Racism in Schools is Overstated


By Mitch Pearlstein ** November 8, 2015

I won't say it doesn't exist.  I will say that an excessive focus on it is an obstacle in addressing very real achievement issues.

When people say they believe a particular institution is racist, or are convinced that they their children or others have been treated unfairly for reasons of color --by educators or the police or anyone else -- I'm in no position to disagree with what's in their hearts.  My history is not theirs; their shoes are not mine, and if that is what they sincerely believe, that is what they sincerely believe.

What I can do, however, if I disagree with their views about the presence or power of race in particular situations, is to explain, with full appreciation for centuries of sinful American history, why I believe their arguments are faulty on the facts or excessive in gravity.

For instance, I don't believe the Minneapolis Public Schools, for all their troubles and shortcomings, are choking miasmas of institutional racism.  Big-city school districts tend to be as "enlightened" and "correct" on matters of race, gender and the like as any institution.

Many students are doing poorly and dropping out, not because of any embedded racism, but because they don't take their schoolwork seriously enough, and because too much family breakdown in the Twin Cities means that too few homes are sufficiently conducive to academic effort and achievement.

More broadly, I agree with a colleague who argues that while racism in Minnesota and the United States is wide, rarely is it any longer deep.


It's difficult to think of anything less likely to improve education in general and the achievement of minority and low-income children in particular than ceaselessly dwelling on race.  For how many decades has virtually every issue in Minnesota and American education been funneled through prisms of "diversity" and "multiculturalism"?  And for how long have such preoccupations been party to not nearly enough kids learning how to read, write and compute adequately?

The lesson here is simple:  Making the revamping of society a prerequisite for educational progress is futile.


In regard to the desegregation suit filed [earlier in November] against the state of Minnesota, and with seemingly perfect anticipation, economist Benjamin Scafidi of the Friedman Foundation wrote just last month that "the existing evidence on private school choice programs in the United States indicates that those policies have led to greater racial integration in schools."

To read Mitch Pearlstein's article in full, please click on this link