Black History Month in Michiana: The inequalities in education among communities of color and the future of students

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – In celebration of Black History Month, I sat down with Dr. Ernest Morrell, a professor of English and Africana studies and Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Letters Humanities Department at the University of Notre Dame to discuss issues in education facing underserved minority groups.

He dismantled each issue and discussed why there is such a jarring difference in education between schools in wealthier communities. He defines each issue into two categories: curriculum and instruction, like learning tools, coursework and modes of instruction; and structural inequalities, such as the quality of buildings and school resources.

Morrell explains that structural issues are a product of funding. Since funding varies by state, in some states, the fate of the school is decided by the community’s tax dollars, leaving poorer communities with less resources. These communities are typically communities of color like those that Morrell works with. The racial divide in educational funding can be traced back to redlining practices of the mid-1900s.

However, there has been some change in financial distribution that makes researchers and educators like Morrell hopeful.

Morrell breaks down how school funding should be distributed, as he describes a region as a “home with multiple children.”

“Some of the children in your house are wealthy, and some of the children in your house are impoverished… Everyone in the house has access to those resources, but in our education system, that is not the truth here.”

“I would say in the almost 30 years I’ve been involved with education, you can see a lot of improvement.”

He says that when structural barriers are removed, and the quality of education improves for every child, students achieve more, have higher confidence in themselves and engage in the community beyond their time in school.

He believes that students succeed most when they are supported by their community and they can reflect their world in their work. He encourages teachers to give students creative opportunities for literary learning, like learning through music or film. This allows students to learn and create projects that make sense to them.

He says that when the community invests in the kids and their quality of instruction and resources improve, the students excel. For educators, Morrell says their role in improvement is to flip the script.

“If we see them as resources and strengths and the young women and men that are filled with brilliance and possibility, we will relate to them in one way,” says Morrell.

“If we see them as problems that need to be fixed, will relate to them another way. Too often I think we look at our young people in the communities as problems and not possibility.”

Our Black History Month coverage will continue throughout February, which includes a second part to my interview with Dr. Ernest Morrell.

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