JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Can we make schooling a part of our tradition?
My answer to the story was, “That’s a shame.” Well it’s a shame considering how hard this person worked just to be denied. If that was your son or daughter, how would you feel?
The affirmative action policy was adopted under President Kennedy in 1961. The policy maintained the idea that federally funded projects “take positive action” to ensure that recruitment and employment practices are free from racial prejudice. Most states still maintain affirmative action guidelines.
For me, affirmative action was created so everyone could start on the same starting line – it’s like running a race. I remember telling my Red Lake students that life is like a race and if you want to finish the race and be successful you have to run the race first. You can’t just be a spectator and expect to reap the rewards of those who choose to run. Unfortunately, Indians, African Americans, Asians and Hispanics have to start 10 meters behind everyone else. Why?
The boy I spoke of earlier suffered from the deeds of our ancestors and their ancestors, and in some cases even from the deeds of today’s Americans. For example, if all African Americans had been treated equally after the proclamation of emancipation, events like the Tulsa massacre may not have happened. Jim Crow laws would not have passed. Dixiekrats would not have formed. There would have been no need for Brown vs. Board of Education, where Chief Justice Earl Warren said, “Separate but equal institutions are inherently unequal” and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Ruby Bridges was attending school 61 years ago with four federal marshals when she was insulted by a white mob. Ruby was 6 years old and was supposed to attend the William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. As the first black student to go to school, Bridges carried integration on her little shoulders. The court argued that racial segregation created a sense of inferiority that was extremely detrimental to the education and personal growth of African American children. We now know that this applies not just to African Americans, but to all color students.
The abuse of Indians is well documented, from breaking contracts to abusing young Indians who are housed in boarding schools. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was unnecessary, and that too made it difficult for Japanese and Asians to equate to majority culture. As we know from recent actions, there is still abuse of Asians. We can also find reasons why women are still fighting for their rights. Hispanics are also facing an uphill battle for equality.
The big gap between blacks and whites persists in school achievement tests and graduation rates. It was never the same, not even close, with one exception.
I recently had a doctor’s appointment and the nurse who assisted had a very nice name. I asked her about it and she said it was Japanese. Then I asked her, “How do you explain the fact that Asians do better on proficiency tests and more students graduate with higher graduation rates?” She said, “I think it’s cultural.” In other words, it’s something that is part of them. Asians are expected to do well in school, stay in school (Asians have a dropout rate of around 2%), and graduate (95% of Asian teenagers graduate).
What is it about Asian culture that makes them finish the race ahead of everyone, even if they start 10 meters from the start line? Asians appear to be “protected” from many of the common factors that adversely affect educational outcomes, such as poverty and drugs, while making greater use of their Asian heritage. The Japanese nurse was right, it has to be part of her heritage, part of her culture.
What if we made education a part of everyone’s culture? How would we do that? And what do I mean by making it part of the culture?
We hoist flags on Memorial Day and July 4th. It’s part of our culture. We celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It’s part of our culture. We like soccer and baseball and have a good hot dog. It’s part of our culture. We enjoy parades, pizza and powwows and flower picking. It’s part of our culture. Halloween and Valentine’s Day are special for young and old, it’s part of our culture. Eating tacos and celebrating birthdays have a special place in our lives.
Yes, all of this is fun and easy to do, as opposed to 12 year old attending school, which most kids don’t see as a fun and easy thing. Because of this, we need to make high school graduation a part of everyone’s culture, just like it is with Asian Americans. Recently the Red Lake Tribal Council signed a proclamation in support of the 100% initiative and all graduates. They joined Bemidji, Blackduck, Northome, Gonvick, Clearbrook, and Kelliher to pass similar proclamations. Statements like these are exactly what needs to be done to make the degree a part of each and every one of us.
As parents or grandparents and as citizens who care for young people, we need to talk about graduation as much as we need to talk about moving, buying a Mother’s Day card, eating a hot dog, going to a powwow or celebrating a birthday. We need to give high school graduation the same quality in thoughts, words and deeds that we do for trick or treating or hugging your grandma. If we do, education will become an integral part of everyone’s culture and our graduation rates will skyrocket.
Riddle: A soccer player kicked a ball 30 meters. It stopped in midair, reversed direction, and returned to her. How could that be? (Answer: She just shot the soccer ball in the air.) Graduating 100% of our youth is not that difficult. We can reverse direction and get everyone to close if we all just try to make it part of our culture.
Thank you to all cities for making a proclamation in support of the completion and our goal of 100%. Thanks also to Country Side Pest Control and Four Pines Bookstore for joining over 400 other Project Graduate supporters.
Bemidji’s John R. Eggers is a former university professor and area director. He is also a writer and speaker.