Like many areas around the country, Michigan’s public school system is a mess. By one measure, the state’s high schools rank 29th in the country, with just 9 percent of districts adequately preparing its students for college.
While holding a Senate Education Committee hearing in Michigan, state Senator Marty Knollenberg (R) – whom serves as the vice chairman of the committee – decided this grim state of affairs was not his concern. He told the assembled group that it’s hard to save failing schools when there are so many minorities in them.
Having just been told that many schools in poorer areas fail, while richer ones thrive, Knollenberg seemed to draw the exact wrong conclusion about why that is.
“You mentioned why these schools fail. You mention the economically disadvantaged and non-white population are contributors to that. And, you know, we can’t fix THAT! We can’t make an African-American white. [grins] It is what it is. So we can’t fix that.”
Knollenberg appears to believe in the racist myth that black men and women simply cannot be educated as well as their white peers. For decades, this has been used to justify poor performance from predominately black communities, which lets educators and politicians off the hook for their own failed policies. It’s much easier to blame the kids themselves than wrestle with the fact that things like parental education, economic factors, and school resources all play major roles in determining a student’s ultimate educational success.
ATF Michigan President David Hecker was astonished by Knollenberg’s ignorance. He told Electablog:
What Sen. Knollenberg said about kids in struggling schools is racist and is a major step backwards in improving education for our children. If a child is struggling academically, it is not because of a problem inherent to their race or ethnicity.
Further, the problem of poor academic achievement in Michigan disproportionally hurts students of color and students living in poverty, however, the 2015 Michigan Achieves Report clearly shows that this crisis of downward trending achievement transcends race, income and zip code.
Research tells us what needs to be done to improve our education system and the absurd thought of changing a child’s race has nothing to do with any of it. Let’s stick to using research to improve education policy. Racist remarks only set us back.
One thing that isn’t going to help students – African-American or otherwise – is to know that one of the politicians tasked with improving the education system in Michigan thinks skin color, not his own policies, is to blame for struggling schools.
People of all backgrounds were not amused by the blatant racism on display. On Knollenberg’s Facebook page, voters have inundated his posts with calls for an apology or a resignation. Some are floating the idea of an impeachment.
Knollenberg has since “apologized” by saying people misunderstood and that anyone who “knew me” would “know I am not racist at all.” He also walked back the idea that race is the problem with low-performing schools. In the mean time, he has offered no real solutions to help the struggling schools he is so dismissive of.
Feature image via YouTube