On the Black Lives Matter website you will find a list of “Demands”, which include the following:
- The arrest of officer Darren Wilson.
- National policy aimed at redressing systemic racism in law enforcement.
- A discontinuance of federal aid in the form of military weaponry to local law enforcement.
- The bringing to justice of all officers involved in the killing of black people within the last 5 years.
- A decrease in law enforcement spending and a reallocation of those funds to employment, housing, and educational services.
Yes, on the last point, education should be very important to the Black Lives Matter movement. It is frequently said to be the way out of poverty, and it diminishes one’s chances of being involved in the law enforcement situations that Black Lives Matter decries.
So why hasn’t the Black Lives Matter community given more attention to addressing the very real problem of black student performance within the public education system? By all accounts, that system has failed the black community. That’s not to say that black students don’t bear some responsibility for their performance. But it’s important to remember that our education system was created to act in loco parentis – “in the place of the parent” – and to ensure that a student learns regardless of contextual factors outside the school. (If we no longer believe this, then we need to think about changing our current education system.)
Across the nation, there exist large gaps in academic performance between white and black students, and those haven’t really changed since they started measuring them almost 40 years ago. In some cases, the gaps have widened. Currently, 29% of black high school students fail to graduate each year. Studies have also shown that the worst-performing teachers are usually in schools that serve poor, minority students.
In the Twin Cities of Minnesota, which Intellectual Takeout calls home, the school districts have an abysmal record when it comes to the performance of their black students. My organization sent out the following postcards to the public highlighting the problem:
Ideally, these postcards would have come from the Black Lives Matter movement itself. But that movement has for the most part limited its education-related criticism to two areas: 1) a penal matter within the system, namely, the high rate of black student suspensions; and 2) school funding. On this latter point, it has ignored the many studies that show that a lack of correlation between spending and student performance, and failed to take into account the fact that many city districts with large minority populations already outspend local suburban and rural districts. In so doing, it has let the system itself get off almost scot free for its high rate of failing to educate black students.
There’s room for criticism of systems. And there’s room for criticism of our country’s system of law enforcement. But many would argue that the the problems of crime and run-ins with law enforcement were preceded by problems of education. Shouldn’t Black Lives Matter reserve some of its criticism for the failures of the education system? Should we eventually see Black Lives Matter protesting outside the headquarters of school districts?