I have spent most of my college career talking about inequality in education. Many urban schools are underfunded, rural schools are under attended, students of color are less successful than their white peers. Thinking about Kozol’s Savage Inequalities (1991), there are schools in America that are physically falling apart. Inequality in education is a reality for many people but, fortunately, since I went to a good high school, I don’t have to worry about it. My school was well funded, had great teachers and lots of extracurricular opportunities, so those other, failing schools aren’t my problem, right?
Actually, inequality in any form is everyone’s problem; even people who are seemingly unaffected by it are part of institutional structures that perpetuate inequality. For example, public schools are segregated. My high school was at least 95 percent white, and one of the wealthiest, highest achieving public high schools in the Albany area. Directly adjacent to my school district was the Albany City School District which has many students of color and is one of the lowest achieving high schools in New York State by standardized test scores. Had the two schools integrated and bused across district lines, both schools could benefit. Yet, if this were proposed, parents and students in my school district would likely vote it down. Why would we allow students from the failing district in to our’s? Won’t they just bring down our test scores and the quality of our schools? In reality, there’s a lot more behind this hypothetical discussion than a bad school and a good school. There’s institutional racism and classism which have led to the lowest achieving schools being attended by students of color and lower class students. Not to mention school funding which is heavily based on home value. In reality, school integration is a very contentious issue but potentially beneficial for all.
An episode of the podcast This American Life explores this issue more in depth, but my point is that I am part of school inequality whether I realize it or not. I am part of a system that ensures that suburban schools are better funded than urban schools. Until I was forced to face this reality in my Colgate Educational Studies courses, I was content with the state of public education since it served me so well. I didn’t realize my position in perpetuating inequality. No, I didn’t directly prevent anyone from having a good education, but I have a duty to realize my privilege. As someone who wants to be a teacher, particularly in a high-needs environment, I need to understand the inequalities my students face. Just because the public school system benefitted me, doesn’t mean it benefits everyone.