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Whose Promise: Black Students, Their Teachers, and the Education System

by Charlotte DeVaughn

Photo by Katerina Holmes

In the article “Why LeBron James’ I Promise School should be more like LeBron and not shy away from issues of race,”authors Nolan Krueger, Kevin O’Neal Cokley and Marlon L. Bailey discuss the early successes of NBA star LeBron James’ I Promise School. Published in April of 2019, the article praised LeBron James as a bold leader when speaking out about racial injustices such as the police killings of unarmed black men and racial disparities in criminal court. Not only that, but as a testament to his commitment to addressing racial disparities, James founded the I Promise School, a public elementary school in Akron, Ohio dedicated to students who are falling behind academically. The school has received praise for its emphasis on teamwork, positive disciplinary practices and familial support resources such as onsite laundry facilities, a food pantry and parent classes for those trying to earn their GED.

However, the I Promise School has received criticism from several scholars for its quietness surrounding racial issues, more specifically for its lack of teacher diversity. Sociological literature has articulated the importance of confronting poverty and race in the classroom as it helps to ground coursework in students’ lived experiences. Scholars have also asserted that when educators fail to adequately discuss race, it makes the topic of race all the more explosive. While the revolutionary nature of LeBron James’ I Promise School should be applauded especially in regard to its resources, services and support for underserved students, if the school fails to hire teachers that are representative of the students they serve and adequately address issues of race and equity, it will be unable to fully realize the school’s larger goal of spurring generational change.

Overall, Kreuger et al. provide a strong critique of the I Promise School. They note the strengths of the school such as its commitment to providing students with the opportunity to learn and resources to minimize barriers to education. They also discuss the school’s downfalls such as the lack of faculty diversity and avoidance of difficult race conversations in the classroom. However, the critique sheds light on an issue much bigger than the I Promise School. Kreuger et al.’s critique inherently puts the burden on the I Promise School to fix issues of race that are deeply ingrained in the greater education system, like the lack of diversity in the teacher workforce. In current times, with anti-racism work in the spotlight, society must reflect on whose job it is to disrupt the current educational system. Is it the responsibility of minority communities to address these massive, systemic issues of race? The I Promise School was named for its promise to provide all students with the opportunity to learn. Never did it promise to take on institutional racism as a whole. That leaves the question: whose promise is it?


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