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Honor or Privilege? The Question of Racial Youth Justice Within Classrooms.


I take honors classes. Not because I’m more capable than students in college placement classes, but because I was blessed to have my education invested in from a young age. No matter what struggles or obstacles came up, education was a priority in my family and I am thankful to have learned to read early on and practiced a variety of subjects from frequenting the library, and bookstores, and watching educational channels for kids. The nurturing environment I grew up in determined my future achievements.


With those achievements, I noticed a pattern. More specifically an “achievement gap.” An achievement gap between the racial minority and the racial majority. I’m a Muslim, American-Arab who is clearly distinguishable by my choice to wear a hijab (or headscarf), and it seems that in all honors classes there is an unspoken separation between minority students and Caucasian students. Roughly, in a class size of let’s say twenty students, I would see five minority students, give or take. It horrifies me because youth justice is of extreme importance to me and this is a clear example of how a system determines the outcome of an individual’s life.

` Now, you may be wondering how taking World History instead of World History AP or English 10 instead of English 10X is such a big deal or has anything to do with race but it's about more than a selection of one or two classes. It’s about how minority students are discouraged from taking a class that will look better on a college transcript based on their education starting all the way back in pre-k and going up to the senior year of high school. In other words, it's a pipeline problem.



Here’s how it works. Communities are separated by race. Don’t believe me? Look at the history of redlines or the reason why highways or interstates are put in certain areas and not others. Look at gerrymandering in some states. Or just take a drive from Carmel to Indianapolis to see what communities have a hospital, well-funded school, grocery stores with fresh produce, banks, good infrastructure, and conveniently placed roads versus what communities don’t. So if you were born in a community where you didn’t have access to these important resources, you’re forced to spend your time finding them. And statistically, those communities in the United States that are struggling without those resources are our brothers and sisters in the Black and Latino communities, among other minority communities. Obviously, this is not to say that all minorities are struggling or that Caucasians are all wealthy, upper-class socialites with more opportunities, but it is critical to understand the general system and the way it was built to prevent certain people from enjoying the luxuries of life.

So, from the start, if you were born in the “wrong” zip code, you’re automatically set behind in opportunity compared to others. Now what? Now, especially if this “achievement gap” occurred to you before kindergarten, you will go into high school seen as less capable to experience success in that World History AP class and will be recommended to go take regular World History or Geography.

In the article titled “The Race Gap in High School Honors Classes,” published in The Atlantic on December 11, 2014, Sophie Quinton and National Journal said, “About one-quarter of high schools that serve the highest percentage of black and Hispanic students don't even offer a second year of algebra, according to the Education Department, even though two years of algebra are usually required for college-level courses in math and science.”


Now, the basic requirements are unfulfilled because certain high schools serving a majority-minority population aren’t even offering core classes. Automatically, a limited number of colleges are accessible, if one chooses to go to college. Lack of quality education leads to crime or barely sustainable jobs.


That’s a brief explanation of the “system” that determines the level of achievement one is essentially allowed to reach. Again, it's a general and broad explanation based on facts and statistics but there are always different circumstances and it is unfair to assume that all minorities receive no opportunity and that all racial majorities are guaranteed a successful life from birth. But it is the harsh reality of a country born out of hatred and exploitation of certain groups of people.


This all leads back to the main question: honor or privilege? Are students in honors classes really just smarter or better or did they just get more opportunity, encouragement, support, and consistent success and achievement from pre-k to high school that allowed them to be where they’re at?


I’d say it's both. They were privileged to get more opportunities which got them into honors classes. They are smart and capable as a result of being invested in from the start, and that’s why it hurts even more to see the achievement gap on a daily basis.


The purpose of Mission Makai is to allow youth voices to be heard. But it’s also about allowing those voices to ring louder and louder until they strike the chord of action. Our whole nation is built off of a system that benefits some and leaves others trapped and forced to work for the American Dream their whole life. The more people that are educated about this from the beginning, from their eyes as a youth, the more power we will have, collectively, to make a difference. Go out into the community, visit socially and economically disadvantaged areas, go to the kids who will make up our future and let them know that they are capable and they are strong. We can close the achievement gap and instead of answering the question of honor versus privilege, we can create an equitable community without question of whether one’s skin color or ethnic background, or social status will determine how great they can be. With your dedication, I’m not dreaming of a utopia, I’m describing our world tomorrow.


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