What do Civil Rights have to do with Deeper Learning?

Students need and deserve to be educated under the conditions that make rich learning possible - at the foundation are safe and healthy communities in which they find well-resourced, inclusive, and affirming schools; competent, caring teachers; and a high-quality curriculum. Access to such opportunities, however, remains inequitable. 

From the time Southern states made it illegal to teach enslaved people to read, through the 19th century and into the 21st, racially and ethnically minoritized students have faced both de facto and de jure exclusion from the nation’s public schools. 

This book describes key civil rights foundations that have been — and continue to be — essential to paving a path toward possibilities for deeper learning.

  • Quality Curriculum

    Deeper learning has historically been the province of the advantaged—those who could afford to send their children to the best private schools and to live in the most desirable school districts. Research on both inequality across schools and tracking within schools has suggested that students in more affluent schools and top tracks are given the kind of problem-solving education that befits the future managerial class, whereas students in lower tracks and higher-poverty schools are given the kind of rule-following tasks that mirror much of factory and other working-class work. To the degree that race mirrors class, these inequalities in access to deeper learning are shortchanging Black and Latino/a students.

    —Jal Mehta

  • Quality Teaching

    The experience of [high-performing] school systems suggests that three things matter most: 1 getting the right people to become teachers; 2 developing them into effective instructors; and 3 ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.

    —Michael Barber and Mona Mourshed

  • Safe and Inclusive Schools

    I dropped out of school—actually they kicked me out because I didn’t want to give them my hat. It was real zero tolerance! I was expelled for defiance for putting a hat in my backpack instead of giving it to them. And I had had bad experiences since preschool so it was easy for me to be like “[Forget] this.” As a teenager, I was thinking, “You don’t care about us anyway. You just get paid checks per student in a seat.”

    —Darius Robinson (pseudonym)

  • A Well-Resourced System

    In 1965, Arthur Wise published an article challenging the constitutionality of school finance schemes that produce radically disparate per-pupil expenditures within states. Arguing that such unequal spending leads to unequal educational opportunities, he suggested that this might constitute a denial by the state of equal protection under the law. A number of lawsuits were filed on these grounds, and the first major success occurred in 1973…

    The Civil Rights Road to Deeper Learning, p33-34

  • Safe and Healthy Communities

    The laws that codify racial segregation have been eradicated but the practices continue today, which is why you get refineries, chemical plants and landfills disproportionately in communities of color. There have been four decades of studies documenting that it’s not land values or property values—the most potent variable is race. It’s the driver of who gets pollution and who doesn’t.

    —Robert Bullard

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