Race remains a key factor in contemporary education that accounts for disparities in outcomes for students. Racial gaps in educational achievement are often attributed to differences in culture, but institutional racism plays a bigger part. Low academic attainment among minority students is usually viewed from the perspective of family socioeconomic disadvantages rather than how institutional and societal structures influence this outcome. In this paper, two theories on race and schooling are analyzed to explain contemporary issues of gaps in achievement, forms of knowledge, and inequalities in school funding.
Critical Race Theory and Systemic Race Theory
Patricia Collins’ critical race theory (CRT) examines the intersecting forces that propagate social oppression. For her, the unjust conditions created by interrelated lines of oppression, such as race, sex, and sexuality, become clear when viewed through the lens of intersectionality (Bridges, 2018). Understanding the connections among these separate but co-occurring forces in our social sphere generates new knowledge on racist practices. Applying Collin’s CRT to the school system reveals how educational policies, philosophies, and practices interact to maintain racism and failure for minority and immigrant students.
Joe Feagin’s systemic race theory (SRT) holds that historical racism against blacks in the slavery era is a defining feature of the American state. It engendered white privilege that has pervaded almost all social institutions today (Bridges, 2018). Historical segregation in schools is reflected in contemporary inequities in public school funding systems. Institutionalized stereotypes and beliefs result in a deliberate or subconscious marginalization of black people by whites (Bridges, 2018). Thus, historical extensions of these practices manifest today in the education system as funding disparities between black and white schools.
Gaps in Educational Achievement
Feagin’s SRT illuminates the contemporary disparities in academic achievement between racial groups. The educational experiences of disadvantaged groups, such as African Americans and Hispanics, often differ from those of white students. In highly integrated schools, achievement data is usually not disaggregated by race. This race-neutral stance conceals the effect of systemic racism and marginalization of people of color on outcomes for minority students (Bridges, 2018). Based on Feagin’s SRT, the ‘colorblind’ equality approach obscures systemic discrimination limiting the educational experiences and outcomes of these populations.
The way children socialize in schools will affect their educational achievement. Multiple social forces in the contemporary American school system influence racial/ethnic identities. The anticipation of discrimination that is pervasive in many institutions and the demand for multilingual literacy are key intersectional forces that affect the educational experiences of minority students (Bridges, 2018). Immigration status for refugees may also influence identity formation and academic outcomes. Systemic stereotypes and beliefs will hinder their full integration into the American school system and thus, their educational achievement is bound to be lower.
White privilege confers district schools in affluent predominantly white suburbs with certain advantages. SRT states that historical racism evolved into conscious and subconscious marginalization of minority races in today’s social institutions, including schools (Bridges, 2018). Thus, the socioeconomic system that replaced slavery is designed to sustain the disadvantages for blacks and white privilege. A disturbing contemporary educational issue is the high number of African American and Hispanic youth incarcerated in correctional facilities. They are subjected to a different kind of schooling in the criminal justice system geared towards behavior change. Thus, their academic achievement is likely to be lower than that of privileged white children in the regular school system.
Forms of Knowledge
CRT is relevant to understanding the racialization of educational experiences within the school system. The theory emphasizes the analysis of social forces intersecting with race, including class and gender (Bridges, 2018). Using CRT, the disproportionate focus on racial aspects at the expense of other factors becomes evident. Educational projects and pedagogical interventions are usually designed to benefit specific racially defined groups. The programs for minority races influence how students think and experience knowledge. Using race-neutral projects in the classroom would produce learners that do not challenge subtle forms of discrimination in society.
The differences in educational experiences are also relevant to SRT. Advantages available to middle-class children are different from those of low-income groups due to systemic disparities in social capital between the races. Their schools may emphasize racially valued qualities, such as etiquette, language, writing, and interpersonal styles. Students from a middle-class schooling system have access to strong support networks and cultural capital lacking in poor black neighborhoods. From this perspective, educational experiences and knowledge will differ along racial lines.
Institutional agents, including faculty, play a role in sustaining racial stereotypes in schools. Teachers determine the language to be spoken in the classroom, with vernacular dialects strongly discouraged. Consistent with SRT, this practice promotes pedagogic practices aligned with the dominant or national culture. It is based on the belief that the gap in educational achievement between white and black students is due to language or limited cultural capital. Viewed from Collins’ CRT theory, expanding the curriculum to support racial minority students and other related policies may not be adequate as oppression involve multiple intersecting forces (Bridges, 2018). It will require a diverse faculty not only in terms of race but also in gender and language groups.
Inequalities in School Funding
Public school funding is a contemporary issue that is related to SRT principles. The theory holds that white privilege during the slavery era has permeated all institutions and is conceptualized as systemic racism (Bridges, 2018). The past stereotypes and values manifest today as systems that marginalize blacks and other minority groups. In education, the inequity in funding allotment is a contemporary issue that demonstrates systemic racism. Racial inequalities are a dominant feature of the public school system and the focus of legislative reforms at the federal level. However, without financial equity for black children, these laws may not help bridge the gaps. Their enforcement is also weak due to systemic bias in practices and policies.
The poor educational outcomes for students of color are attributed to funding constraints. Intra-district and inter-district differences in the allocation of funds usually reflect racial or regional variations in income. While additional money is provided to educate children from poor households and those with disabilities, the financial allocation system is still biased against high-poverty schools that usually have more black students. By basing disbursement on property tax revenue, black students from low-income places are likely to be disadvantaged, as schools in these regions usually are underfunded compared to those in middle-income regions. Thus, the funding inequities are systemic – laws and policies that perpetuate white privilege become evident when this issue is analyzed using SRT.
The interrelated dimensions of oppression in the public education system are relevant to the CRT theory. Inequities occurring along racial, ethnic, class, and gender lines are historical (Bridges, 2018). The issue of education inequality was profound in the legal segregation days. Laws were enacted that deprived black children of equal education rights available to white counterparts. Even after they were repealed, inequities persist in the public school system, as equitable resource allocation has not been achieved. Educational funding inequalities are prevalent, disproportionately affecting many black children.
Achieving funding equity in all schools is a challenge because of fundamentally discriminatory American systems and institutions. Feagin demonstrates that U.S. structures are crafted to advantage the whites by depriving minority races of opportunities and resources (Bridges, 2018). Thus, the systems are meant to sustain a racial hierarchy rooted in slavery. The master frame advanced by Feagin in SRT where the tenets of slavery continue to be justified to sustain the dominance of whites (Bridges, 2018).
The marginalized groups are perceived as ‘inferior’ and systematically denied privilege and resources through systems and institutions. The funding inequities in the public school system illustrate the systemic subjugation that is explained by Feagin’s SRT. Further, systematized racial ideas inform policies and procedures that are designed to quell tensions without providing true justice and fairness.
The theoretical approaches by Collins and Feagin offer useful frames for analyzing contemporary issues in the education system. CRT emphasizes that co-occurring social forces intersect to sustain oppression, while SRT focuses on how stereotypes and beliefs rooted in slavery have pervaded systems and institutions. Systemic racism promotes the marginalization of minority races through overt and covert measures. In education, CRT and SRT are useful for framing the issues of racial gaps in student achievement, forms of knowledge, and funding disparities.
Bridges, K. (2018). Critical race theory: A primer (concepts and insights). Foundation Press.