Educational attainment can lead to greater community prosperity

Research by CEO’s for Cities shows a clear relationship between the rate of folks in urban areas who get a college degree and the economic prosperity in each of these city centers. This is an argument for education that is actually a bit different than I’m used to.

CEOs For Cities

That urban communities can develop in part by increasing the number of individuals from these communities who receive college degrees seems like a no-brainer. In the U.S. we believe that college can do a lot of great things. But it strikes me as compelling that the argument here for increasing the rate of educational attainment is not made in terms of individual achievement or philosophical fulfillment. Rather the argument is made in the terms of tangible economic gains for whole urban communities.

If rates of attainment of 4-year degrees could rise in defined urban areas, then according to this report we should see a proportional growth in the community’s economic base, neighborhood income levels, community expectations, real estate prices, and the cutting back on spending on neighborhood assistance programs.

The report says nothing about making college accessible for all people. And I don’t know after reading this report that it makes any difference if the whole world is college educated or not—but that’s not really the goal here. Rather the goal is economic security in high-density urban areas. The goal is eliminating poverty and improving access to health and housing. In other words, the goal is social justice and public good.

This is not the idea of a college education for education’s sake.  It is higher education attainment as something more practical, more tangible, and more meaningful for large numbers of individuals who live and struggle in the most densely-populated and most underdeveloped communities.

What if sports mattered?

Will Leitch at Sports on Earth says sports are not important. That sports don’t matter.

“People who work in sports like to consider sports somehow cleansing in times like this. But I think they’re just saying that so they feel better about working in a field that doesn’t really matter or change the world.”

But what if sports did matter? What if sports could change the world?

I understand Leitch’s message: Sports—for this argument, American sports—in design and function and reality do not positively benefit humanity in a significant way. By design and function and reality. That’s right.

Sure, wonderful and empowering and humanitarian individuals, causes, and programs exist because of sports and in relationship with sports. And many of these have benefited other human communities in this country. Major League Baseball as an organization, for instance, has numerous community development and charity arms supporting various activities for the promotion of health, education, and safety. And youth. These programs are certainly a public Good and certainly stand to benefit humanity in important ways.

But Major League Baseball as a for-profit organization in the entertainment industry does not in its design and function and reality benefit humanity simply by existing and acting in the world.

This is what Leitch is getting at and this is a bummer. But it’s not the biggest bummer.

The bigger bummer is that this truth is ever related and viewed with even the slightest degree of passive acceptance and unaccountability. Leitch is probably right, but shouldn’t that make us want to fix it?

How many people in this country alone work in the industry of sports entertainment? Tens of thousands? More than that?

If someone approached me about my field or, let’s say, posted a blog entry about my field, delineating to me the ways in which the time and effort I spent at work, away from my family, meant nothing at all in the grand scheme of things—I would not be keen on resting back and thinking, Oh well. It is what it is.

Rather, I would look immediately and critically at myself and my situation and figure out fast if she or he were right or not.

And if I discovered they were right—or if I discovered they hit on even a tiny something I had already been thinking—I imagine I would endeavor straightaway to change that reality. Out of a sense of the common Good or a sense of individual spirit and purpose or a sense of human efficiency. If someone could convince me that my day-to-day efforts were in design and function and reality meaningless, I would be motivated to find a better way. Right away.

What if sports did matter? What if sports could change the world?

What if the response to Leitch’s final comment—“It [is] just sports: consistent, often exhilarating, entertainment. Isn’t that enough?”—was: Absolutely, unequivocally NOT.

It’s not enough that sports don’t matter. For one thing, it isn’t efficient. Sports cannot be the appendix of the social system when sports could be the lungs or the brain or the big toe or some other metaphorical but entirely useful and purposeful and meaningful component of human existence.

Sports has the power to transform communities by investing more fully in infrastructure and development like education, health, and housing in America—in racial justice and social equity. Sports as entertainment is boring—besides that it’s probably fascist.

I don’t know.

I guess it doesn’t grate me necessarily that anyone would call sports meaningless. I do believe sports in design and function and reality do not fully contribute to a sustainable, equitable, and purposeful future.

But I also enthusiastically do not believe that this should be the correct or uninspired end of the discussion.

Food, Race, and the Importance of Intersections

Over the summer the Applied Research Center (Racial Justice Through Research, Media, and Action) released their report on the intersections between food justice and racial and economic equity.

ARC collected data and made comparisons about the realities of both food insecurities and economic insecurities with regard to race in an attempt to answer the questions.

  • Who is most impacted by inequities in the food system?
  • What are the challenges for food and labor in engaging across movements?
  • What opportunities help to bridge the divide and advance both good food and good jobs agendas?

