In using a critical race theory lens and an intersectional analysis to evaluate specific issues in the recent history of the City of Vancouver, an event regarding the Vancouver School Board comes to mind. Just last month, the democratically elected Vancouver School Board was fired for pushing back against the British Columbia Liberal party, whose leader, Christy Clark, called for extreme changes to be made to the budget. The Vancouver School Board is an intersectionally diverse governing body that communicates, on behalf of the students, faculty, and parents’ needs and concerns, to the provincial government/BC Ministry of Education. The changes proposed to the budget were highly controversial, in that they affected mostly East Vancouver, at-risk schools, with lower socio-economic status children and families in the form of looming school closures. In addition, this included cutting specialized programs for students with mental health needs, learning disabilities, as well as mini school and after school arts and science programs all over the school district. This was controversial because of the 358 million dollar subsidy that private schools like the one that Christy Clark’s son goes to received (read this piece by the National Observer to learn more). Considering that a majority of the population of students of East Vancouver schools are highly racialized, have darker skin tones, and come from lower socio-economic status homes, critical race theory comes into play
especially in these circumstances.
Before the firing of the Vancouver School Board, the issue of teaching at-risk students in East Vancouver was nearly invisible. Similar to Ladson-Billings’ (1998) findings regarding the ways in which African-American students are seen as lacking in ability to learn instead of putting blame on the systems that fail to teach them as individuals with specific peculiarities (p. 19), students in East Vancouver high schools are taught with a “race-neutral perspective” (p.19) that puts undue emphasis on the things that they cannot do, according to provincial standards. This is also called ‘deficit thinking’ (Yosso, 2005, p.75). In addition to the struggles that these children face with the education system, they also have the weight of dropping out of high school, financial insecurity, addiction, and more on their shoulders. The effects that school closures, the cutting of specialized programs, and the devaluing of students’ educations has on the at-risk students is extensive, and politicians such as Christy Clark have a major role to play in the prioritization of reconciling systematic oppression in the educational system that she governs.
Racism in East Vancouver schools can be explained with critical race theory by seeing it as a result of the systematic relations in which the poor are embedded. In other terms, poor people are poor because they lack the social and economic capital necessary to provide them with the ability to move up the socio-economic ladder, out of poverty (Angeles, 2016). Parallels can be drawn between the truths told about the systematic oppression of blacks by both poor and rich white people, as a form of power indulgence and white supremacy in order to acquire land (Ladson-Billings, 1998, p. 20), in that Christy Clark is a white woman who earns a whopping 195 thousand dollar salary (not including her BC Liberal leadership of 50 thousand dollars), who has taken money away from the public school system in order to subsidize an institution that her own family would benefit from. This kind of subtle racism and classism is not so subtle when viewed from a critical race theory lens.
Our life chances are developed by our education, and so, the effects that Christy Clark’s decision to fire the Vancouver School Board—who fought against the passing of the new budgets—is embedded in heavy white supremacy when the dispersion of white and lighter skin toned students is so concentrated in private schools. When education is seen as a form of asset acquirement (Angeles, Oct 24, 2016), this decision is even more so set to determine the future of these already at-risk students, as well as to perpetuate the systematic oppression of people of colour in East Vancouver. Specifically, public school students are 34% less likely to graduate and continue on to a post-secondary institution than private school students (BC Ministry of Education, 2015, p.3), which makes them less likely to earn the same kind of money as a student from a private school. These kinds of changes effect and penetrate through our educational systems to prolong the cycle of at-risk families from generation to generation, and must be brought to light in order to disrupt this sequence.
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Angeles, L. (2016). October 24 Lecture. University of British Columbia Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice Institute.
Angeles, L. (2016). November 14 Lecture. University of British Columbia Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice Institute.
BC Ministry of Education. (2015). Student Transitions to BC Public Post-Secondary Institutions. British Columbia Provincial Government, 1-13.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1998). Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education?. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11(1), 7-24.
Yosso, T.J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity, and Education. 8(1), 69-91.