Whether you want to admit it or not, racism is a problem in schools across the country. Student journalists from PBS NewsHour's Student Reporting Labs in Oakridge High School in Conroe, Texas pitched us the idea to make a video exploring racism in schools. In the video, our host Myles Bess investigates different ways for students to resist racism and talks to some high school students from San Francisco's Lowell High School who are on the ground working to disrupt racism in their school.
TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices. Click to see this video and lesson plan on KQED Learn.
Is racism a problem in schools?
There are many different ways racism happens in schools. There are individual racist acts, like racial bullying, microaggressions, and biased thoughts. Then there’s institutional racism in which policies and rules discriminate against students of color. A rule or policy doesn’t need to be explicitly racist to be racist. It’s racist if it ends up impacting students of color more than white students. Examples can include dress codes that ban things like durags, dreadlocks, braids, or discretionary discipline policies. Students of color end up getting punished more for the same types of offenses as white students. And then there’s also systemic racism, where racism is deeply rooted in the structures of society. Examples of that include schools with large Black and brown populations tend to have way fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students. If racism wasn’t a problem in schools, then students of color and white students would have the same probability of attending a highly resourced school, graduating, getting suspended, or expelled. But the reality is that students of color, particularly Black and brown students are less likely to attend highly resourced schools and are more likely to get expelled or suspended. And that’s a consequence of how society is rigged against those students, not something innately inherent about that student’s race leading to these outcomes.
What are anti-racist school policies?
Schools can adopt anti-racism or equity policy as one way to help dismantle racism in schools, and create a school culture that actively fights against racism rather than passively maintaining it. These policies are designed specifically to confront racism head-on and help level the playing field so that all students have an equal chance to succeed in school.