The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

Sometimes one is just left breathless.

An analysis of Maryland’s High School Assessments shows that too many African-American students in suburban schools are in serious danger of not graduating because they have not passed the required tests.

Dunbar Brooks, president of the state board of education, rightly points to the analysis, by The Sun’s Gina Davis and Liz Bowie, as a “wake-up call” to black parents and students in Maryland that mere enrollment in a suburban school does not guarantee academic success.

The results should also serve as a stark reminder to educators around the state that there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that all students have a fair chance to fulfill graduation mandates.

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Let me go out on a limb here and make a really wild statement. The race of the students has nothing to do with their academic performance. Students are in danger of not graduating because they aren’t meeting the standards, not because they are black.

A second really extreme concept. Going to a suburban school has never been a guarantee of academic success, regardless of race.

Even as we speak, state schools superintendent Nancy Grasmick is pushing the idea “that students who repeatedly failed the test be allowed to submit an in-depth project as an alternative.” This notion cheapens the value of all diplomas issued by Maryland high schools and is a slap in the face of those students, but especially black students, who studied and applied themselves over the course of their high school attendance.

This is a perfect example of what President Bush was speaking of back in 1999 with his policy book called Renewing America’s Purpose.

Some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less – the soft bigotry of low expectations. Some say that schools can’t be expected to teach, because there are too many broken families, too many immigrants, too much diversity. I say that pigment and poverty need not determine performance. That myth is disproved by good schools every day. Excuse-making must end before learning can begin.

What we are seeing acted out here is exactly what President Bush alluded to. Black students have more difficulty in school than [fill in your favorite higher achieving race here], ergo we must expect less of them.

This type of belief is caustic to the notion of a color blind society, it is contrary to the American spirit, and it should be deeply offensive to all that hear it.



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