Educational culture leaves minorities behind

By Gus Bode

Carbondale, we have a problem.

We are operating in an educational culture that arguably could be labeled “passive,” and it has caused a racial divide in the Carbondale school system, which includes District 95 and District 165.

This passivity also has generated some disturbing educational trends for our elementary and high school students. There is no evidence that education has any profound influence on them. They are leaving the two districts with whatever they brought with them.


In 2003, 22 percent of black students in the Carbondale grade school population were assigned to special education classes. In the high school district, that figure was 30 percent. Combined scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests administered in grades three, four, five, seven and eight show that 80 percent of white students meet or exceed standards compared with 44 percent of black students. Analysis of combined scores on the Prairie State Achievement Examination for the past three years reveals that 77 percent of white students meet or exceed standards compared with 43 percent of African American students.

There is evidence that some students have a good chance of successfully navigating a passive educational culture, particularly those who might be called middle class, who come from professional families and who have received the type of opportunities that demonstrate that education remains one of the keys to success.

However, those students who have not reaped the benefits of the best of America – many of whom are racial and ethnic minorities – are going to have a much more difficult time.

In a passive educational culture, the paradigm of “blaming the victims” normally is employed to explain differences in performance, achievement and behavior. This paradigm proposes that all students enter the school system prepared to learn and that all are self-motivated and enthusiastic about their future. In this paradigm, school officials, particularly teachers, are believed to have little impact and only limited responsibility for students’ success. Their job is to provide guidance.

In an active educational culture, the paradigm includes more than parents and students. In this culture, such qualities as administrative leadership and teaching excellence are considered, as well as recognition that active intervention might be needed before some students are prepared to learn. In an active educational culture, the often-expressed sentiment “It takes a village to raise a child” is given more than lip service. The need for others – school board members, school superintendents and principals, teachers, city officials, parents, students, leaders and educators from SIUC- to be actively involved in the teaching and learning process would be recognized.

If Carbondale is to decrease the gap between black and white students, all of these groups must make a commitment to change the educational culture. Developing an active educational culture will not be easy, but it can be accomplished if the prerequisites of leadership, willingness, commitment and involvement are directed toward this issue.

Dr. Bryson is the Associate Chancellor-Diversity. Community Leader’s Forum appears every Thursday. These views do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Egyptian.