If we cannot even name the reality we claim we want to change, then we will never change that reality.
There are two points that I make in my scholarship and public writing that are certain to prompt reactions from both friends and foes that suggest I may have just run down someone’s grandmother with a bus:
Let me try once again to clarify both that these claims are true and necessary to name in order to change.
“Poverty is destiny” is a normative  fact of the United States. For most children, the social class they are born into predicts the trajectory of their lives, independent of their self-worth, effort, and all sorts of other factors we are more likely to associate with the individual child.
That this is a normative statement includes a concession that outliers exist (some people fall out of and rise above the social class of their births), but outliers do not discredit a normative statement just as we must caution against making an outlier status the rubric for normalized behavior. In other words, that African American men have scaled to the presidency and supreme court stands as outliers against the disproportionate number of AA men incarcerated in our country:
Michelle Alexander has embodied the need to name in order to change by confronting the normative facts of mass incarceration as well as the indisputable fact that mass incarceration is the New Jim Crow, thus racist.
And Sean Reardon has now offered a powerful case that “poverty and affluence are destiny”:
Here’s a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion….
In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race….
We are still talking about this despite decades of clucking about the crisis in American education and wave after wave of school reform.Whatever we’ve been doing in our schools, it hasn’t reduced educational inequality between children from upper- and lower-income families….
The income gap in academic achievement is not growing because the test scores of poor students are dropping or because our schools are in decline….
It may seem counterintuitive, but schools don’t seem to produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students. We know this because children from rich and poor families score very differently on school readiness tests when they enter kindergarten, and this gap grows by less than 10 percent between kindergarten and high school. There is some evidence that achievement gaps between high- and low-income students actually narrow during the nine-month school year, but they widen again in the summer months….
The more we do to ensure that all children have similar cognitively stimulating early childhood experiences, the less we will have to worry about failing schools. This in turn will enable us to let our schools focus on teaching the skills — how to solve complex problems, how to think critically and how to collaborate — essential to a growing economy and a lively democracy.
Alexander and Reardon are naming normative facts—ones that many all along the ideological spectrum not only refuse to do themselves, but rush to silence others who do name in order to change.
If the patterns of mass incarceration and “no excuses”/”zero tolerance” schools and policies even impacted privileged white males proportionately in the U.S., the outcry would be deafening.
The current and historical racially disproportionate and negative patterns of the U.S. penal and judicial systems and the rise of highly segregated “no excuses” charter schools and “zero tolerance” urban public schools must be named and then we must act t change that which is racist, that which is classist, that which is sexist.
Refusing to name, refusing to act guarantees poverty will remain destiny and the current education reform movement will continue to mirror the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration.
If you are uncertain about the messages our culture sends about race, view the video below: