Eliz Roser, MSW, is a Project Coordinator at the Center for Improvement of Child and Family Services at the School of Social Work at Portland State University. Prior to getting her MSW, Eliz was a 2nd grade teacher, managed out-of-school time programs in the Bay Area, and taught environmental education at a sustainable farm. Eliz’s areas of interest include anti-racist educational reform, meaningful youth and family voice, and community outreach through schools.
It’s kind of a gloomy time in Oregon right now. The weather is cold, rainy, and windy. Families are facing economic hardships while social services continue to be reduced. The racial achievement gap is a daunting and complicated problem. Schools are asked to achieve more with fewer resources. Hiring freezes are happening in state and local agencies.
We, as educators, social workers, and others who work on behalf of children and families, are very good at pointing out the problems. This isn’t surprising, as it is often our job to do this – to advocate, so that those in power are encouraged to make better decisions for our community. As programs and services are cut, and then cut again, and our jobs are on the line (or altogether eliminated), it’s hard to feel optimistic.
In 2005, I taught 2nd grade in East Oakland, California. I had enthusiastically accepted a teaching position at a school with a predominately African American and Latino community, where most families were living under the poverty line. As a young, white, middle class, female, I had little knowledge of the experiences of the families at the school, but I wanted to learn.
There was coursework in my credential program designed to teach me how to work with families. I learned that family members who were involved behaved a certain way – they would come into the classroom and help me staple papers, attend field trips with the class, and bring food to class parties. I was also told to expect that most parents wouldn’t return my phone calls or come to school-wide events. At the time, I didn’t realize that this style of family engagement wasn’t inclusive of all families.
I still think back to one student named Rachel. Rachel’s mother was raising seven children as a single, working parent. I had met her on the first day of school and was so excited to get to know her and her daughter. Throughout the school year, I did everything “right.” I called her to let her know how Rachel was doing in school, I sent personalized invitations home to school family events, and I made sure to offer plenty of time slots for parent-teacher conferences so she could attend. She never came. I was really disappointed and felt that Rachel’s mother just didn’t care about her education.
Eliz Roser a MSW student at Portland State University. Before entering the MSW program, Eliz taught 2nd grade in East Oakland, worked as an Area Executive Director for an educational company developing and implementing after school programs for students at low income and low performing schools in the Bay Area. She has also worked as a Program Manager for Girls Inc. of Alameda County, managing after school programs for girls in Oakland that promote self-esteem, STEM, healthy living, and academic achievement. Eliz’s areas of interest include anti-racist educational reform, non-profit development and management, and community outreach through schools.
Let’s get something straight. When we, the people who love to talk about education reform, are talking about educational equity and the achievement gap, we are talking about race and racism. School districts nationwide see glaring academic gaps between white students and students of color. From disparities in education funding to disproportionate numbers of students of color in disciplinary programs and Special Education, to the scarcity of authors of color in language arts curricula, public schools are entrenched in institutional racism.
Racism is a scary word for white people to say. It can be very hurtful to be called a racist, and talking about race opens us up to saying something that might be offensive to someone. When I first started thinking about my own white privilege, and the ways in which I have benefited in my life based on the color of my skin, I was embarrassed and ashamed. It’s uncomfortable for me because when I think about it, I know that I say and do things that are unintentionally racist all the time. I experience power and privilege that is immeasurable based on the color of my skin. I didn’t earn my privilege as a white person, but I have certainly benefited from it.
But the thing is, my discomfort with talking about race and admitting racism is nothing compared with what communities of color face on a daily basis. Because I am not personally subjected to racism, it is easier for me to take a stand against it. I have nothing to lose. As someone who is white, I have a personal responsibility to action. (more…)