Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Consequences of Social Reproduction in American Urban Schools

The Consequences of Social Reproduction in American Urban Schools
By Hakim Shahid, Ph.D.

Out of the darkness…
I was born and raised in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. Like many of my peers, my parents worked at one of the “Big Three” automobile factories. Growing up, my parents would always instruct us that gaining a good education was the only way we were going to make something out of ourselves. I did not heed this advice in elementary or middle school. I found school boring and could not relate it to life in my neighborhood. Because of my apathetic attitude toward school, I was retained in the seventh grade. This was a wake-up call for me to take school seriously. Not because I saw the importance of gaining a good education, but because I did not want to disappoint my parents any further.
In high school I had my academic awakening when I received the highest marks in all my content area subjects and won several scholastic awards. Unfortunately again, I did not do this because I understood the importance of a good education. I did this to go to college because I did not want to stay at my after-school job selling shoes. It would be in my higher education courses that I realized the importance of education.

…Into the Light
As a science teacher working on my Master of Education degree, I realized while teaching in a predominantly African-American school district that all the information others and I received in urban schools was from a Euro-Anglo perspective. Even if the information was based on fallacy (e.g. Columbus discovering America; the savage African myth; Independence Day; Lincoln emancipating the slaves; Europeans as the creators of science, math, and language; and so forth…) it was still taught and expected to be retained by the students. This realization led me to many long discussions with my professors about the lack of diversity in classroom lessons in urban America. Every meeting ended with my being advised to make sure that for the time being, I teach this information to the students of my class to ensure they received a “balanced” education and until one day I can create and administer educational policies that promote multiculturalism in all classrooms.

Today, armed with a Ph.D. in education, I realize that I am taught and well versed only in educational theories and practices from a Eurocentric perspective. Yet, a White doctorate can go through their entire academic career and learn very little (or absolutely nothing) of another cultures’ perspective and they are stilled considered “knowledgeable and well-educated.”
Then I had a catharsis. Maybe school was so boring to me was because my culture’s contributions were absent. The only time my culture showed up in my lessons was as slaves and an oppressed people. And to add insult to injury, the culture that enslaved my ethnic group and propagated these myths were viewed as the standard of high intellect. Now, what African American student would be excited learning this type of curricular knowledge for twelve years or more? It seemed to me that this type of schooling had a silent purpose of making some people in this country feel inferior while creating a sense of exaggerated pride in the other which Henry Giroux aptly called social reproduction.
In social reproduction, schools are used to produce passive workers (minorities) for the market economy instead of future leaders, thinkers, and entrepreneurs (mainstream majority). In other words, to maintain the high status of people of European decent and the self-defeating apathetic attitudes of people of color, White students overtly and covertly receive a steady diet of positive, empowering information reinforcing and sustaining special privileges while minorities are given the same information to amorally admire. In addition, socio-economic exclusion, unequal schooling, and social reproduction are code words describing facets of racism. Because there is a plethora of literature and commentary on racism and how it is practiced in the United States of America and abroad, I will only explore the psychological and definitive nature of racism and capitalism that exists in both dominant mainstream and oppressed minority groups that is the life force for this type of racial exclusion to subsist.

Racism: Defined and Explained
Racism as an institutionalized system is a system fed by the socio-economic, political, and cultural practices of two types of participants: the oppressed people and the people who oppress them. In other words, a dominant group of people in society is self-garnered with certain rights and privileges that are not enjoyed by the minority sector. According to writings by Louise Derman-Sparks & Carol B. Phillips, in the United States of America the White race is considered the victors to the hierarchy of societal privilege. As a result, the other citizens of the country: African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Asian-Pacific Americans, and Native Americans are relegated to the lower tiers of the oppressed.

This is the category that I found myself to be included in alongside my ethnic counterparts. It is here that people of color are subjected to institutionalized exclusion from rights set forth by the American Constitution. This exclusion is based on one or more of the following: the color of a person’s skin; the gender of that person; the ethnic culture a person belongs to; and the socio-economic tier a person resides in among other societal differences.

The Capitalist Premise behind Racism
If racism is the mother who gave birth to the inequitable elements that comprises American citizenry, then capitalism is the grandmother who bore racism. Racist practices are as old as humanity itself. The seizing of a people’s land by another to gain access to their riches and resources can be seen throughout history. Racism from this infancy stage would grow to prominence during its adolescent stage in the 17th century. It is here that the introduction of human slavery of Africans served as the catalyst for the most successful capitalist system the world would ever know. The dominant mainstream society exploited the bodies and talents of its ethnic classes by importing the Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean for labor; exterminating the Native Americans who showed the American “settlers” how to live off the land; using Asian labor to build railroads and mine for gold; and presently using the Mexican people as a means of generating products and services from their “cheap labor”. In essence, the dominant mainstream society became richer while setting up policies and practices to keep the ethnic people of color in a subservient condition.
This capitalist frame of mind would serve to physically project the economic prowess of its practitioners and the socio-economic despair of its oppressed. There would lay ahead a psychological genesis in the attitudes, psyche, and actions of all involved that would further propagate a malicious thread that would for centuries hold together the fabric of American society.

To insure the future status of its progeny, mainstream society created schools to produce its future mainstream as leaders and the “movers and shakers” as well as the future minority-laced staff to work for them which according to Henry Giroux is the ideology behind social reproduction. It is therefore my belief that social reproduction, as a systematic practice, is manifested when contemplating the scholastic nature of urban schools across America.

The problems students of color and I in our locale experienced in school are the same problems experienced by students of color from urban school districts in Ohio, Texas, Georgia, New York, and California, to name a few. This is more than a coincidence and easily explained through the process of social reproduction that guarantees the success of a certain part of our society in a capitalistic system while processing the low self-esteem and academic hopelessness in other factions of society.

Dr. Hakim Shahid is the Science/Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator for Detroit Edison Public School Academy District and an adjunct professor at Marygrove College. He holds a Ph.D. in Reading Education; a M.Ed. in Educational Administration; and a B.S. in Biology and Chemistry. He has presented at national education conferences and lectured at universities across the United States and abroad. For inquiries regarding availability for presentations and workshops, contact Dr. Shahid at haklife22@aol.com.


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Education is a mechanism for social control. Too often teachers do not question the texts before them and they transfer this passive approach to education onto youths.

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