Whenever we see inequalities in our society we need to remember one thing, antiracist activist Tim Wise told attendees — there are no accidents, just precedents.
Wise, who has written seven books, most recently Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America, talked about how the inherent injustice of the educational system must be transformed — the system was never meant to bring equity.
In support, he quoted Thomas Jefferson, a man he says people revere as a lover of learning. But Jefferson wanted to set up schools so that “geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually.” The implicit meaning of this, Wise said, was that most people are rubbish, only good for working for the elite.
Woodrow Wilson, another president of the country as well as of Princeton University, whom we think of as a public education supporter, updated that slightly to say that while we want one class of people to have a liberal education, we want a much larger group to forego that and “fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.”
In case we think this is all in the past, Wise talked about seeing former Secretary of Education and Drug Czar William Bennett on a Sunday talk show being asked about the biggest problem in education. Bennett didn’t pick underfunding or lack of preparation for teachers or using standardized tests on unstandardized children, Wise said.
“Instead, Bennett looked right in the camera and said without irony or misgiving, ‘The biggest problem with education today is that too many people are going to college.’” Wise continued, “It’s the same thing Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson meant. It’s the logic of the slaveholder who says if they all learn to read, who’s going to pick the cotton?”
Wise also told a story about a teacher outside of Denver, teaching mostly children of color. Searching for a way to reach his students, one day he walked in and started writing numbers on the board. When the students asked him what was going on, he told them the numbers were evidence someone was trying to kill them. That got their attention. He explained he was putting up data on wealth disparity and racial profiling and housing inequality. The students already knew what he was telling them, Wise said, but they’d never had a person in authority affirming it.
“He showed them the calculus of oppression,” Wise said. “We need to ratify the truth of young people and make learning relevant to their everyday routine.” Using racism to divide working people as presidential candidate Donald Trump does is nothing new, Wise said — it’s been going on since the 1600s. He urged the audience to fight against this with everything they have and said education needs to be a revolutionary act.
“We have to take apart the system, not just tinker around the edges. The purpose of education is to get free if you are from a marginalized culture,” he said. “We can change the stories and we can change the narrative and we can create a new society.”
>Listen to the Tim Wise speech on the CFT YouTube channel.
>See more Convention photos on the CFT facebook page.
Friday – General Session 1 and Rally
Friday & Saturday – Division Councils and General Session 2
Saturday – General Session 2
Saturday and Sunday – The Final Hours