Why Our System of Education is Really, Really Broken

Last week, I took my 4 year old daughter to get screened so that she can start kindergarten next fall. As I understand it, schools like to know where your kids are before they start so that they know how best to meet them where they are (at least that was my interpretation of this process).

I picked my daughter up from daycare shortly after 12.30. Our appointment was at 1 p.m. and even though I had to drive around a bit to find a place to park, we make it in time. We walked into the early childhood screening center and the receptionist asked me our names and to confirm our appointment time. Which we proceeded to do. She then asked me if my daughter was Somali to which I answered no. She then told me that somehow in the registration process, our family was recorded as a Somali speaking. My guess is that they took one look at my daughter’s name, a long West African name, and her race and assumed that the only logical conclusion was that she was Somali given the large population present in the Twin Cities. They were wrong, and in a big way, but at this point I assume that they will simply make the correction and move on, right.


After registration, an older African American male approached me and let me know that he would be the one testing my daughter. He engaged us a little bit before whisking her off to the testing room. I know that my daughter is smart and prepared for this test, due to all of the hard work and dedication of her daycare teacher, so I am not in the least bit worried about how she will perform. Once the testing was done, the man returned my daughter to me and after some time, a white woman came in to walk me through her test results. When she told me that my daughter scored 50 out of 50, it only confirmed what I have always known to be true – that she is beautiful genius!

After giving me my daughter’s test score, she went over all of the areas where she was evaluated. As she did, I thought to myself that all of these things seemed pretty basic in comparison to the things that my daughter was learning at school but I assumed the discrepancy was because my daughter’s teacher is way a head of the ball. Way a head. But when I received a print out of her results, which would be handed over to the schools that we applied to in the near future, I noticed that towards the bottom of the report that they had my daughter recorded as Somali.

I immediately interrupted the counselor and questioned as to why this was understanding all of negative impacts this could have on her future – labeling her as ELL, not expecting her to do as well as the other children, etc. She responded that since she ended up being registered as Somali that they gave her a test designed for Somali students (though administered in English). I protested and once again stated that my daughter is not Somali, and the counselor insisted that it was okay because the test was not that much different. “Well, how different are they?” I asked. “Not much,” she replied. I continued to lay into her, asking for specifics and she eventually told me that the test for English speaking families included colors and body parts, which were not included on the test for Somali speakers. She asked me if I wanted my daughter tested in those areas to which I gave a resounding yes. Duh!

As she pulled out the test for English speakers, and tested whether my daughter knew her colors and body parts (things that she has known since she was two), she noticed that there are were 3 other areas that were on the English test which were not included in the Somali test. She administered them all and once again, my daughter knocked them out of the park though this time she missed a few questions.

But her performance or lack thereof is not really the point of this story (though it is a wonderful testimony for home-based daycares). The point of this story is that in this one experience I was able to really witness just how flawed our system of education is. From my vantage point, I see that from the very beginning of a child’s educational stint, they are measured and judged based on their race even before they have had the opportunity to perform and prove that they are not the stereotype. The very system is designed to disadvantage people of different cultural backgrounds i.e. giving Somalis a different test rather than testing them in culturally appropriate ways. And if a parent is not paying attention to these nuances and not speaking up for their children (or doesn’t know how), the system will devour their kids. No wonder we have the poor outcomes that we do!

All of this and my daughter hasn’t even started kindergarten yet. Lord, have mercy!

3 thoughts on “Why Our System of Education is Really, Really Broken

  1. bethraps

    You might even think they would begin to recognize _East African last names as distinct from West African ones…but this is perhaps asking they not be overwhelmed with what’s “right in front of them,” which as you point out is a “raced” face rather than a person, a particular small person. Huge sigh. Awesome testimony for homebased daycares and activist parents and genius girls!

    1. ebonyjohanna

      That was one of my observations too! West African names are visibly different than East African. But even then, and even if a child is raised in a home where a language other than English is spoken, why assume they are ELL? And if they are ELL, why not prepare them better for kindergarten through early education programs including head-start (this is why these programs need to be accessible to everyone). Geez! Simple solutions – the system intentionally makes it harder.

  2. Pingback: On Kindergarten and Little Black Girls | Ebony Johanna

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