Black to the Future talk addresses racial problems of education system

Dr. Umar Johnson, a school psychologist, said that the educational testing system is America's new Jim Crow.

Psychologist Umar Johnson said that test culture, underrepresentation of black teachers in schools and the political issues involved in the educational reform have left African Americans behind in his speech Thursday night at Gifford Auditorium.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs invited Johnson as a keynote speaker for the Black to the Future event in honor of Black History Month. As a certified school psychologist, Dr. Umar Johnson specializes in learning disabilities and how they affect black children, according to his personal website.

“Test culture has nothing to do with who is learning and who is not. We live in a hierarchal society. Tests are necessary because it excludes without looking at races,” Johnson said.

Johnson noted that there was no correlation between standard test scores and academic success. According to him, tests served as a tool to group people and decide who got the opportunities and who did not.

“Tests have no predictive power, but the educational system uses them because tests in America are the new Jim Crow sign. Fifty years ago there were signs saying, ‘white only’ and ‘colored only’,” Johnson said. “Now the test culture says, ‘600 only’ and ‘2,400 only.’ And it makes sure you don’t pass the test because it is going to standardize the middle-class white life although you are a black child growing up in poverty.”

Johnson also reexamined the desegregation of public schools. He questioned why desegregation had to be mentioned in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 after Brown v. Board of Education already made it illegal in 1954, a full ten years earlier.

“There is a big difference between paper law and real law. If there is one thing that we must stop celebrating, African Americans in particular, is laws on paper until you see them in practice,” Johnson said. He noted that half of the schools in America were still separate and unequal and segregated in 1974. In the same year, the Supreme Court decided that schools were not obligated to bus African American children to white districts in the Milliken v. Bradley case.

Johnson also pointed out that lack of African American teachers was the major cause of the inadequate education that black students were exposed to. Teaching, according to Johnson, was a profession dominated by white females.

Johnson continued to explore the political issues involved in the underrepresentation of African American teachers. “The teachers here belong to the American Federation of Teachers, or a national educational association, teachers union, and under the union contract. The schools cannot lay off teachers who have been given tenure,” Johnson said. He pointed out that even if white teachers were reported for mistreating black students, they could not be fired because of their tenure and membership to the union.

“If blacks would like to change their community, they need to take on the teachers unions,” Johnson said. “But politicians are scared of the public school change because public school teachers are one of the largest voting blocs in the United States of America.”

“If the black community wants to change the education system, we need to change ourselves. Change is not coming from the politician,” Johnson said.

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