though what they underestimate about their students has changed with time. These issues have been ctritiqued by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Malcolm X, and Francine Prose, and still affect classroom learning today, preventing students from reaching their full potential. One of the most obvious ways students are blocked from reaching their potential is through racism in the classroom.
Although most consider racism a solved issue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X’s time, it does still permeate modern classrooms. While black students are now recognized as equals, unlike what X faced in school shortly before dropping out (X, 163), racism is still present in microaggressions within the system. History remains “whitened,” as it was in X’s time; students still learn what white men wrote, and all other groups still fall to the wayside (X, 177).
Glastonbury High School is one of the better schools in terms of learning diverse histories, but students have to choose to take classes on African and Latin American history, which often carry a bad reputation with them in comparison to the dramatically more popular European history classes. Also, students of color continue to be “expected to fail” in many cases (Alexie, 111). Black children have had “almost all the doors of opportunity slammed in [their] face[s]” throughout history, with issues such as segregation denying them access to higher quality educations and standards of living (Baldwin, 125).
This continues today in many low income areas, whose schools are poorly funded and therefore impart a lower quality education on their largely minority student base, as well as in Glastonbury, where students that come from Hartford to get a better education are shunned and discouraged from participating in the academics-driven school atmosphere. These examples of modern-day racism are minor compared to the problems of the past, but they continue to negatively affect the education of a vast group of students nationwide. Inclusivity needs to become a priority in our curriculums to rid schoolds of the racism that remains in them.
Mass education has been plaguing curriculums for generations. In fact, Ralph Waldo Emerson critiqued the trend of mass-education in the 19th century, and yet students are still subjected to the generalized education he argued against. In my experience, the average class is around twenty students, and firends of mine in larger urban schools have classes up to twice as large, and this can diminish the education quality of the individuals within such a large class. As “[t]he teaching comes to be arranged for these many, and not for those few,” (Emerson, 105).
The ratio of students to teachers limits individual attention, and they don’t get the specialized education they need to reach their peak potential. Classes tend to go too quickly for some students, who take longer to grasp the information, or too slowly for those who take to it rapidly. This decreases the quality of education for everybody, as teachers “have to work for large classes instead of individuals,” and therefore end up not even reaching the majority of the class, many of my friends sturggle with classes going to quickly, while others are frustrated as the course is too slow for them (Emerson, 105).
This “departmental, rountinary, military” style of teaching is largely ineffective, but it merely serves the purpose of teaching the large numbers of students within our country (Emerson, 105). These ineffective teaching standards cause students to learn less, as they can’t learn with these teaching methods. Leveled classes, which are popular in many communities-though some argue against them-help ameliorate this problem, but it is still found on a smaller scale in these concentrated groups of students, ideally each student should have the opportunity for individualized time with their teachers, even out of school.
Due to the continued expansion of class size, students remain underestimated, as teachers are teaching to a lower standard to reach large groups of students. Teachers underestimated Malcolm X’s ability, who went on to become a brilliant orator, stating that he must reevaluate his career goals of “being a lawyer” were obviously unattainable (X, 163). This problem that Malcolm X faced still haunts classrooms, though instead of calling students “foolish” for their lofty aspirations, teachers now set the bar so low they do not have them (X, 163).
The baseline becomes the estimated intelligence level of the slowest person in the class, and thus, teachers’ expectations are low for the rest of their students, as they are “expected to be stupid”(Alexie, 111). Teachers cater to their unmotivated students, and teach material lacking in depth, as it’s easier for them. Teachers now look for the simplest novels to complete their goals, leaving behind more complicated literature for something they can easily impart upon their lackluster students, they favor the simple morals of To Kill a Mockingbird to the complicated not-quite heroes in Hamlet (Prose, 96-97).
This modern form of underestimating students’ knowledge thorugh not even giving them the opportunity to challenge themselves is, in fact, more damaging than simply underestimating what students could do with their knowledge as in the past. This diminishes the amount of knowledge students are able to extract from their education, effectively hindering their overall ability. The problems of education’s past continue to haunt us, stopping students from achieving their full potential.
Racism, an issue that has plagued the country for centuries, continues to affect students’ learning in a modern way, with microaggressions taking the place of more obvious prejudice. Mass education, which was critiqued by Emerson, still draws attention away from individual students, causing fewer students to learn the material. Teachers also keep underestimating their students, not giving them the opportunity to thrive in the classroom. These issues need to be solved for the benefit of the students who shape our future.