Chapter 4- Race Lessons This chapter follows Dalton through his first academic experiences where he is introduced to the concept of race through personal experiences. In his first classroom experience his mother was given the choice of enrolling him in a predominantly Black, Puerto Rican, or Chinese class. He describes the fact that his mother was given the choice of which class he should join be stating, “The choices our race gave us were made quite explicit- by a government institution, no less. “
His mother chose the classroom with predominantly black students, but he was later moved to a predominantly Chinese classroom due to his clear discomfort with being singled out by his teacher for being the only white student. In order to enforce discipline in the classroom the teacher in the black classroom hits the students on the back of the hand using a ruler, however because he was a white student, the teacher was not comfortable using this type of discipline method with a white child (“… took it for granted that a black teacher would never cross the racial line to strike a white student. “).
His mother visits the school and suggests that none of the children should be disciplined in this manner, but the administrator then explains that many of the black parents “prefer” that their children are disciplined in this manner and that maybe Dalton would be more comfortable in the “Chinese” class. In public school, Dalton begins to realize the difference between race and that “race was not mutable, like a freckle or a hairstyle; it defined who looked like whom, who was allowed to be in the group- and who wasn’t… we (him and his sister) had no idea that we belonged to the majority group, the privileged one…
I had yet to learn the privileges that attended whiteness. One month in public school would fix that. ” During his time in the Chinese classroom the teacher tried to integrate Dalton into the culture, which he generally accepted as his own as much as he could. He uses the experience to differentiate between the concept of race and ethnicity where he says, “It would have seemed absurd if the black teacher had tried to integrate me into that (black) class. Racial groupings were about domination and struggles for power; what’s more, race arriers were taken as both natural and insurmountable. ” Dalton says that although he got along with the other students, at times he was made uncomfortable by teachers by being singled out for being different. “Teacher’s usually did a good job of ignoring the fact that one kid was shorter than another or another was fatter, but it was they, not the other students, who made my skin color an issue. The kids had only picked up on the adult cues and then interpreted them. Moreover, height, weight, and other physical characteristics were relative states.
But being white was constructed a as matter of kind, not degree. ” He describes his social relations with his classmates as predominately a school relationship. He says, “I must have already started to segregate myself culturally, since it never even crossed my mind to invite any of the kids home with me after school. I found this part of the chapter to be very relatable to my own childhood. I grew up in California, the daughter of Libyan exiles. I had never been outside of the United States in my whole life and my only real world awareness was mainly limited to California.
As a child, because I physically did not look like a typical American child at the time and had a foreign name, I was always singled out by teachers to speak for my culture, religion or ethnicity whenever the subject presented itself. I always felt like the trophy Muslim/Arab child even though at the time I just saw myself as just another child. I don’t imagine this was ever done to make me feel different or singled out, however as educators we need to be aware of how much influence we have on how our students react to each other and how they feel about themselves.
We reflect our thoughts and perceptions on them, and if we are not aware of this impact, it could have a categorical impact on our students and how they develop in the future. He then delves into the politics Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, one of the cornerstones of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, and how it provided federal funds for students from economically distressed areas. Title I made it possible for his mother to register him in a new school in a better neighborhood by claiming to live in the district nd then in October revert to their original addressed and have bus service to the school from the projects. Unfortunately he finds error in its structure because one law gives funding to underfunded school districts while another one takes it way by allowing students to find ways to register in other more privileged school districts. He says, “Title I kids, as we were called, benefitted by getting better educations, while the schools themselves won out financially.
The losers in the arrangement were the local schools, which lost not only funding but also the students whose parents enjoyed the most ‘social capital,’ that is, connections. ” In the book he describes this as a common situation, although I saw it as a realization that even in education there could be corruption and an abuse of the system in place that is there to help underdeveloped schools get extra funding in order to help a group of students that has been marginalized. Even among the marginalized, there seems to still be an elite group that enjoys privileges that others do not!
The chapter ends with Dalton attending a new school that is in a better neighborhood/school district. He looks back at the experience describing it as, “… I was propelled off the life trajectory shared by the other neighborhood kids and catapulted into New York City’s middle and upper classes. My life chances had just been taken a turn for the better, but my sense of the order of things– that is, the pecking order of race and class– was about to be stood on its head. “