Saturday, February 13, 2010

Because Of Race: How Americans Debate Harm and Opportunity In Our Schools

Schools are one of the major agents of enculturation in America. Many kids spend more time in school with their peers than their own parents and a lot of their life outlook is influenced by what they learn in school. Language problems are one area that can have a major impact on how a child can perform in school. The book that I chose for this report was “Because of race: how Americans debate harm and opportunity in our schools” by Mica Pollock. Through this book it is possible to take a look at some of the greater inequality issues surrounding education in America.

Mica Pollock wrote this book concerning her two years in working for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office For Civil Rights during 1999-2001. During Mica’s time in this position her main job was to analyze racial inequalities in the education system while speaking with people from all levels of the education system from parents to administrators. This book is a biography of what it was like to work in that system and the problems and hopeful remedies that must be taken to remedy America’s educational system to make it equal. The book while mentioning problems due to language does not go far in enough in addressing solutions not just for Spanish speaking students and students speaking African-American Vernacular English. One example is when the author mentions immigrant parents having the same amount of time to speak as English speakers in one case. The problem was that the immigrants had to have their words translated and in the time lost in translation they didn’t have the equal time of the English speakers. More in-depth analysis would have been appreciated on cases such as this. The writing style and tone of the book show that it was intended to be read by educators, politicians, and parents who are concerned about the education process. The author’s approach to the writing of the book is to rebut four distinct arguments commonly made about discrimination in schools and to then proceed to show how flawed those arguments are. The author’s approach is both descriptive of actual situations and then using those situations to prove theoretical points. The author does this by arguing against those rebuttals which are often used to argue against change and show what the realities of the situation in the schools actually are. The principal conclusions that the author makes are primarily that the work of the civil rights era is far from complete and that the failure to realize this has made people put up obstacles in the face of creating remedies for the shortcomings that exist in the American educational system. This book also strives to point out that by analyzing the rebuttals that have been made to ensuring full equality, Americans can come to understand the work that must be done yet to ensure equality. The author supports the conclusions reached in the book by presenting several cases she and others and OCR dealt with firsthand and showing how the prevalent attitudes she seeks to dismiss are wrong. The book itself is well written and discusses several institutions and concepts that generally do not receive a lot of press coverage in the United States such as Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Department of Education’s OCR. The author’s position in actually working with the cases mentioned in the book gives the book added authority but also at times does reveal bias. The author’s defense of the OCR while she was working there does not have the same feel as it would have had if the OCR was analyzed a third party writer with no ties to the agency. In overall terms this book is extremely effective in getting the message out to its intended audience. The book’s room for improvement lay in making the book a little longer by about 50-100 pages with more analysis on different subjects.

American courts struck down the separate but equal laws in schooling in 1954 and The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. Despite how long ago these measures were taken there is still a lot to go into ensuring that American public schools are equal for all. By pretending or dismissing this assertion it does not ensure that the public schools have equality. This is the very message that Mica Pollock is making and one that must be taken to heart by all Americans.

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