by Deborah T. Bucknam, Esq.
In 1899, poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a paean to White Supremacy, called “The White Man’s Burden”. In it he declared Brown and Black people of Africa and Asia to be “sullen peoples, half devil and half child”. This was typical of 19th century racism: Black and Brown people were inferior to Whites, uncivilized, incapable of achievement.
This racist ideology has permeated our public schools, universities and other establishment institutions and, as a result, is mortally wounding the future for Black American children.
It started many years ago with the educational establishment’s assumption that Black children were inferior in intellect and motivation, and therefore could not learn like paler skinned children. Black children’s lack of achievement was tolerated, and bullies and cheats’ conduct justified. There were always the excuses from the establishment: poverty, single parent families, lack of adequate housing, poor nutrition resulted in children unready or unable to learn.
It was the kids’ fault.
This is preposterous. Black and Brown children all over the world suffer far worse conditions and yet are able to learn. The 2019 Bhutanese movie “Yak in the Classroom” illustrates the yearning of children everywhere for knowledge and wisdom. It is set in a Bhutanese village high in the Himalayas populated by yak herders and their families. It is accessible only by a six-day trek by foot and mule. The school had no electricity, no heat, no blackboard, little paper, and only a few stubs of pencils. Yet the children could not wait to go to school every morning and learn. This kind of story repeats itself all over Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Today, the assault on Black American children has become more virulent. In the name of “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”, Black children are told they live in a “systemically racist” society, dominated by “White supremacy”. Children are told Whites are privileged and Black Americans are oppressed. This is not a dog whistle, but a megaphone to Black kids: you don’t stand a chance. Black kids are Kipling’s “half devil and half child”, incapable of achieving the American Dream, unless White Americans somehow shed their “privilege”—a concept never defined. A more hopeless message to children is not conceivable.
And this message is equally absurd. Two American institutions where competition is without equal anywhere in the world are dominated by Black Americans: the music industry and professional sports. Black American music is now world music, and American sports teams are followed by hundreds of millions worldwide. Black Americans who have been overwhelmingly successful in these two highly competitive arenas achieved their success, not just because of their talent, but because of their intelligence, hard work, and perseverance. Talent is never enough.
Even worse, instead of teaching and challenging Black children, the educational establishment is now pretending that merit doesn’t matter, that the virtues of integrity, hard work, perseverance; even nuclear families and healthy lifestyles, are part White culture, not Black culture—to be ridiculed and vilified. The message is clear: not only are Black children incapable of achievement, but they are encouraged not to even bother to try. This is the purest form of racism.
The results of these debilitating messages and unwarranted assumptions by the establishment are plain to see. Black children are not achieving in public school. Black student achievement typically ranks well below other students. According to 2019 statistics from the Vermont Agency of Education, by 9th grade, only 38% of low-income students are proficient in English Language Arts, and only one in five are proficient in math. Black students do even worse: by 9th grade, only 31% are proficient in English Language Arts, and only 14% are proficient in math.
What is the solution to countering this racist ideology that tells Black kids that they cannot—and even need not—achieve?
Instead of the educational establishment imposing its racist ideology on Black kids, parents should have the power to determine how their kids are educated, through school choice Determining what education that is best for kids should come from the bottom up, not the top down.
Black parents overwhelmingly support school choice. It is not difficult to see why: according to Dr. Thomas Sowell, based on his careful and extensive research on educational achievement in New York city schools, he found that in 2019, at city charter schools, 57% of Black students and 54% of Hispanic students were proficient in English Language compared with 52% of White students statewide, and 59% of Black students and 57% of Hispanics at city charters were proficient in math against 54% of White students statewide. Black children’s scores were higher than both Hispanics and Whites when they had the chance to attend a school of their choice. Compare that with Vermont’s scandalously low scores for Black children in the same year.
Black power and parent power are the only solution to a top heavy, expensive, bureaucratic establishment which has failed the kids their members are paid to teach and support.
Deborah Bucknam is a lawyer who lives in Walden and former vice chair of the Vermont Republican Party. She was also the 2016 VT Republican candidate for Attorney General.