The documentary American Promise tells about the 13-year grade school careers of Idris and Seun. Both kids started out at the Dalton school, a private Manhattan school that was very prestigious but that didn’t have diversity. The private school was historically white and it admitted Idris and Seun, along with other African American children as part of efforts to diversify its student body. This effort alone didn’t make it diverse. This invitation proved that the school was non-racist, but it didn’t make it anti-racist.
The teachers at schools like Dalton need to get ready for the new changing school environment. In the article “I Don’t See Color”: Challenging Assumption about Discussing Race with Young Children it says
“the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES 2000) predicts that by the year of 2035, students from racially/ethnically diverse backgrounds will comprise a statistical majority of the public school population. In spite of these demographic shifts, few early childhood educators make conscious efforts to respond to these changes within the curriculum on the basis of developmental and or political concerns. Many early childhood educators believe that children are too young to engage in critical discussions of race.”If there had been educators at Dalton who changed for the times and had discussions about diversity early with Seun and Idris, maybe they would understand that everyone is different in lot of ways and that it is fine. We don’t know if Dalton knew about the gums incident with Seun, but if they were more anti-racist instead of being non-racist, they would have been more sensitive to these African American boys.
|Filmakers Michéle Stephenson and Joe Brewster|
with their sons
Another incident happened when Idris was in high school. He couldn’t find a date for any dances. He was frustrated and said maybe it would be better to be white so he could get a date. Instead of the school understanding and appreciating Idris for who he was, he had be thrown into a “white setting” and he was having to “become white”.
The Dalton School was living with the ‘color blind’ myth. They thought adding Africa-American kids would make their school diverse. It didn’t. Adding kids of a different race, culture, background, and expecting them just to fit in wasn’t enough. The Dalton School didn’t understand that they were not appreciating what the kids were bringing to the school.
After the other student, Seun, transferred to Benjamin Banneker Academy, he was in a safe school environment. Even though he faced his mother’s cancer and the death of his younger brother, he did well in school. Policy Recommendation Number 2 in ‘Seeing Past the Color-blind Myth of Education Policy’ states having “supporting curriculum, teaching, and assessment that taps into the educational benefits of diversity” provides a supportive school environment.
Even in hard times, Seun was able to make it at a school that was less prestigious but more supportive of him. If Seun had remained at Dalton it is very possible he would have been left behind. There needs to be a supporting factor in schools. At the more prestigious school in this documentary, Idris often felt different and left out. At the less prestigious school, Seun felt like he belonged and supported. He didn’t have to try to be someone that he wasn’t.