Equity & Diversity Opinion

Education’s Invisible Goalies Who Box Out Black Americans

Our country has a long history of blocking educational access
By John B. Craig & Kenneth D. Waters — March 12, 2021 4 min read
Illustration of woman walking through maze.

When we think about education access, the image of a goalie comes to mind. The goalie in soccer and hockey has one job: Keep the opponent from scoring. How this pertains to the field of education is that our K-12 schools and our institutions of higher learning are guarded by goalies. These goalies are cloaked in exclusionary policies, which materialize in defending their lack of employing diverse administrators and instructional staff. They deflect financial and emotional support for students from lower-socioeconomic statuses. Black educators must constantly get past a goalie’s tentacles and work tirelessly to get other Black educators past these long withstanding defensive systems that are designed to block access once we do.

As Black male educators who have spent time teaching and in positions of leadership in inner-city public and charter schools, in college classrooms, and recently, in predominantly white K-12 private and public schools and universities, it is painfully obvious to us that Black students and even fellow Black educators continue to be negatively impacted by racist acts and systemic oppression. Our solution is all about access, access, access: access to equal and equitable educational opportunities, access to employment opportunities, and access to upward mobility.

As the nation’s newest U.S. secretary of education, Miguel Cardona has great potential to lead on policies that promote opportunities and access for students of color. His celebrated career as a teacher, principal, and most recently, Connecticut’s education commissioner gives us hope that his presence heading a Cabinet department has the potential to reverse goalielike policies.

As educators, we must remain steadfast in ensuring that our most vulnerable students are receiving not only an equitable learning experience but one that adequately prepares them for success in and out of the classroom. To this end, it is incumbent upon all of us to hold Secretary Cardona to this expectation and the promise he makes to all students.

Despite the Brown v. Board of Education decisions of 1954 and 1955, school districts across the country continued to play goalie by blocking access to public education for Black students. For example, the Prince Edward County school district in Virginia closed all its public schools from 1959 to 1964 to avoid integrating them. The state and county then offered tax credits to support private schools educating white children, leaving many Black children with no opportunity for education for five years. An entire district suspended public education for no other reason but to ensure its white population could play goalie and block Black students from accessing an education that they deserved.

There are ample other instances throughout history where access to education has been blocked for Black students. Black schools were bombed. Black children were tormented by white kids and their parents for attending white schools. And Black churches were set on fire because Black children learned to read in their basements. In fact, since the first enslaved Africans were brought to these shores in 1619, white people have worked to keep Black people illiterate and unable to fully participate in American society. The owners of enslaved people widely feared that if the racially oppressed learned to read English, they would be armed with the necessary tool to realize their freedom—education!

The intentional goalkeeping to block Black education remains the most important aspect of systemic racism.

The intentional goalkeeping to block Black education remains the most important aspect of systemic racism. The residual effects are long lasting and are still reflected in the persistent gaps in educational attainment.

We, too, have personally been blocked from educational opportunities at every level of education. However, we have also been able to score, despite the goalie’s attempts. Our forebearers fought—and some died—for the right to vote, attend public schools, serve in public office, and to realize the American right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In 2021, the barriers to access remain, but the goalies have become more sophisticated in how they maintain their position in society.

What else can educators do to ensure Black students have access to educational opportunities that will advance them academically, socially, and professionally?

1. Educate yourself: Be sure that you fully understand what the barriers are, how those barriers were built, and what needs to be done to eradicate them.
2. Be courageous: Do not accept the old excuse, “Well, we want a more diverse teaching staff or student body, but we can’t find diverse students or educators.” Challenge that assumption by asking: Where are you looking? Often, predominantly white schools hire within their own networks. Obviously, if you keep recruiting from the same water well, you will keep drawing the same water. So, be courageous enough to force the issue of intentionally recruiting in diverse locations.
3. Be wise: To change the system, you have to get into the system and work from within to speak truth to power.
4. Build meaningful alliances with your colleagues: Look for the colleagues who are courageous enough to stand with you when you’re having those courageous and tough conversations.
5. Talk about race: Do not simply have programming about diversity, equity, and inclusion to check off a box for marketing purposes and to make yourself feel good; instead, create safe, collegial workplace environments where you can have candid conversations about race and its impact on decisionmaking and policies.

A version of this article appeared in the March 17, 2021 edition of Education Week as The Invisible Goalies in Education


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