Dismantle the Pipeline: A Review of Susan Anglada Bartley's "A Different Vision: A Revolution Against Racism in Public Education" (Luminare Press)


David Gilbert | Education | Book Review | July 2nd, 2018



School was always a breeze for me. "Correct English" came naturally--it was the way people spoke at home. As for social studies, I was well-versed in the mythology of American democracy that masqueraded as "history." My parents instilled confidence that I could excel at science and math, which they saw as a career path for me. It was only in my college years--as I became intent on understanding why some people are obscenely rich while as many others are desperately poor--that I started to get into trouble.

Unusually well-educated for a New York State (NYS) prisoner--the average incoming inmate is at a 6th grade level--I've done a lot of work as a teacher's aide and a tutor. Early on I was struck by a conundrum: Many otherwise bright and brave guys just froze when it came to academic work. After many conversations I saw a frequent pattern: from early on in school they were treated as discipline problems, not as promising learners, and often humiliated and punished. Rather than accept a framework that made them feel stupid, they decided that school was b.s. And that they would prove their self-worth in the streets. In communities where decent manufacturing jobs fled but where the "War on Drugs" made them a lucrative trade, that seemed like the ready route to wealth and prestige. Before long, of course, that led to incarceration. Welcome to the school-to-prison pipeline. In NYS, Blacks and Latinos/as constitute 37% of the population and 72% of state prisoners.

Susan Anglada Bartley is a passionate anti-racist educator. Her new book, A Different Vision, looks at the school-to-prison pipeline as part of a fundamentally white supremacist education system. The various forms of exclusion are key--the ways students of color are told they are slow learners, are tracked away from college preparation courses, and are disproportionately subjected to harmful forms of discipline. The latter isn't just a product of cultural misunderstandings with white teachers; studies show that students of color are treated much more harshly for the same behaviors as whites. Once students are held out of the classroom, they're much more likely to fall behind on their work and then drop out. In the U.S. Black students are 3 times more likely than whites to be suspended or expelled, which foreshadows the 6 to 1 Black to white incarceration rate for males. Another school-to-prison pipeline has been built over the past 40 years, for the flow of dollars, as funding for incarceration has increased at twice the rate of that for education.

I cringed at A Different' Vision's description of how humilation is a standard technique for keeping students in line. As a teacher at Franklin High School (FHS) in Portland, Oregon, Anglada Bartley learned how to move away from that and toward engagement. She realized that especially as a white teacher, she had to earn the trust of her Black, Latino/a, Native American, and Asian students which she does in part by being willing to tell brief stories about her own life. She makes an effort to talk with students at eye level rather than down to them; she addresses issues individually rather than dressing students down in front of the class; she never writes them up for disciplinary punishment. More importantly, she's a big enough person to learn from her students and to acknowledge that.

To keep a class together without acting as a tyrant, a teacher needs a relevant and lively curriculum. To do so, a teacher has to learn about her students and their range of ethnic and linguistic backgrounds in order to create a culturally welcoming environment. While Anglada Bartley doesn't present a lot on curriculum in the sense of the subject matter, which would entail volumes in itself, she cites the best source of articles and references on that, Rethinking Schools Magazine. I would have liked to see her say more about the ways challenging white supremacy could also benefit many whites--when we can overcome clinging to privilege and pride of place--through more funding going to public education; wider availability of college; and a fuller, truer, richer understanding of history and culture.

Anglada Bartley knows her students can excel. In 2007, mentored and supported by an outstanding, Black principal, Dr. Charles Hopson, she created an Advanced Scholars Program (ASP) at her high school. The program encouraged students who might otherwise be tracked out to take the advanced placement courses so crucial to getting into succeeding at college; each student was provided a mentor. By 2016, ASP had 465 students, and every participant went on to higher education; seven of them became Gates Millennium Scholars; FHS overall, with more than 50% of students living in poverty, had a graduation rate within one point of the wealthiest school in the district.

After Anglada Bartley won all kinds of accolades and prestigious awards for this stunning success, the hostility of a new white administrator and some resentful teachers resulted in restrictions that undermined her work and led her to leave FHS. While A Different Vision has many useful examples of teaching methods, the other, essential dimension of the book involves the broader fight against white supremacy in education and in society at large. The needed changes can't happen when 82% of the teachers and 88% of the administrators are white for a population nove moving past 50% students of color. They can't happen when funding is so unequal and inadequate, when students of color have to worry about violence and incarceration, and when they face difficulty getting quality jobs. Given those realities, A Different Vision strongly advocates building active movements and coalitions from below involving the communities, parents, educators and students to challenge white supremacy and fight for quality education. That's the road to "a different vision"-- "One in which empowerment replaces humiliation, relationships replace control. One in which respect for humanity and our earth are central [...]" (223-4)