Race: Are We So Different? – Race and Education

By Museum of Us

The Museum of Us' Race: Are We So Different? Google Arts and Culture exhibit – Race and Education looks to understand how racism has been and currently is embedded in institutions such as education and schooling.

Race: Are We So Different? Exhibit (2020) by Alexander AdamsMuseum of Us

The Race: Are We So Different? exhibition was created by the American Anthropological Association. Their intention is to bring “together the everyday experience of living with race, as an idea, the role of science in that history, and the findings of contemporary science that are challenging its foundations.” The Museum of Us brought a live version of this exhibit to San Diego In 2015.

For more information about the American Anthropological Association’s project, please visit their website Understanding Race. For more information about the exhibit at the Museum of Us, please visit Race: Are We So Different?.

Race: Are We So Different? Exhibit (2020) by Alexander AdamsMuseum of Us

The Museum of Us invites you to now join our Google Arts and Culture exhibit, Race: Are We So Different? -- Race and Education, which is a companion piece to our Google Arts and Culture exhibit Race: Are We So Different?.

Please join us as we talk more about the complex relationship between racism and education, and more importantly connect these social issues to our everyday life and world. As we move through this exhibit together, we will focus on the historical segregation of schooling, the effects of standardized testing, racial disparities in education today, and social change.

Education Under Jim Crow

The segregation of schools was frequently enforced by law in the 18th and 19th centuries after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. For example, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that segregation was legal. Their infamous ruling argued that separation was constitutional as long as the facilities for Blacks and whites were “equal.” Subsequent Jim Crow laws helped maintain the segregation of residential areas and schools for the next sixty years.

Little Rock Integration (1957-09-04) by Francis MillerLIFE Photo Collection

In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that the segregation of schools was unconstitutional. The photo depicts people waiting in line for a chance to hear the arguments at this case.Their ruling stated that the segregation of schools was inherently “unequal” and deprived the plaintiffs of the “equal protection of laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.”

In 1957 the local court in Little Rock, Arkansas defied the Supreme Court ruling and refused desegregation. Governor Orval Faubus called the National Guard to prevent nine Black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, from attending Central High School. President Eisenhower responded by deploying federal troops to escort the students into the school and enforce desegregation.

The Civil Rights Movement by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Civil Rights Movement has made enormous gains in combatting discrimination and segregation. During the 1960s and 1970s, federal and state governments passed laws to mitigate the negative impacts of segregation. Nonetheless segregation in schools continues to be problematic, with some areas being as segregated today as they were sixty years ago.

Boston Public School Buses (2021-08-01) by Museum of UsMuseum of Us

For example, case studies of Boston, Massachusetts and Jefferson County, Kentucky highlight the complex struggle to desegregate schools today.

In 1974, the U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Garrity ruled that the Boston School Committee was promoting school segregation. He encouraged integration by ordering that Black children be bussed to predominantly white schools, and white children be bussed to predominantly Black schools. Garrity’s order was enforced until 1989, when it was replaced by the policy of “controlled choice” wherein the racial composition of schools mirrored the broader demographics of the city. In 1999 “controlled choice” ended and many white students migrated to suburban areas and enrolled in private schools, leading to increased levels of segregation.

Louisville, Kentucky School Integration (1956-09) by James BurkeLIFE Photo Collection

Jefferson County, Kentucky similarly struggles with high levels of racial segregation. The school district previously implemented a policy requiring the student body in schools to be racially diverse. In 2002, some parents of white children took the school district to court stating the policy violated their right to attend the school of their choice. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parents and the policy was ended. To learn more about the re-segregation of Jefferson County today, check out this NY Times article.

Edison Elementary (2020-02-11) by Adriana HeldizMuseum of Us

Standardized tests (tests created with consistent administering and scoring procedures) were designed with the intent of objectivity and fairness but often reproduce discrimination and segregation. The SAT, or the Scholastic Aptitude Test, is a widely used college admissions test in the United States. In 1934 Henry Chauncey and Carl Brigham began using the SAT at Harvard. After World War II, the SAT became the accepted college admissions test with the formation of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) by the College Board.

The SATs, like IQ tests, rest on the premise that standardized tests can objectively measure intelligence. Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man argues that intelligence cannot be measured by a single quantity, and can never fully encompass differences in humans and social groups. For example, questions on the SATs covering history focus solely on the perspective of the colonizers.

SAT / Race Quote (2021) by Kelsey PickertMuseum of Us

The SATs also attempt to measure intelligence regardless of educational background. Critics point out that testing is inherently unfair because not everyone has the same access to resources and therefore reproduces inequality. Lower income schools lack the same access to resources as higher income schools, particularly when it comes to access in test preparation for the SATs. Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities illustrates how many lower income schools were “overcrowded and understaffed, and lacked the basic elements of learning--including books and, all too often, classrooms for the students.”

