Bettina L. Love: The Lies America Tells Itself About Black Education
Bettina Love, writing at Education Week, looks past the obvious spoken attacks on education A Nation At Risk and suggests there was something else behind them.
Although the report said little about race, in America, it did not have to. Immediately following its release, Heritage Today, a publication of the conservative Heritage Foundation, covered “A Nation at Risk,” stating,
“The most damaging blows to science and mathematics education have come from Washington. For the past 20 years, federal mandates have favored ‘disadvantaged’ pupils at the expense of those who have the highest potential to contribute positively to society. … By catering to the demands of special-interest groups—racial minorities, the handicapped, women, and non-English speaking students—America’s public schools have successfully competed for government funds, but have done so at the expense of education as a whole.”
Heritage Today said out loud what “A Nation at Risk” could only imply.
The report created a faux national crisis to usher in the right’s education agenda. Prominent scholars Bruce Biddle and David Berliner wrote, “‘A Nation at Risk’ merely gave public voice to charges about education that right-wing ideologues had already been telling one another.” They note that it was all a “politically inspired hoax.” But it did not stop there.
“A Nation at Risk” was propaganda used to merge education with the attack on Black lives under the Reagan administration. The report was released a year after Reagan manufactured another crisis, the War on Drugs, which many have called a War on Black People. The War on Drugs and “A Nation at Risk” worked in concert, providing cover and encouragement for the labeling of Black children as crack babies and Black young people as thugs and superpredators.
“A Nation at Risk” also laid the foundation for one of the most punitive education reforms of the last 40 years, the No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB allowed officials to punish schools through closings, funding cuts, and the firing of teachers and school administrators. In short, education and crime reforms worked in unison, spurring the disposal of Black children without a pang of conscience and ushering in the emergence of high-stakes standardized testing that pushes students out of school, the DARE program that functions as the education arm of the War on Drugs, charter schools like KIPP where the strict discipline of “no excuses” functions like zero tolerance, “broken window” theories of criminology, metal detectors, police patrolling school buildings and arresting and assaulting students, and truancy laws that fine parents and in some cases put them behind bars.