Starting school in America? Time to pick a race!

Posted on March 23, 2009. Filed under: American culture, diversity, education, race | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

For decades, students entering the American school system have been identified by race. Tracking of students by race was meant to identify trends, measure successes and allot funds. Children could belong to one and only one of 5 categories:  

  1. American Indian or Alaska native
  2. Asian or Pacific Islander
  3. Hispanic
  4. non-Hispanic black
  5. non-Hispanic white

Since America is known as the great melting pot, this seems quite arbitrary. So many children, especially in newer generations, are of mixed heritage, and don’t fit neatly into only one category.

When I registered my son for kindergarten I didn’t check off a race on his paperwork, because mixed race wasn’t an option. The principal went ballistic. “If you don’t choose a race, the kindergarten teacher will assign him a race.”  I will never, ever forget hearing that from an educator. 

Starting 2010, new, more inclusive categories will be included on school intake forms for mixed race children. However, these only apply to new students entering the system, not to kids already in school. Also, using these expanded categories it is not mandatory, but the government is encouraging all schools to use this new system.

I find this desire to assign people one and only one race as ironic, given our love of the hyphenated American, when we proudly declare ourselves to be Italian-American, Irish-American, etc. Many hyphenated Americans have never visited their “homeland” and don’t even speak the language. Still, most Americans can proudly tell you their roots, and where their ancestors came from.

By continually slicing and dicing our student body into ever expanding categories of races, we start to miss the obvious. At this point in American history, it seems to me that class trumps race in terms of educational opportunities and successes.  I am guessing that middle class and wealthy students will have greater educational oportunities and successes than poor students, regardless of race.

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One Response to “Starting school in America? Time to pick a race!”

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When I taught adult ed, I had to observe my students then indicate race on a form the first week of class. It had something to do with federal funding.


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