Punished for Dreaming

I am late sharing my thoughts on Black History Month this year because I have been concentrating on our upcoming Social Work Day on the Hill and Student Advocacy Days. Each year, I look for history that helps me understand the current circumstances of black people in America. Two years ago, I had an awakening after reading W. E. B. DuBois’s Black Reconstruction America. Although he had been my longtime hero, and I had read books by him and both of his autobiographies, I developed a new appreciation for his contributions to society after reading Black Reconstruction in America. My understanding of today’s zeitgeist reached new heights. Put it on your list.

My muse this year is Dr. Bettina Love, whose new book, Punished for Dreaming, is making waves in the sea of education policy. She meticulously lays bare the systematic exploitation of black, brown, and poor children by the unrelenting enemies of public education whose profit-seeking promotion of school choice and charter schools denies millions of children the adequate education needed to pursue their dreams. Black children were particularly targeted and eventually became fodder for a carceral system that welcomed them with open arms. She tells the story about the backlash that followed the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that caused millions of white people to abandon public schools and pursue private education. Celebrated for reversing Plessy v. Ferguson and striking down the concept of separate but equal, the Brown decision led to the abandonment of public education by lawmakers and the evisceration of a cadre of black educators.

I learned of Dr. Love lying in bed in the early morning, unable to sleep as my mind raced through the day’s major developments as CSPAN droned in the background. Her captivating voice got my attention. It struck me that it had been a while since I heard someone speak with that level of passion and conviction. She was talking about education and black children, a topic of critical interest to me. I listened as the stories she told gave voice to millions who are seldom—if ever—heard. She was striking all the right chords. I grabbed my phone, bought her book’s audio version, and listened to it the following day. I emailed her after finishing most of the book. She responded and agreed to a Zoom meeting.

She opened my eyes to a new understanding of the devious and immoral ways education has been weaponized to destroy the dreams of black people for centuries. It was a crime to teach slaves how to read or write. Many bogus scientific theories and scams sought to convince America’s white citizens of the intellectual inferiority of Blacks and that spending scarce resources on efforts to educate black people was futile. One of the most egregious decisions by the Supreme Court occurred in1973 with its ruling in SanAntonio Independent School District v. Rodrguez when a 5-4 decision determined the Constitution does not guarantee a right to education and that the financing of public education with property taxes did not violate the 14th Amendments guarantee of equal protection. This has led to gross disparities in school quality between affluent and less affluent communities.

People are paying attention. Punished for Dreaming is a New York Times and USA Today best seller. Dr. Love, the William F. Russell Professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College and author of We Want to Do More Than Survive, is a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist. We share the belief that descendants of slaves deserve reparations for the educational abuse and exploitation perpetrated on black people. She takes to task the education policies of White House administrations from Reagan to Trump, including George Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top. She painstakingly quantifies the damage in her book, while I suggest we get legislation introduced to address the inequities. You rarely resolve problems with legislation, but a bill creates a platform for debate and discussion.

Dr. Love will be a special guest at CRISP’s Annual Awards Reception on Wednesday, March 13, at 4:00 p.m. in Room 2168 in the Rayburn House Office Building. Registration is required. Her voice will be heard. We must create a system of public education that adequately edifies all children. America will be the better for it. Black children deserve to be at the front of that line, having been systematically deprived of adequate education for centuries. That includes treatment for the trauma of that experience.

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