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Why is “Race” Such a Difficult Word?

Lobbyist and historian John Thompson has a piece in the Huffington Post today that sums up an important issue raised by two other powerful thinkers on the impact of race and poverty on a child’s ability to succeed: we can’t leave race and class out of the education discussion just because they’re hard to talk about!

Paul Tough, author of Whatever It Takes, the story of Geoffrey Canada’s work in creating the Harlem Children’s Zone, has an article in the current New Yorker about a doctor in the most distressed neighborhood of San Francisco who sees firsthand the very real way that childhood traumas affect not only mental health, but physical health as well.

Deborah Meier, the founder of Central Park East I and Central Park East Secondary School, innovative schools in New York’s East Harlem, writes in a recent blog post on Education Week that a conversation about education reform cannot exclude a conversation about class.

Deborah Meier: "We are expected to believe that young people growing up in such intensely poor communities will not be damaged by it unless we have 'low school expectations'—plus lazy, overpaid, unionized teachers!

Are we using euphemisms at the expense of an honest discussion? Thompson notes that the Promise Neighborhoods program is changing the conversation about schooling for the better, because we’re looking at the realities of each community, rather than using blanket terms that don’t get to the heart of the problems.

“What if this post was written without mentioning race, class, family, alcohol, drugs, or depression?” Thompson wonders, and we echo his question: what if the conversation about education leaves out these important words? What kinds of neighborhoods would our children grow up in?