Brookville, N.Y. - Long Island school principals and their counterparts in South Africa tackled the impacts of racism and economic inequality on education in a video teleconference at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University on Wednesday, June 22.
Educators from Cold Spring Harbor, Freeport, Elwood, Long Beach and other Long Island communities said students in mainly white, affluent communities thrived in school with the support of involved parents, while children from poor, mainly African American and Latino communities struggled. Educators speaking from Stellenbosch University near Cape Town, South Africa, said much the same thing.
The goal of the "Courageous Conversations Project: Interrogating Perspectives and Perceptions of Race, Poverty and Schooling in South Africa and the U.S." is to remove obstacles to learning posed by poverty and bridge the gaps between races.
The leaders of the project -- professor Arnold Dodge, chairman of the Department of Educational Leadership and Administration at C.W. Post, and Bert van Wyk, associate professor in philosophy of education at Stellenbosch University - have distributed surveys to hundreds of school administrators on Long Island and in South Africa to gauge the extent of the problem and begin to identify solutions. More teleconferences, site visits and tabulation of the survey results will take place in the months to come.
"We talk a good game in this country about equality, but when the rubber meets the road, I don't know if we're getting the job done," Dodge said. "The white enclave mentality is not going to serve our kids."
Since apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994, schools have been racially integrated, but school fees and entrance requirements often have the effect of excluding poor students from more affluent schools, van Wyk said. "Giving entrance to a few black learners doesn't constitute transformation," he said. The New York educators quizzed their South African counterparts about school uniforms, language barriers and teacher pay.
Long Island educators noted that students tend to self-segregate in school. "You have to seize every opportunity in the classroom so that kids will work together," said Donald Gately, principal of Jericho Middle School, where enrollment of Asian students has climbed from 7 percent to 31 percent in recent years.
"We cannot presume to change hearts and minds, but we can ask for common spaces where students are involved in working and doing things together, " said Yen Yen Joyceln Woo, an associate professor of education at C.W. Post. "If people can see the benefits of a multicultural educational experience, it can shift the conversation."