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The Power of Distraction

by Sergio Suarez

EdD 710: Social and Cultural Foundations of Education

The power of distraction

Sergio Suarez

California State University East Bay

Unannounced and unknowingly, students of color struggle to navigate through a system birthed to colonize, oppress and to marginalize. These unfortunate traits are left to provide massive barriers for our multilingual students and to degrade students of color experiencing poverty. We will discuss how educators implant unreachable outcomes through “deficit ideology” by suggesting that our playing fields are balanced and equitable to all students. Secondly, we will dive and unpack the abrasive “language of power” as it further perpetuates racist white Supremist ideologies and caters to the construct of an “English only” society. Lastly, I touch on my own experiences as a student, an educator, and how the vast layers of education promote exclusivity and inequality through the “culture of power.” The frameworks suggested are very real and have for many years been utilized to distract our attention away from the truth and provide a tale that folks of color equally have the opportunities of our white counterparts.

Deficit Ideologies through Educational Inequities

As a Latino Male I am well in-tuned with the abrasive “white hegemony” ideologies and discriminatory frameworks that have kept our communities of color from pursuing higher education at bay. Time and time again I have listened to the accounts of my personal community spew the phrases “I’m just not smart enough,” or that “School just isn’t for me.” These sentiments towards education unfortunately ring loud and strike deep. These wounds unfortunately do not mend, and for many, do not heal at all. It is hard not to believe that the relation, or rather the neglect, between education and people of color are somehow intertwined, perhaps even, purposely manufactured to only suit the ruling class.

Manufacturing deficit ideologies

As we begin to unpack how inequities and deficit ideologies are “manufactured” by the educational system, I refer to the words of Gorski (2016), “A majority of the students had been socialized to fundamentally misunderstand poverty and its impact on educational outcome disparities” (p. 379). By internalizing an ideology that all is equal and attainable, as long as one “pulls themselves up from the bootstraps,” shifts the blame and narrative onto poverty-stricken communities of color. In other words living in poverty is a choice because somehow, they (we) choose to stay poor rather than work harder and aspire for more (Gorski, 2016, p. 380). These oppressive tactics were created to disguise the problem within education, and instead, shifts the entire burden onto students and communities of color. The victimization of this group is not at all a coincidence, but a tool for white hegemony to shame and further create psychological barriers amongst communities of color.

The internalization of deficit ideology

* I personally edited this portion of my paper out of this post due to experiences and emotions I am yet to share with the world. Please respect my decision.

As a result, people living in poverty begin to internalize these harmful ideologies. As educators, we need to recognize that students of color are equally as capable as their “white peers” as long as we recognize and can mediate the many inequities that our students of color face on a day-to-day basis.

Addressing deficit ideology

As I think of the various inequities our students of color face, I am drawn to the ideas of Gloria Ladson-Billings (2006), and her argument that we (as educators) should not simply focus just on closing the “achievement gap.” Rather, we need to address the “education debt.” Ladson-Billings argues that “this all-out focus on the ‘Achievement Gap’ moves us toward short-term solutions that are unlikely to address the long-term underlying problem” (Ladson – Billings, 2006, p. 4). In other words, we as a society need to address the historical inequities that have oppressed and marginalized our communities of color, which show up now as disparities in academic achievement. Systemic racism is deeply rooted within the fabric of our country. Unfortunately, racism is also well integrated into our educational system, and with a continued disregard of our past we fail to prepare our students of color for their future.

The Language of Power

Growing up as a multilingual, first generation American and attending the educational system, I have witnessed that one is, unfortunately, immediately coerced and stripped away from their native tongues. Inherently, one is categorized on how well he or she has assimilated through the annunciation, verbalization and reciprocation of the language of power. It is important to note that the United States has yet to claim English as the nation’s official language (Strom, 2019). Yet our institutions have grounded learning pedagogies revolving around the utilization and Mastering of the English language.

