From what we have seen over the past several weeks, the COVID-19 virus, as a pathogen, does not discriminate. The decisions we make in response to the pandemic, however, have differential effects. Take for example Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s decision to close all public schools for the remainder of the school year and allow each district to “handle” instruction as they see fit. CGEST understands this decision stems from the hope to decrease the spread.
This is an admirable intent. Yet, there are serious structural issues that we fear will not only deepen the educational debt Gloria Ladson-Billings explained the system owes to these disenfranchised communities, but will ensure a long-lasting, potentially irreparable divide.
During conversations with CGEST teachers, school district administrators, and library partners across the nation, topics about the homework gap, parental engagement, and teacher support have come to a head. Let’s look at the following:
Children from African American, Latinx, and/or low-income households are more likely to lack broadband access. Additionally, a 2019 report to the FCC clearly indicated only “46.6% of housing units on rural Tribal lands have access to that service [25/3 Mbps broadband service], a nearly 27-point gap compared to nonTribal rural areas.” Moreover, about 25% of low-income students lack access to a home computer . Latinx teens are the most likely among White, Black, and Latinx adolescents to say they do not have an at-home computer. So, despite well-intentioned efforts to curate and provide online resources, webinars, google classrooms, and virtual activities for students, these efforts miss the point an intersectional lens reveals: The long-term power imbalance that has plagued our educational system cannot be ignored in the pursuit of short-term solutions.
A disproportionate number of service employees (eg. restaurant workers) are African American and Latinx . As more and more of these individuals are laid off, the few who remain MUST leave their homes to work. Already, African American, Native American, and Latinx households experienced a terrible decline after the 2008 recession. Without understanding how the unique challenges are a result of intersecting forms of oppression, how can we reasonably expect parents, already stressed with economic woes and the real prospect of financial ruin to homeschool their children?
On average, teachers in rural communities get paid less than their urban and suburban counterparts. Urban educators also lag behind their suburban counterparts. Add to this that rural educators , under the best circumstance, have limited access to high-quality professional development. On the flip side, urban schools are often the targets of initiatives requiring a hodgepodge of professional development that is uncoordinated. Now, these educators are asked to upskill their talents and become on-line pedagogues. Have they been given sufficient professional development or increase of pay to ensure their success? The time seems ripe to support intersectionality’s call for cross-community collaboration towards intentional action.
Photo: Dr. Kimberly A. Scott, Executive Director & Professor