Ep 282: The Opportunity Gap - How Schools Perpetuate Inequity

Tiffany Jewell, author of Everything I Learned About Racism I Learned in School, joins us to expose the myriad ways racism is embedded in the education system. We discuss the opportunity gap, biased disciplinary practices, problematic tracking, predatory military recruitment, and more - and what teens and parents can do about it.

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Full Show Notes

Today's teens are facing unprecedented challenges - from pandemic recovery to economic uncertainty to navigating an increasingly complex digital world. But one of the most pervasive and overlooked issues affecting young people is the systemic racism baked into the very institutions meant to uplift and empower them - our schools.

Students of color are more than twice as likely to be suspended or expelled. They're underrepresented in advanced classes and overrepresented in special education programs. Their schools are more heavily policed and their lockers more frequently searched. The curriculum largely sidelines their histories and the works of authors who look like them.

How can we as parents, educators and advocates ensure that the school system is providing an equitable education and environment for all students? To unpack this crucial question, we're joined by Tiffany Jewell, anti-bias anti-racist educator and author of the new book Everything I Learned About Racism I Learned in School.

In our conversation, Tiffany sheds light on the often subtle ways racism manifests in schools, and provides actionable guidance for teens and parents to question the status quo and advocate for change.

The Opportunity Gap

Rather than an "achievement gap," Tiffany argues what we're really seeing is an opportunity gap. Schools serving predominantly students of color are chronically under-resourced, understaffed, and overcrowded. Low expectations and biased perceptions from teachers limit students' potential. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle of inequity.

Tiffany explains how parents can reframe the conversation around student success and advocate for more equitable allocation of resources and opportunities. She also shares tips for empowering teens to recognize and call out unfairness when they see it.

Discriminatory Discipline

Black students are four times more likely to face suspension than their White peers, often for minor infractions like "disrespect" or "defiance" that go unpunished for other students. Meanwhile, schools with majority students of color are far more likely to employ invasive tactics like suspicionless searches.

Tiffany unpacks the biases and power dynamics driving these disparities, and offers strategies for parents to protect their teens' rights and dignity in disciplinary situations. She also discusses the importance of restorative justice models that address root causes of behavior rather than criminalizing students.

Predatory Recruitment

Military recruiters aggressively target low-income schools and students of color, capitalizing on the lack of opportunity in these communities. Federal law requires "failing" schools to turn over student contact info to recruiters, who use coercive tactics to enlist teens with few other options.

Tiffany shares eye-opening data on the military recruitment machine and its exploitation of the opportunity gap. She advises parents on how to opt out of recruiter contact lists and encourages teens to critically examine the risks and realities of military service.

Curriculum & Representation

From history to literature to STEM fields, the standard curriculum is overwhelmingly White and male. Students of color rarely see themselves reflected, and are implicitly told their stories and contributions are less important.

Tiffany calls on parents and students to demand more representative, culturally-responsive content in every subject. She shares tips for supplementing classroom learning with diverse perspectives at home. Even small acts, like recommending a great book by an author of color to a teacher, can make a difference.

Throughout our discussion, Tiffany emphasizes the power of an individual to question the status quo and gradually shift the system. As she puts it: "School could be a place that is so joyful and empowering...I know we can do better. Let's keep [our children's] amazingness and encourage them to continue being amazing."

From practical advocacy strategies to empowering pep talks, this episode is full of wisdom and inspiration for anyone who believes in building a more just and equitable future for all students. Additional topics include:
  • The myth of the "good" school and how it upholds segregation
  • Recognizing and rejecting tone-policing and respectability politics
  • Modeling allyship and using privilege to uplift others
  • Rebuilding a school system that honors all students' brilliance
For more from Tiffany, visit her website tiffanymjewell.com or follow her on Instagram @tiffanymjewell. Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next week!

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Tiffany Jewell
Tiffany Jewell
Tiffany Jewell is a Black biracial writer, twin sister, first generation American, cisgender mama, anti-bias antiracist (ABAR) educator. She is the author of the #1 New York Times and #1 Indie Best Seller, This Book Is Anti-Racist, a book for young folks [and everyone] to support waking up, taking action, and doing the work of becoming antiracist. Tiffany is currently working on multiple book projects for readers of all ages.
Ep 282: The Opportunity Gap - How Schools Perpetuate Inequity
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