Monday, February 25, 2013

Three Quotes on Identity and the Achievement Gap

I'm pushing the limits of Fair Use but I wanted to post these for my own future reference.

Dr. Camika Royal on Asa Hilliard quoted in Please Stop Using the Phrase 'Achievement Gap'
One of Hilliard's most salient arguments is the notion that the so-called achievement gap between whites, blacks, and Latinos holds white wealthy students' performance as the standard of excellence without interrogating whether or not their performance is worthy of comparison. Instead of asking if how they performed is excellent, the inter-racially comparative nature of the "achievement gap" suggests that blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, special education students, and those receiving free and reduced-priced lunch should do whatever white students are doing.

Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez (originally from East San Jose!) in A "Gap-Gazing Fetish" in Mathematics Education. Problematizing Research on the Achievement Gap, p. 359.
...the (achievement gap) lens sends an unintended message that marginalized students are not worth studying in their own right—that a comparison group is necessary. Such a framing further engrains whiteness and middle-to-upper income as a norm, positioning certain students and their cultures as deviant.

Andrew Solomon in Far from the Tree

Background: Vertical identities are those identities inherited to some degree from parents. They may be genetic but also shared cultural norms. Horizontal identities are formed when someone has a trait foreign to his or her parents and must "acquire identity from a peer group." The book is about parents and children but I think you can also apply this to school relationships as well.

Most deaf children are born to hearing parents, and those parents frequently prioritize functioning in the hearing world, expending enormous energy on oral speech and lipreading. Doing so, they can neglect other areas of their children's education. While some deaf people are good at lipreading and produce comprehensible speech, many do not have that skill, and years go by as they sit endlessly with audiologists and speech pathologists instead of learning history and mathematics and philosophy. Many stumble upon Deaf identity in adolescence, and it comes as a great liberation. They move into a world that validates Sign as a language and discover themselves. Some hearing parents accept this powerful new development; others struggle against it." (pages 2-3)
Vertical identities are usually respected as identities; horizontal ones are often treated as flaws.(page 4)
Wondering how my teachers could have done this, I thought that someone whose core being is deemed a sickness and an illegality may struggle to parse the distinction between that and a much greater crime. Treating an identity as an illness invites real illness to make a braver stand. (page 13)
Three quick thoughts:

I used to think that our fixation on the "achievement gap" was a form of microaggression (see this post, this vid and this tumblr) but I've been underestimating the impact.

How much of our time is spent trying to 'fix' a student when what we're really trying to do is make a student more like us?

And with a nod to Dr. Gutierrez, I will give endless blog love to the first person who, in a staff meeting about the 'achievement gap', raises his/her hand and asks, "Yes. What are we planning to do to catch our White students up to our Asian ones?"

Thanks to Bryan and Raymond for the Gutierrez articles and for the Hangout and Grace for recommending the Solomon book.


  1. I wonder what substitutions we could make in the quote about children who are deaf and still have it work (by the way, I've started switching "deaf children" to "children who are deaf" because I like the emphasis of the statement better - it's on children instead of deaf).

    I think parents often over-emphasis one aspect of a child's development at the expense of another aspect.

    1. re: deaf children to children who are deaf.

      I know in my credential program we learned about "people first" language. Instead of saying "disabled person" you say "person with a disability". I try to follow that. I'm thinking though that in groups with a strong sense of community, such as the deaf community, it may be something that you would take pride in and would like the label first. Of course, as an outsider that's not my call to make.

      The quote about children who are deaf made me think of all of our remediation classes we give to kids for math and reading at the expense of electives.

  2. The achievement gap does not really get mentioned in my district. The concept is hugely everywhere, but the actual term is absent. I will totally be looking for it now, though, just to ask that question!

  3. Thanks -- I hadn't thought the "achievement gap" language through like this. My first reaction was to try to compare it to other similar language -- "wage gap," "employment gap", "health care gap." It's slowly sinking in that the latter "gaps" are deficiencies of money or services received by a marginalized group... not deficiencies in the group itself (!).

    I was especially interested Dr. Royal's link to an article by Gloria Ladson-Billings. They are both discussing the idea of holding our society accountable for the "educational debt" we have amassed... I'd be curious to know more about this.

    By the way, if you run out of things to do one of these days, I'd be curious to know your take on a documentary called "Schooling The World". I had a bit of a conflicted reaction to it, but appreciated the way it frames the exportation of education as the creation of a global "intellectual monoculture." Now if only the teachers could be genetically engineered like Roundup-Ready...