Skip to main content

Passive Oppression in Education: Fueling the Achievement Gap

Many students in districts across the nation are faced with issues of poverty, racism, and oppression in their communities and schools.  Educators and administrators are uncertain about how to meet the needs of  students, especially students of color, living in poverty. The fact is that too many educators, for a variety of reasons, have simply surrendered to the forces of poverty and racism. In the process they have also surrendered our children’s future (Yes We Can, 2005).  This sad submission contributes to the academic achievement gap for our Hispanic, Native American, and Black youth. According to the 2013 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):
The test scores indicate that Black, Hispanic, and Native American students in the fourth and eighth grades scored significantly lower than their White peers in reading and math. Moreover, Black, Hispanic, and Native American students demonstrate proficiency in reading and math at much lower levels than White students and perform below basic in these subject areas at much higher rates than White students. 
The issue of surrendering to the forces of poverty and racism is referred to by Allen G. Johnson (2009) as passive oppression in our educational system. Passive oppression fuels the achievement gap for our poorest and neediest students. It contributes to a culture of power and privilege for certain school communities, leaving our underserved students of color and their communities behind. 

Privilege and a System of Oppression
Johnson speaks of passive oppression as a form of racism and privilege, and defines it as "making it possible for oppression to happen simply by doing nothing to stop it” (Johnson 2009, p. 106).  I have witnessed this issue of privilege and power in my communities, and believe it greatly impacts schools across the nation. After discussing these issues with many of my colleagues, I have come to believe that the lack of action and indifference on the part of many educators is indeed a result of passive oppression.  The majority of school administrators and teachers care about students and seem to be overwhelmed with the task of meeting a variety of social, emotional, and educational needs.  Many lack the skills, resources, and even the will to deal with many of those unique needs.  The problem is in their failure to understand that this power of silence, “promotes privilege and oppression” and that racism and other forms of privilege depend on this type of day-to-day, real world oppression (Johnson 2009, p. 105).  The key is to help educators begin to see themselves as enablers of an oppressive system every time they choose to explicitly ignore dealing with the problems that lead to the achievement gaps faced by students of color and students living in poverty.  We can begin to change this system of inequity and oppression by acknowledging it's existence and our role in the system.

Serving All Students
            Our underserved students of color living in poverty continue to fall behind their peers in school districts across the nation. Educators and educational leaders must embrace this reality and make themselves accountable for the learning and academic success of all learners.  This begins by acknowledging the privilege, power, and racism that exist in our educational system. Passive oppression in our schools is a form of racism and privilege that must be overcome.  If we continue to remain silent about these issues, we are communicating to our students and communities living in poverty that they are not worth serving. 

“Although reforming public schools will not eliminate poverty or racial discrimination, education continues to be the only legitimate source of opportunity available to the poor."- Pedro Noguera

Johnson, A. (2006). Privilege, power, and difference. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Noguera, P. (2008). The trouble with black boys: Race, equity, and the future of  education. San Francisco: Wiley & Sons.
The Education Trust. (2006, September). Yes we can: Telling truths and dispelling myths about race and education in America. Retrieved from: myths-about-race-and-education-in-America


  1. The state where I live, Minnesota historically has some of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, and little has changed. I have spent the biggest chunk of my career at a suburban public school where 95% of our kids were white. When I left there for a city public charter school, about 17 miles away 99% of our kids were Black. Yet it is more than the schools where a different reality exists, the most recent election has made visible how deep the divide is between city and rural, wealthy and poor, new immigrant, and the rest of us (most of whom hail from immigrant ancestors). As we attempt to address issues of gaps and equity I will pass on three comments I have heard; 1. Our gaps are big because our top students are so high. 2. Its not fair to take money from schools that do well, usually suburban schools, and use it for those that do not succeed. 3. We must do all we can to close achievement gaps. The first two statements, which support privilege, also undermine attempts at equity and have the impact of quieting voices of educators, who in MN are mostly white. The last comment was by a government official who spoke good words, but little action came as a result. My voice has fallen silent at times, especially when it is easier not to struggle back, knowing I can return to my comfortable, and yes privileged position as a white male. I do regret when I have silenced myself instead of speaking clearly and resolutely for what I know in my heart is right.

  2. Thank you for your reflections, Jim. Powerful words. I know that you have indeed found your voice. Let's continue to ask questions, speak up, and disagree with those who prefer comfort over courage.

  3. Expected to form you a next to no word to thank you once more with respect to the decent recommendations you've contributed here.nebosh course in chennai

  4. Appreciation for really being thoughtful and also for deciding on certain marvelous guides most people really want to be aware of.
    fire and safety course in chennai


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

#EdWriteNow - Connecting with Every Student: Creating a Culture of Equity and Access

Being a connected educator has allowed me to develop my capacity as an educational leader and learner.Over the last few years I’ve connected with a number of brilliant and passionate people who have inspired me to find and share my voice through chats, podcasts, research, and blog posts. One of those professional learning network connections is Jeff Zoul, teacher, leader, presenter, author and someone whose work I follow and admire.
Last year I received an exciting email from Jeff. He invited me to be part of a project with nine tremendous educational leaders. In his email Jeff shared a bit about the project and I immediately knew that I wanted to be part of it. The book project is titled #EdWriteNow VII and the plan was to write the book over a couple days AND publish 6 months later.I was familiar with #EdWriteNow Volume I and the great organization associated with the project, The Will to LiveFoundation. The Will to Live Foundation is an organization dedicated to the prevention of te…

The Myth of Colorblindness

Recently I read a quote by a popular actor that troubled me. His words: 

"The best way to stop racism today is to stop talking about it." 
Interesting thought. Should we end poverty by not talking about it? Should we close the achievement gap by avoiding the topic? We could begin to change so much of what is wrong in our nation if we engaged in honest and courageous conversations about our biases, beliefs, and misconceptions. One of those misconceptions is the myth of colorblindness
Colorblindness is the belief that we don't see color or race, that we see people and that we are all the same. These beliefs are widely held by wonderful and well intentioned people, including educators and school leaders. These are idealistic beliefs and there are a number of issues with this ideology:

We are beautifully diverse. Colorblindness negates our diversity, race and cultureWe all see color and we all have biases. When we identify as colorblind, we are suppressing our authentic views …