Kansas needs an equality curriculum for our public schools
The Kansas Reflector hosts opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Samuel Paunetto holds a bachelor’s degree in general sociology from the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, a master’s degree in theology from the Seminario Evangelico de Puerto Rico, and a master’s degree in clinical social work from Wichita State University.
I’m a social worker at the largest high school in Kansas. I can vouch for how the “Post-pandemic” the school environment was accompanied by a set of complex challenges. Studies show that many social determinants and other risk indicators are increasing at an alarming rate. This scenario puts a lot of pressure on public service agencies, especially schools.
Before COVID-19, figures related to the growth of systemic poverty, food insecurity and racial disparities in health were already high. It is common sense to think that the pandemic exacerbated all of these indicators. Conversations within our community of social workers point to a system that is broken and shattering at the seams.
Of course, this does not happen in a vacuum.
There is a historical context for these stories, and the common thread that can be identified in the background is most obvious: bad public policy. Kansas has a history of adopt bad social and structural policies, with a framework still influenced by Elizabethan Poor Laws. Good public policy is supposed to be informed by unbiased data collection and analysis, science and research that aligns with academic consensus. In Kansas, some of the major factors that inform public policy are rooted in feelings of anti-intellectualism and anti-academy, reinforced by a mixture of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism.
To make matters worse, white Midwestern culture denies the existence of systemic disparities related to racism, poverty, health and wealth. This racism is hidden under what is commonly called “Center-west of Nice“, camouflages our hateful belly.
All of this brings us to one word, equality, which is used a lot these days. Since the end of the civil war, our country has found ways to reject structural equality. He whitewashed and brought to light his own process of recognizing how deeply hatred is linked to the fabric of our culture. This has created a dynamic tension between those who are in denial systemic disparities and those who want to recognize our history and engage in restorative justice.
As a country, whenever this dynamic tension has peaked, we have enacted public policies in the form of civil rights. And each time, structures of white supremacy, patriarchy and bigotry have opposed these changes.
After the civil war, the era of reconstruction was severely hampered by religious conservatism. The same happened with women’s suffrage and civil rights activism. The mistake we make whenever we recognize new civil rights is that we don’t follow through on education.
In other words, we are not addressing the most important factor of inequality: ideology.
We ended slavery without making sure people were made aware of why slavery was bad. We endorsed women’s suffrage without addressing misogyny. We desegregated schools and signed the Civil Rights Act without teaching society about the evils of white supremacy and bigotry. Failure to tackle these superstructures of white supremacy, imperialism and settler colonialism has created a gigantic monster.
The consequences translate into significant systemic disparities. Systemic poverty and economic inequalities are at an all time high. The wealth gap has widened. Racial disparities in public health show constant differences in results which are simply inhumane. We are even seeing profound differences in the way climate change affects communities of color. we see shift, national migratory movements and other dangerous indicators. Our education system ranks below other countries in the developed world.
We ended slavery without making sure people were made aware of why slavery was bad. We endorsed women’s suffrage without addressing misogyny. We desegregated schools and signed the Civil Rights Act without teaching society about the evils of white supremacy and bigotry.
We have 32 million people who don’t know how to read or write in this country. In addition, 34 million people live under the poverty line, and nearly 100 million live slightly above the poverty line but close enough to risk falling below it at any time.
Education has become a commodity and our mission has turned to creating productive employees. Every year we reduce social science programs to adapt to a more STEAM oriented education. Without adequate skills in the human sciences, our society becomes less capable of interpreting our socio-historical and political reality. This situation, mixed with our untreated ideological superstructures, creates a deep and complex schism.
Our enemies have taken advantage of this weakness. The creation of troll farms online dedicated to the spread of disinformation a increases the presence of hate groups. It has also bolstered anti-mask and anti-vaccine groups during the COVID-19 pandemic and fueled the insurgency attack on the U.S. Capitol.
For those who deny the existence of systemic disparities, there are hundreds of studies that explore this topic. For example, Harvard University studied the effects systemic racism and poverty in the area of child development. Other medical researchers have discovered that from the first month of gestation, when the fetus develops a brain and spinal cord, the conditions associated with systemic poverty and racism cause extreme stresses which are transferred from mother to fetus.
This state of brain hyperarousal and hypervigilance directly affects brain development and learning. It also increases the risk of mental illnesses. This is one example among dozens that we could cite. Other examples relate to areas such as wealth accumulation, employment, hate crimesdiscrimination maternal and infant mortality rate.
The solution to this challenge is education.
We need a study programme who attacks these ideologies inherent in our culture and our history. The same ideologies that perpetuate exclusion and systemic disparities in our society. The same ideologies that inform bad public policies in Kansas. We need an educational program that paves the way for national reconciliation.
But reconciliation cannot happen without justice. As the saying goes, “there is no peace without justice”. This means that our response must place a justice-oriented framework at the center of our educational content. We are fed up with performative diversity and inclusion initiatives; we need initiatives rooted in restorative justice. We also need to create language that fosters conversations and builds bridges of grace and acceptance.
We need courageous policymakers, school board members, teachers, social workers and others to make their voices heard and increase civic participation and engagement. This challenge seems impossible, but just like at other times in our history, I am confident that those who believe in building beloved community will come together and change the world again.
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of those affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own comment, here.