Everyone in our society begins at different starting points. Children are shaped by the experiences, culture, and information surrounding them. This information is known as cultural capital. Although there is no such thing as “right” or “wrong” cultural capital, the type and amount of cultural capital a child has is critical in the success of a person in school and in life.
This is especially important for today’s youth who hope to succeed in school. Class inequalities determine who graduates, who goes to college, and who receives an education which, in turn, prepares them in the long-term. Consider the neighborhood a child’s family can afford to live in or the outlawed redlining that is subtly rearing its head. Are there any environmental impacts that inhibit them from going to school, such as lack of access to clean drinking water which makes them sick more often? What level of funding do the schools in the area get? These are all factors which impact a child’s ability to succeed, and influence their access to cultural capital. These inequalities hinder a child’s chances of succeeding in school.
It is easy to confuse equity and equality. Although they sound similar and interchangeable, they have different meanings. Equality questions whether each person has the same resources, such as if each student receives the exact same amount of school funding. Equity, on the other hand, focuses on taking into account the inequalities and asks whether or not students from disadvantaged backgrounds should receive more assistance to make up for their disadvantages. Every student deserves equal access to education and resources. However, it is important to acknowledge how many students require more resources just to even the playing field.
In a discussion with some of Sisu Academies very own leading members, I had the opportunity to gain insight into how race and equity play a role in education. Next Ed partners with Sisu Academy to facilitate community conversations, through these conversations they study the data and come up with solutions. Jabez LeBret (Chief Strategy Officers) felt diversity as a conversation reveals the impacts of institutional racism. He believes the school system is in need of a revamp, stressing how important it is to start from scratch. A review of the current school structure highlights how test scores are prioritized over the well-being of students. Test scores are directly correlated with school funding; if students fail to do well on these tests, their schools get less funding. The students who need the most assistance are penalized even further for not having the cultural capital and resources required to succeed.
Every student learns differently. A test is not an accurate way of gauging the success of a student. Instead, it is important to listen to the different voices in the community to actually get people to the table to discuss what they need. When the community is involved, it is possible to create programs for the very people impacted by the program. Thus a curriculum can be developed which caters to the very strengths, weaknesses, and cultural capital the students have.
In the educational model, funding is not the most important priority. Students are not just numbers. By tailoring a program to the students’ needs, our schools can better serve our students. Dedicated teachers can meet the needs of the students through meaningful training, with the flexibility to diversify their curriculum and determine the best way to teach each individual student. No matter the background of a student, it is possible to create a learning environment which allows them to thrive. This focus on equity can create massive change for generations to come by empowering students with knowledge and success. Although the battle for equity is ongoing, respectful community conversation today can pave the way for future change.
Written By – Jonathan Jimenez – Research Associate