Not having mastered the language of power associates you with class, race and gender. In other words, language is used as an indicator by the class of power to determine your social standing. It is through these lenses that practices and processes within institutions have created barriers for both students experiencing poverty, and non-native English speakers. Without addressing the inequities of language, students not well equipped with the power of language are deemed underprepared, incapable, or unwilling to learn.

The inadequacies of the language of power

One cannot simply put the blame solely on the educators, but rather the blame should be held on the lack of training, preparedness and the oppressive language policies our instructors inherit from teaching programs. It is critical that institutions begin addressing the language needs of our students, especially as the population of ELL students in the United States continue to rise. Lucas and Villegas suggest that without change, educators risk “perceiving students as linguistically deficient, teachers are likely to ignore or marginalize them in class; provide them a simplified, unengaging curriculum emphasizing basic skills; and focus primarily on controlling their behavior.” (Lucas, Villegas, 2011, P. 60) The cause and effect of underprepared linguistically responsive teachers comes at a huge price, to the whelm of the most deserving at times, yet for non-English speaking students, the message is very clear: you either get with the program or you pay the consequences. These marginalization’s of language create barriers between teachers and students, which in turn, transforms into the student doubting his or her own ability to learn.

The lack of empathy within the language of power

The above practices and processes unfortunately have very detrimental emotional effects on our ELL students. What isn’t considered are the cultural attachments many students associate their languages with. Painfully enough, Lucas and Villegas write: “Those whose mother tongue is a subordinated language or language variety, however, learn soon enough that their language is considered inferior.” (Lucas, Villegas, 2011, P. 58) When the instructor disregards a student’s native tongue, it is interpreted by the English learning student as the educator not caring about the student, nor for the student’s family. We tend to associate “language” with those we love and those we most care about. By disregarding this small detail we continuously and unknowingly perpetuate the language of power and white hegemony within our educational system.

Culturally responsive teachers

All is not dire, nor have we peaked at the point of no return; there is a movement amongst educators to begin advocating for English learning students. These educators are passionate about disrupting the white hegemony narrative through education, practice, “external examination” (Reyes, 2019 P. 5) and policy change. These culturally responsive teachers understand that “the underlying issues are power and privilege associated with speakers of particular languages.” (Lucas, Villegas, 2011, P. 59) It is quite obvious that “few students can hope to benefit maximally from school(s) in that situation.” (Lucas, Villegas, 2011, P. 59) Disrupting these frameworks by inclusive teaching practices begins to view students as indeed very much capable to learn, rather than viewing the individual as unmerited or insufficient. Equally, educators need to look within and unpack what they know, how they know, and how this gets transmitted to the students. (Reyes, 2019, P. 5) Teaching practices should revolve around making students feel valued and welcomed by strategically validating their native tongues and highlighting what they already know (Sleeter, 2012, P. 573). These drastic changes in educational practices and policies is exactly the type of frameworks that will help support the rising number of English learning students in this country to be successful and valued.

The “Culture of Power”

As an educator and man of color, one is reminded on a daily basis the difficulties of achieving acceptance and recognition from the “culture of power.” It is vastly integral that in order to move ahead in life, there needs to be an understanding and recognition that a “culture of power” exists. It is extremely difficult for those already in power to recognize they are in fact harborers of power. These individuals exist in all facets of education and can highly dictate one’s potential outcome. As a man of color, I draw on my experiences as a student, educator and an artist to further highlight the inequities and barriers the “culture of power” has imposed and continues to impose on me today.

Education and pain

Unfortunately, the “culture of power” is not unique to education but embedded in all assets of our society. Growing up I had no recollections, nor guidance to understanding the culture of power. Lisa Delpit argues that “some children come to school with more accoutrements of the culture of power already in place - cultural capital.” (Delpit, 1988, P. 285) Not equipped with both language and capital, the barriers of education began stacking up against me. I felt very frustrated and anxious with tasks deemed easy, yet through my lack of English, was made to feel of lesser value. These emotions only continued to further internalize how I viewed myself in education and expanded well into my adulthood as a working professional. Till this very day, I can earnestly say that I have some very deep scars that affect how I view my stance in society. Through careful mentorships and experiences I transferred that energy of pain to one of action, I truly believe it is one of the reasons I am so outgoing. But the scars and oppressive education I received as a youth hang in my soul as traps working their way to sabotage my mental health.

