Victim Blaming to Maintain the White Frame: Reflections from a Bronx Classroom

Part two. (Recall that along with a few other Middlebury College students, I spent my January winter term working in a public school in the Bronx. Our Education Studies Program coordinated this valuable learning experience outside of Middlebury’s “bubble.” However, I found this “bubble” not easily escapable; at each turn I found the racist pumps that keep it inflated and witnessed rapid “repairs” to any momentary puncture of its surface, those longing for the fresh air of a counter-frame silenced by the same dominant ideologies that plague the halls of my campus. The following is part of a reflection on my experience.)

Many of my students in the Bronx sleep with multiple generations of their family in the same room at night. Many at 11 years old have had to assume responsibilities that most at Middlebury are years away from having to worry about. Many cannot turn to family for assistance with homework because their parents come home too late after their second or third “menial” job. Some barely have time to think of homework at all when they come home burned out from work themselves. One student told me that after school she works five hours straight on her feet at McDonalds, dealing with perpetually rude customers for $7.20 an hour.

When students walk into the classroom they are blamed by teachers for “trying” to fail instead of empowered to challenge a society that has failed them: “At a certain point the teacher has done all we can do, it is not our fault, but yours. Going to summer school was not a badge of honor when I went to school, but maybe it is here.”

Who wants to engage in school when your community is disproportionately affected by social ills that your education does not prepare you to respond to? Who wants to learn when the curriculum fails to recognize your history and culture?

Louis Michael Seidman argues that Brown v. Board of Education did not radically change the face of education, but rather served to legitimate current arrangements: “True, many blacks remained poor and disempowered. But their status was no longer a result of the denial of equality. Instead, it marked a personal failure to take advantage of one’s definitionally equal status.” We must challenge this racist individual ideology that allows me to “deserve” to get to Middlebury and my students in the Bronx to “deserve” to fail.

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