(From Good Food and Good Jobs Executive Summary)

Ultimately—and not surprisingly—the think-tank for racial justice determined that people of lower-economic status and people of color are most negatively impacted by food scarcities and food insecurities in America, and that this is mostly due to inherently racially-inequitable realities within corporate-dominated food industries and institutions.

Of course.

What’s remarkable in the ARC’s report is not necessarily that their conclusion is one which names racial injustice and calls for reform. That I am used to and have come even to expect.

The remarkable thing for me in this report is ARC’s effort to address the intersections of the issue as a purposeful method for organizing and collective action.

In their report, ARC calls out people like me, who often fall into the trap of dealing too exclusively with a single issue such as race, without acknowledging enough about the myriad ways this issue impacts so many other areas of life, like food and labor justice.

“The good food movement often leaves out crucial factors such as living wages, immigration status, and enforcement of safe working and living conditions. Similarly, many labor advocates don’t address how and why good food and land sovereignty relate to their struggles for workers. Developing collaborative efforts between these movements is key to winning both good food and good jobs.”

In a sense, this comes back to the issue I’ve grappled with before: that antiracism is not simply a personal choice, but a socio-political necessity. The ARC’s report reminds me that race and from-back-in-the-day-historical-racism continue to impact the food choices I make every day—it impacts the reality that I have the privilege of food choices in the first place.

In addition to new content worth both personal and professional consideration, in continuing to develop educational programs that address structural racial inequities, the ARC’s report is a reminder of the significance of these intersectionalities and the importance of addressing multiple learning styles and multiple points of entry for the conversation.

For the purpose of increasing the organizing and collective action potential.

The Language of Antiracism

Talking about “antiracism” and “white privilege” sounds pretentious for some reason.

People get defensive and put off by antiracism like people get defensive and put off by feminism or LGBTQ rights or another movement for critical education and social justice action. I’ve seen it.

And it functions quite in opposition to my intention of learning and educating about critical race issues, but I catch myself hiding what I do in certain social situations in order not to put people on the defensive or not to sound too pretentious.

Depending on the situation, if someone asks me what I do, I sometimes just say something vague like, “I teach,” or “I plan educational trips.”

Because whether it will be true or not—and as absurd as it sounds—I’m more than aware that people sometimes don’t respond positively to: “I create educational programs engaging adult and college-age learners with issues of race, identity, class, power, and privilege.”

But in couching my language I make a significant mistake—in addition to the cowardly blunder of trying not to upset people.

(Which is dumb because I certainly have upset people before. Upsetting people comes with the territory and, if done with purpose, can even be fun.)

My significant mistake in dumbing down my educational mission and values out of a fear of the possibility of a negative response is that I contribute to the mentality—even in my own head—that antiracism is simply a lifestyle, which I have individually chosen for myself and which I do not intend to impose on others.

But by making antiracism learning and action resemble a personal lifestyle choice—perhaps like veganism is a personal choice—I deeply injure the movement for urgent critical and structural social, political, and economic liberation and transformation.

With this language I very incorrectly present the entire conversation as one of individual feelings and personal responsibilities—very important and very necessary to the conversation, don’t get me wrong… But this cannot be the whole conversation.

Antiracism and social justice are movements far more profoundly structural and political than simple individual lifestyle choices.

It’s interesting. In college I had a side job three mornings a week, rolling and bagging the Kansas City Star newspaper between 1 and 4 AM in the back of a van as it circled neighborhoods and the driver delivered the papers by tossing them from the van window.

We called ourselves Media Distribution Engineers: the joke, I suppose, being that in order to support or justify our service in our own minds, we came up with what we thought was a more impressive title than newspaper deliverers.

We provided a service then. And I hope I help to provide a service now. Only now my self-consciousness wants to work in the opposite direction at times—to come up with language that doesn’t adequately express my intentions, but that I hope will not sound pretentious or put people off.

But this undermines the intent and the impact and the reach of antiracism education.

The fix, then, is for me to work to get over the fear of imposing critical education and antiracism learning onto others.

Because, quite frankly, that’s exactly what I’m aiming to do: to impose critical education onto others.

And certainly there is a line somewhere, a measure of making this education accessible and receivable to various audiences with different expectations and entry points. But to couch antiracism education in vague language—for whatever reason—weakens the integrity and mission of the charge and I mean to cut that out.

What do you call it when you speak and write and teach about structural racism, power, and privilege? Do you call it antiracism? Critical pedagogy? Social justice?

Multicultural education? (It has its problems, but I use that one a lot.)

Antiracism is not merely an individual lifestyle choice, it is a necessary component for the liberation and the preservation of our society. And education that aligns itself with these aims is essential.

And though I’m using the language of privilege here, myself, I think education will only work if we say what we mean and mean what we say and hopefully not worry as much about putting people off.