Sadly, the battle to combat the racism of low expectations in our schools is pervasive. I previously wrote about this issue in the context of the decade old class action I fought against Milwaukee Public Schools and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Now, I am confronting this issue in rural northern Wisconsin, on behalf of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (LDF Tribe).
While many of the members of the LDF Tribe live on their reservation in northern Wisconsin, just west of Woodruff, their children attend the Lac du Flaubeau Public School, a K-8 school which feeds into the Lakeland Union High School (LUHS), along with the primary schools from Arbor Vitae, Minocqua, and Manitowish Waters.
The LDF Tribe’s Education Director asked me to meet with and train parents on their children’s rights in school because they are experiencing many problems ranging from physical and verbal abuse, failure to comply with special education laws, excessive discipline and low academic performance leading to low graduation rates, and blatant discrimination, even in homework assignments, such as the “What Happened After Chief Shortcake Died?” math assignment which rightfully outraged the LDF Tribe, garnered an apology from the teacher, and attracted media attention, just a little over a year ago.
Of course, one racist assignment does not make a whole school, but one look at the LUHS School Report Card reveals that LDF children are not receiving the education they need to succeed as adults. While the graduation rate of White students at LUHS is almost 97%, the graduation rate of Native American students is only 57.9%. This is not terribly surprising when one finds that 41% of LUHS Native American are reading below a basic level, and almost 54% of LUHS Native American students are performing math below a basic level.
There are many reasons for this, many of which have deep roots in American history, but a few comments from my session last night spoke volumes about why such poor academic performance is tolerated by the LUHS.
- Apparently, the LUHS administration is protesting the low Native American graduation rate on its school report card, because it does not want to count drop outs! Fortunately, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, has refused to accept the LUHS position on this issue.
- LDF members have been told by school officials that their children have a high rate of Speech & Language special education needs because their parents do not read to their children, rather than understanding the genetic issues of a high proportion of LDF children who develop middle-ear infections causing Speech & Language delays.
- When confronted with bullying issues, school officials have simply responded by stating that, “boys will be boys,” rather than instituting anti-bullying programs and policies which protect children and support victims.
Fortunately, the LDF Tribe’s Education Department has seen enough and while it wants to work collaboratively with the public schools to improve their children’s educational outcomes, it is also prepared to bring in additional advocacy resources to help them achieve this goal. I look forward to empowering LDF parents and children to combat the racism of low expectations and improve their children’s educational performance.