Stanford Doors

Race and Education

I think that in dealing with the subject of race most of us will run into the problem of defining our terms at some point in time. It is clear that there are differences between people, whether this is skin color, height, or age. Whether or not it is possible to argue that they are a result of genetic history or geographical history, physical variations do exist. The issue under question is one of how we respond to these differences.

This is a difficult task for individuals who inherit a historical and cultural context in which wealth and opportunity are often divided along the lines of certain physical features. For example, certain studies have shown that taller men have greater earning potential. Tall men who make more money and are able to afford a healthy lifestyle will most likely give birth to more tall men and pass on this genetic advantage. Similarly, individuals whose families have lived in cold parts of the world and adapted to this environment over the centuries will probably have an advantage in outdoor sports like skiing where their bodies can focus on performance and not simply on staying warm. If we lived in a society where skiing was the only mode of transportation and it was always cold, individuals with a certain genetic history would probably end up in control of resources and opportunities. Does this mean that people who don’t know how to ski are in some way less human? No. However, they are at a disadvantage to participate in a society that revolves around skiing.

I would like to suggest a logical transition from this scenario to one of our own. Individuals who grew up in a tropical jungle may find it difficult to adapt to the corporate jungle. This does not make them inferior, but if they attempt to compete in an environment they are not familiar with, they are at a disadvantage…and vice versa. The corporate individual would be at a disadvantage trying to survive in the jungle. Does this mean that there is a problem with the jungle or with corporate America? Not necessarily.

The problem comes when individuals have no opportunity to learn how to survive and compete in environments they were not necessarily prepared for. This is where education comes into play: offering individuals the opportunity to overcome the natural disadvantages they inherit that are beyond their control. How can a short man learn to stand tall? How can a jungle native learn to develop a fashion sense and table manners? Through education. Education is the key by which these individuals can open access to experiences beyond their reach. But if education as a system is designed to only serve the needs of individuals who are properly prepared, it has failed in its responsibility to society. It has become an inaccessible outcome rather than a process of preparation. The question I am left with from this week is how to create an environment of education in which individuals from any background can prepare to succeed in the real world?

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