Urban schools districts are frequently associated with the idea of failure. These schools, which are nestled in the center of large cities across the United States, are perpetually labeled as unsuccessful institutions. The images of failure take many forms. The most problematic image is when people think of urban schools as places where young students are failing because they have “no home training” or a lack of values. Many conservatives and neo-liberalist try to attack the values systems, culture, and character of black communities. These same individuals simultaneously ignore the roots of this failure, which are the larger systemic barriers, often intentionally put in place to prohibit communities of color from achieving.
Bill Cosby only legitimizes the conservative paradigm when he ridicules black poor communities for not properly parenting their children. Cosby said “the lower economic and lower middle economic people are not holding their end in this deal. In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on.” Cosby can be added to the long list of individuals who demonize poor communities of color for not having the right values. He becomes yet another member of the upper echelon that attacks the personal agency and individual choices of poor people but offers no historical foundation for why certain choices might be made over others.
As black youth, we must work against the ideas of anyone who tries to stigmatize our experiences without taking into account the history and policy decisions that lead to the cycle of poverty and struggle that many of us find ourselves in. At the same time we must realize that there is power in our personal agency and in the decisions we make. How we view those decisions has the power to fight against the Cosby narrative, but it also has the power to fight against the system of barriers as a whole.
The concept of fate control does have an impact on the probability of success or failure. James Coleman (a problematic sociologist) says that young people who feel as though they have control over their own destiny had a greater chance of academic and life success. As detrimental as attacking personal values without historical context can be, we should still challenge each other to fight against a system that is working against us. A byproduct of this resistance can be giving students a sense of responsibility over their personal agency that can lead to a greater chance of success. However, it is important to note that just because a poor child believes that they control their own destiny, doesn’t mean that their life chances are equal to a child that grows up privileged. Most importantly, to understand the urban education failure across the country we must keep history at the forefront of our analysis.