During a recent discussion on education and race in America, panelists at an Aspen Institute conference all agreed that one critical key to closing the educational achievement gaps in minority communities lies with increasing the number of African-American and Latino male teachers.
Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, said that more aggressive attempts to achieve that goal would make a phenomenal difference for children who need to see people who look like them helping them grasp the value of learning.
But the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said at the symposium, which was called “The State of Race in America,” that teaching is not widely viewed to be as noble a profession as it once was and that the pay scale needs to be increased to make it more appealing.
“How do you convince them that teaching is a noble profession, but they’ll be paying for their education until their 40-years-old?” he asked.
Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College, said that there isn’t an education crisis in America, there’s an inner-city education crisis.
“When you go to Alexandria, Virginia, they’re not tripping. Their children are going to Harvard; everything is fine. But if you come to inner-city Washington, D.C., if you go to Ward 8, which is the poorest ward here in the District of Columbia, you will find challenges that are partially the function of a socio-economic dynamic that we don’t want to deal with,” Malveaux said.
She also urged a more holistic approach to teaching. Most teachers are good, she said, but it’s important to look at factors outside of the classroom that shape students’ lives.
The conversation later turned to the need of minorities to use their spending power to convince businesses that diversity in the workforce is a good thing. They spend trillions of dollars each year and deserve to get something in return. Lots of businesses have local diversity programs that are failing but shouldn’t be excused. Sharpton said that businesses must make an intentional effort to hire more minorities.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how they do anything else, so why do they need a rocket scientist to tell them how to deal with diversity? They have to intend to do it and they have to admit that a lot of the omission of doing business with Blacks, Latinos and Asians and employment and how it’s structured all the way up to their boards was intentional exclusion,” Sharpton said. “When we used to hear the debates about affirmative action and people said, ‘Why do we need a program?’ Because [you] had a program to exclude people. We have to counter the program you had.”
(Photo: Amy Davis /Landov)