Education as the great equalizer

4/13/2023, 6 p.m.
“We have come a long, long way, but we have a long way to go.”

“We have come a long, long way, but we have a long way to go.”

Those words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. more than 65 years ago at an NAACP rally still ring true today.

His words come to mind just a few days after the anniversary of his assassination on April 4, 1968.

Our community has plenty of progress to celebrate.

In doing research, one striking example of that forward movement involved Black women.

In 1940, 60 percent of employed Black women worked in domestic service; today, fewer than 2 percent do, while 60 percent of working Black women hold white-collar jobs.

Black people are a constant presence as candidates for public office, on college campuses, on athletic fields, in entertainment and a host of other fields.

One need only drive through several Richmond area neighborhoods where Black people live, attend school and worship.

We have come a long way from the days when just a scant 5 percent of Black men were engaged in white-collar work of any kind, while the majority made do with ill-paid, insecure manual jobs.

In March, the unemployment rate for Black individuals dropped to a record low of 5 percent.

There are plenty of challenges and issues, not the least of which is the level of gunfire in our communi- ties. Disparities in health and longevity still plague Black and Brown people.

But there remains an inexplicable disparity that would appall Dr. King and calls for greater attention – the persistent and unresolved educational gap between Black and white students.

We have many examples of educational success. But in general, results on measurement tests show a significant gap between Black students and white students in math, science, reading and writing.

Between the 1960s and 1990s, educational measures showed dramatic learning gains among Black students.

Somehow that progress has stalled. It is as if there is less faith in learning and education, which Dr. King regarded as the great equalizer.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s report card on what students know in elementary and secondary schools, continues to show a gap of 20 to 30 percentage points in scores for Black students compared with their white counterparts.

Others have called education the civil rights issue of our time. Word knowledge, reading comprehension, reasoning and math skills affect job opportuni- ties that increasingly demand specialized skills and technological savvy.

Unless everyone has come to believe that Black children cannot learn as well as white children, this continuing disparity is cause for alarm.

It starts at home. Parents are the most important educators. We remember our own parents taking action if we did not earn good grades. And in those days, good meant excellent. Attending class, paying attention, completing homework assignments and following the teacher’s instructions not only were demanded, but expected. Parents, particularly mothers, knew they would be in trouble with their child’s teacher if they did not attend parent-teacher conferences or show up for PTA meetings.

Yet, learning is a personal thing. No matter how hard they try, none of our teachers can take the knowledge they have and transfer it through some kind of mind meld.

If our progress is to continue as Dr. King envisioned, it is time to drop the excuses and to reinstate the importance of reading, writing and arithmetic. If we want our children to succeed, then this must become our top priority.