Any educator working towards social justice might have thought or been asked: “If we know what works in education, what’s getting in the way of using that understanding to fix our clearly broken educational system?” And, sure, we know a lot of what works, educators and researchers like John Hattie have devoted their lives to defining what works - like holding high expectations for all students, building strong relationships with students, giving meaningful feedback, using effective teacher coaching strategies etc. etc.
Asking what is standing in the way of using our knowledge to fix our educational system implies that our educational system doesn’t work. And, while there are glaring issues with our system - we spend more per pupil than any other country but are outperformed on academic tests by 12 to 40 other nations (depending on the measure); if you are Black or LatinX in America, your college graduation rate is around 20% compared to 38% if you are white; if you are poor in America your college graduation rate is around 13%, compared to 60% for the wealthiest SES groups.
But again, asking ‘what’s standing in the way of using our knowledge to fix our educational system?’ implies our system is broken - and the truth is… our system works quite well.
If you are wealthy in America, you are most likely white, and if you are white and wealthy in America you will mostly likely graduate high school with the skills and knowledge to graduate college, which you will most likely do, and some small percentage of wealthy white folks will eventually end up in the right positions of power at corporations, in politics, and in our government - solidifying the opportunities of other white wealthy people to come.
Today, college graduation is an important prerequisite to just reach the middle class, let alone the ‘one percent.’ With college graduation rates for Black and Brown people half that of white people, chances of social mobility are cut in half. With college graduation rates around 13%, for the poor in America chances of social mobility are even smaller. Not to mention chances of social mobility if you are a person of color and lower SES - which chances are higher than not. The truth is that our educational system helps to maintain these divides - not only via access to opportunities, but also the literal divides between groups within the working class that have existed since the first Anti-Miscegenation laws post Bacon’s Rebellion.
In order to maintain wealth amongst the few (In America, the richest 1% of people control more wealth then the bottom 90% combined), the working class needs to remain divided and the middle class needs to feel aligned with the top. Anti-Miscegenation laws in the 1600’s socially created “Race” as a means to divide the lower class. Our educational system strives to ignore the history and social creation of whiteness, blackness, being LatinX, Native American, or Asian - reinforcing Race as deterministic. Our educational system strives to undermine critical thinking around race and critical consciousness - so that when sensational claims that Mexican immigrants are taking poor white folks’ jobs - rather than question why corporations can get away with paying people of all races non-livable wages that stifle social mobility for generations while making soaring profits - poor white folks lash out at LatinX people. And LatinX people fight with Black people. Even Immigrant, first generation African-American communities feud with Generationally (since slavery) oppressed black people. And rather than teach the truth behind why people were divided into socially constructed racial groups - people on the bottom who are hurting - hurt each other. All this infighting helps those in control of the system maintain power, access to opportunities, and control of wealth for a select group of majority white people at the top.
The system even has exceptions built in to prove the rule that meritocracy does not exist. We often hear, “but look at person X who made it. Does that exception not prove meritocracy exists?” However, if a true meritocracy existed - we would not need to mention exceptions as upward mobility for all people would be the norm.
If we believe the narrative that we live in a Meritocracy and everyone has equal access to social mobility through equal access to educational opportunities, then it makes sense that one assumes our system is broken.
Our educational system is working so well, the truth is so well buried, we are often blind to just how well it’s working - leading us to ask such foolish questions as “why don’t we fix it.” It doesn’t need fixing. It needs us to lobby politicians to re-write funding structures to be equitable, reinforce curriculum that teaches the truth, reconstruct teacher preparation programs and more- all through legislation. Our system does not need fixing - It needs Rewriting, Re-Constructing, it needs us to Re-Imagine Education.