Why are people not more upset about the achievement gap than the field trip?
When Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz, Costa Rican-American astronaut, came to the University of Michigan for Space Day many years ago, I took my children to hear him speak.
With a name like Chang-Diaz, I was pretty sure he must be part Chinese, and I wanted my children to meet a multiracial Chinese-American astronaut so that they could see with their own eyes that it was possible.
A little embarrassed to be asking something so personal, we waited until after the Q&A, but he smiled when we asked, and he told us the story of how his grandfather had come to Costa Rica from China. There was something very sweet and intimate about that moment and, not surprisingly, his message to my children—third-generation, multiracial, bilingual, and part-Chinese like himself—was different than his message to everyone else. He emphasized the importance of understanding different cultures and languages when one is in space working with astronauts from other countries.
When Dr. Sally Ride came to town for her great Sally Ride Science Festival for Girls, we also went to meet her. Again, simply to let the children see with their own eyes that women could be astronauts if they wished, to hear a woman talk about the importance of math and science—and then let their imaginations take it from there.
I have been slow to respond to the Dicken Elementary School field trip controversy because I have been so perplexed by the anger in people’s reactions. Reading through the comments after every article about it has been so painful, so personal, that I can only read a few at a time.
Remember, this whole thing was about a group of students who came together at lunchtime to support each other and build community in the face of a staggering achievement gap, to form a foundation upon which to help and get help from their peers, to meet someone who looked like them who had succeeded—the main purpose, to improve academically.
Small groups, peer-based support, older students helping younger students, role models, exposure to what is possible—that is exactly what I do for my own children to help them beat the statistics and stereotypes waiting for them. Why such anger?
However, what I do not understand is why people are not more upset about the achievement gap. That is the real problem. How long have we had this achievement gap in Ann Arbor? Twenty-five, thirty-five years? Enough time for children to grow up here and have their own children back in our schools. That is the real reason people should be angry—not that thirty African-American students met a scientist. The achievement gap is striking because it cuts across socioeconomic lines and plagues all our schools. If the color of one’s skin really did not matter, then there would be no achievement gap, no earning gap, no glass ceiling, no under- or over-representation.
Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts writes heartbreakingly about a mother brought to tears by a CNN test revealing her Caucasian 5-year-old daughter's untaught bias against African-Americans that the mother naively did not think would be an issue in this age of Oprah and Obama. We are all affected.
Racism is not just white guys wearing white hoods. More often it is subtle, and lies in a glance, a gesture, a joke. Its effects can also be subtle—an insecurity, a harder road, a dream never pursued. We can convince ourselves that race is no longer a problem, and we can pass Proposal 2. However, the achievement gap is telling us something is wrong. Listen.
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of IMDiversity.com Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for AnnArbor.com, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at franceskaihwawang.com, her blog at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com, and she can be reached at email@example.com.