The value of hip hop

As mentioned above, the “culture of power” is indeed survived in all the hallways of education. As an educator and College Adjunct I recently addressed certain inequities within our Dance Department. In this situation I relate to the words of E.W. Ross and R. Gibson “neoliberalism is now new. It is merely the current version of the wealthy few’s attempt to restrict the rights and powers of the many.” (Ross, Gibson, 2007, P. 3) I compared the unit values of my Hip Hop Dance class to the other Eurocentric dance form offerings of my college. What I learned was that my course was one unit less than the other offerings. When I confronted my director, her response validated the ideologies of Neoliberalism and white Supremacy. Her response was that it was because ‘Hip Hop was a cultural artform’; and immediately I had to stop her to address her biases. What she was really saying was that because Hip Hop is from the African American Diaspora, it is considered of lesser value. Immediately after recognizing her language, she began back-peddling and affirming me how wrong that was. Had I not understood the “culture of power” I would have assumed her bias lens as the correct and only outcome.

The layers of education and the culture of power

It is quite unfortunate the difficulties European Americans have discussing race. I went ahead and addressed the situation with the Dean of the department, and like most interactions I have with European Americans in power I walked away feeling “silenced” (Delpit, 1988, P. 281). As an Adjunct Professor, I definitely feel inadequately underrepresented and undervalued, but more so, I am voiceless due to my contractual obligations and the College's ability to let me go as needed. This unfortunate circumstance suggests the need to continue advocating for diversity throughout all assets of the educational system. The “culture of power” is built into the framework of our institutions. Unfortunately, that does become indoctrinated by educators and management as a tool to continue suppressing those of color.

Conclusion

The educational system is a mechanism created to further oppress, marginalize and assimilate people of color. Its frameworks, as suggested by Dr. G. T Reyes is: “the colonial subject’s ways get positioned as inferior and the colonial aggressor’s as superior.” (Reyes, 2019, P. 2) This ideology is how people like myself go through life feeling undervalued. It is unfortunate that the three frameworks we discussed on this paper are robust tools created to carry out “white supremacy” agendas. It is imperative that one understands the value of each of the ideologies discussed, as they provide an immense campaign of wealth and resources for youth of color navigating through the educational systems. By being well equipped, students have a better chance of realizing the “culture of power;” and for educators, they become knowledgeable and advocates for better supporting multilingual students. I am extremely hopeful that indeed by best understanding and unpacking these oppressive frameworks, one can begin curating ideologies that will best serve the needs of our local youth of color. It is without a doubt that the path ahead is treacherous; yet the only mechanism is “culturally responsive teachers” have to fend for ourselves and for our students.

References

Delpit, L.D. (1988). The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children. Harvard Education Review, 58 (3), 280 - 298

Gorski, C.P. (2016). Poverty and the Ideological Imperative: A Call to Unhook from deficit and Grit Ideology and to Strive for Structural Ideology in Teacher Education. Journal of Education for Teaching, 42 (4), 378 -386

Ladson - Billings, G. (2006). From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools. Educational Research, 35 (7), 3 – 12

Reyes. G. T. (2019). A Pedagogy of and for Decoloniality. Encyclopedia of teacher education. 1 - 15

 

Ross, E. W, Gibson. R (2007). What is Neoliberalism? 1 – 3

 

Sleeter. C. E (2012). Confronting the Marginalization of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. Urban Education, 47(3) 562-584, 562 – 584

Lucas. T, Villegas. A. M, (2011). A Framework for Preparing Linguistically Responsive Teachers. 55 - 72

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