“the soft bigotry of low expectations”

I just read Ruben Navarrette’s reflection “Jaime Escalante’s lessons for teachers” on CNN. And I had to laugh at the line attributed to former President George Bush (the first) about “soft bigotry.”

It’s not true. It’s not soft bigotry.

It’s outright racism. Cold, bloody, disgusting racism.

It’s why “I don’t know,” “I can’t”, and “I didn’t do it” were met with cold glares in my classroom at the beginning of this school year. Why I would launch into 15-minute rants about what the world wants  you to be.

Why I chose to teach my lower level English classes from an AP textbook. Why I push and push and push. Why I refuse to accept anything but the best from my students. Why I use “big words.” Why I am constantly talking about world events. Why I make my students read and read and read.

And I walk down the hall way and I hear: “these poor girls,” “ohhh, her mother’s in jail,” “ohh she’s a crack baby,” “you’re pushing too hard,” “you don’t understand this demographic.”


I have to say it. There’s no other word for it. So I apologize, but BULLSHIT.

Not poor enough to have shoes to walk to school. Not poor enough to borrow school supplies.

Your mom’s in jail? I understand. I do. My mother was never in jail, but I know what it’s like to have family members in jail. You want to see her. I’ll do everything in my power to make that happen. All I want in exchange is for you to work. (And she did.)

Developmental issues? I will sit with you for 2 hours after school reading my assignments word by word so you understand and can participate in class. (And she did.)

Pushing too hard? I have hundreds of emails from students who ask me to read their assignments before they turn them in so they will have cleaner copies. I have 20 students who have done every extra assignment–for no credit–that I have assigned because I want them to expand their brains.

Pushing too hard? I talk about soul. I talk about what it means to be human. I’ve watched my students grow up. I’ve heard them speak of their souls. I’ve heard them speak of their legacies. I’ve seen them smile from ear to ear because “that was some straight-up Jerry Springer sh@!, but I get it Ms. S.”

Yea, I push hard. I push my students to identify stereotypes. Then, I push them harder to own those stereotypes. I teach them to use their words to get what they deserve.

Demographic? I am this demographic, genius. The quiet little girl with brown skin who grew up around a mess of situations, but who pushes myself to the extreme to educate myself,  know what’s going on in my world, and use my words in the most powerful way I know. And I have a beautiful, beautiful life. Why would I not want my students to have that?

So, I disagree. It isn’t soft bigotry. It’s outright laziness and racism that allows teachers to decide what’s “good enough” for their students.


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