Furthermore, there are also other numerous socioeconomic factors that impact standardized test scores such as “socioeconomic differences between students’ families, differences in parents’ educational levels, and racial or cultural bias built into the tests themselves.”

"Race: Are We So Different?" Exhibit Wall - Bus (2021-08-01) by Museum of UsMuseum of Us

The historical legacies of racism and segregation still have enormous impacts for American education today.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed by Congress in 2001 to overhaul the educational system and address issues of illiteracy, both in language and mathematics, in the US. It emphasized standards-based reform and expanded the role of the federal government in education.

Standardized Testing (2021-08-01) by Museum of UsMuseum of Us

While NCLB focused on closing the achievement gap in education, it relied heavily on high stakes standardized testing to assess student outcomes. High stakes testing shifts the focus of education from assessing everyday performance in different subjects to preparing students for an annual test focused on preset subjects. As the policy was implemented, many teachers were compelled to teach towards an exam rather than holistically explore student development and interests. The end result: children often became empty vessels for memorized information, rather than active creators of knowledge.

Additionally, NCLB was punitive and disproportionately hurt lower income schools and minority students. Poor standardized test performance was also cause for punitive action under NCLB, with underperforming schools receiving less federal funding, or threatened with closure, in favor of charter schools. With lower income neighborhoods already lacking funding from the state level, this system disproportionately punished minority students. The “Every Student Succeeds Act” of 2015 eventually replaced NCLB in trying to adequately address the education gap in the United States.

Race: Are We So Different? Lunch Table exhibit (2021-08-01) by Museum of UsMuseum of Us

In addition to institutional racism and inequality, we must be concerned about what goes on during school and in the classroom.

Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? addresses the continued issue of segregation in schools today. She observes the process of self-segregation in schools as students often connect with others who share similar life experiences as their own. She pleads for an educational system that openly address issues of race and cultivates an environment that challenges notions of racism. This includes challenging the “school-to-prison pipeline” that funnels many minority students out of the educational system into the juvenile corrections system, which has long benefitted private and for-profit prisons.

Educators also grapple with issues of implicit racial bias, which are the instant reactions people have of others based on their life history, societal prejudices and stereotypes, and the legacy of racism. It is vital to address these biases, which also include other social locations such as gender, sexuality, class, and citizenship status, in the classroom and how they affect student performance.

By Leonard MccombeLIFE Photo Collection

Colleges and universities ideally provide arenas for vital discussions on race, ethnicity, and racism. They provide a space for individuals and institutions to engage in open and honest dialogue between people of different backgrounds and beliefs.

Yet stark barriers remain for minorities in higher education. Minority students who attend college are challenged with the increasing cost of tuition, rising student loan debt, and balancing work/school life. Structurally, policies regarding affirmative action remain difficult to implement. Affirmative action (or policies intended to address racial disparities created through history) has remained highly controversial. For example, the Supreme Court ruled in 1978’s Regents of the University of California v. Bakke that racial quotas were unconstitutional but affirmative action was permissible. Since then affirmative action policies have been rolled back substantially in California.

Student Protest Yale (1965) by John LeongardLIFE Photo Collection

Jonathan Kozol believed that education and schooling still act as mechanisms in reproducing inequality today, but can also provide opportunities for societal transformation.

These changes can range from the individual level, such as changing teacher pedagogy and addressing issues in the classroom, to the institutional level, such as changing funding formulas in districts and enforcing equitable policies and initiatives.

Race: Are We So Different? Exhibit (2020) by Alexander AdamsMuseum of Us

Race impacts our everyday life and social world. The Museum of Us’ Race: Are We So Different? Google Arts and Culture exhibit unpacks the long history of racism in education and schooling by analyzing issues of segregation and standardized testing, and the impacts it has on America today. We hope that you will continue to learn more about race and racism to become agents for positive social change.

To learn more, there are additional resources at the conclusion of this online exhibit. You can also visit the Museum of Us’ in-person exhibit and our other virtual exhibits:
• Race: Are We So Different?
• Race and Social Stratification

Museum of Us Entrance (2020-08-03) by Kelsey Pickert (Photographer)Museum of Us

Reflection Questions:

1. What are/were the demographics of your school (such as cultural, racial, or socio-economic backgrounds)?
2. What was your experience with standardized testing? In what ways can we change these tests, or should we not have them at all?
3. Why do you think college is considered to be so important in our society? What are some barriers to accessing higher education?
4. How can we work towards a better future?

Nissan Foundation Thank You (2021-08-01) by Museum of UsMuseum of Us

Credits: Story

Developed by the Education Department at the Museum of Us, 2021

Thank you to all of the educators, community members, BIPOC relatives, and community organizations and partners who were generous with their time, energies (emotional and physical), expertise, and kindness. We are grateful for all of you and are able to do this work because of you.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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