John Quiñones said things about education that baby boomers of color depended on for the needed lift out of America’s ghettos and barrios.
“It was a lifesaver for me,” said Quiñones, ABC News anchor for the show “What Would You Do?” He spoke this month at the Downtown Marriott during the 120th Anniversary Benefit Dinner for the Mattie Rhodes Center. “The theory was the only way out of poverty is through education.”
It led the San Antonio native to graduate from high school, get his bachelor of arts in speech communications from St. Mary’s University and then a master’s degree from the Columbia School of Journalism, which enabled his broadcast career to take off.
But urban schools aren’t the launchpads to college and careers that they once were. That assessment came from Angela Davis in a speech last fall at the National Association for Multicultural Education convention in Oakland, Calif.
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Davis, an author, 1960s radical and professor emerita at the University of California-Santa Cruz, said that too many schools today “play crucial roles in the prison industrial pipeline” for African American and Latino students. “Schools in poor neighborhoods look like juvenile facilities,” she said.
Many school routines include backpack searches for weapons and students being mandated to walk through metal detectors. The procedures are a lot like “regimes of punishment rather than learning,” Davis said. That’s in addition to many schools being staffed with security personnel and police officers. Now states like Missouri allow designated teachers and other educators to have firearms in schools.
Authorities say it’s for safety, but it makes schools feel like scary places. Kids feel criminalized as if they are on lock down in the prison industrial complex. “Education literally is being invaded by police for poor students and students of color,” Davis said.
Zero tolerance policies result in a disproportionate number of students of color being suspended or expelled from school. The courts, juvenile justice system and adult prison too often follow.
That’s very different from how schools and education functioned for brown and black baby boomers like Quiñones and me. But education should still be that way today for all kids and not just those in suburban and private mostly white middle- and upper-middle-class schools.
“The basic goal of education is imagining a new future,” Davis said. “Education and liberation are inextricably linked.
“Teachers are supposed to encourage students to speak up and talk back.”
Today talking back can lead to students being labeled troublemakers instead of curious kids intent on learning more and wanting life to be better.
“What good is knowledge if it doesn’t make life better?” Davis asked. “What good is our freedom if we don’t use it to expand freedom for someone else? Education is nourishment for the individual but more importantly for the betterment of the community. Education allows us to make a difference in the social world.”
Racism must be eradicated from schools and society, Davis said, to enable students of color to bring to this nation a new vision and ideas. Education, she said, should encourage students to “use their imagination to recognize a new future.”
That’s what Quiñones does with his hit TV show, “What Would You Do?” With hidden cameras rolling, it puts real people in situations involving violence, racism and injustice. “Do you step in or do you step away?” said Quiñones, who was punished in school for speaking Spanish but found it to be an asset as a journalist to get interviews in Latin America.
Young people comprising the bulk of this country’s rich and growing racial and ethnic diversity have to be embraced, encouraged and well educated and not belittled and locked up. Feeding their potential is the only way they’ll have a rich future and America can remain a superpower.