July 28, 2021

Ray Salazar: Why white journalists need to stop focusing on ‘learning loss’

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Ray Salazar is a Chicago teacher and writer. In this piece for The Grade (Kappan Online), he breaks down some of the problems with coverage of “learning loss.”

People affected by news stories should find the reporting insightful. So it’s been disappointing that I’ve struggled to find insight or meaning or value in many news stories about how the pandemic affected teenagers in public high schools – especially in pieces written by white journalists.

So much of teenagers’ lack of success in stories about the pandemic and education that I’ve read remains grounded in whiteness, which, according to DismantlingRacism.org, is defined as “the idea that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions.”

In many stories supposedly investigating the “learning loss” because of the pandemic, readers come away with a superficial examination that only promotes perfectionism or catastrophe.

The ideas of perfectionism, closed-mindedness, and the obsession with objectivity generate news stories leaving readers misinformed and paranoid about what students lost during the pandemic.

My theory is that when journalists come from backgrounds where they usually found success in traditional systems — systems that perpetuate inequality — they report from that worldview, bypassing the insights that would be meaningful to people with a different reality.

The damaging part is that obsessing over the “learning loss” highlights misperceived student deficits and promotes views of inadequacy rather than strengths and a need for educational reforms.

Through this white lens, we see low-income Black and Brown students as a uniform group victimized by the pandemic rather than as complex humans whose experiences hold insights into how our educational systems and worldviews must change.

Post-pandemic, education journalists — especially white ones — need to report beyond the “learning loss” narrative and, instead, focus on helping readers understand how issues affecting low-income Black and Brown students must be addressed.

Read the rest of the piece–including two concrete suggestions for journalists–here.

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