Rinku Sen: Let's Call It an Opportunity Gap

Oct 17, 2013

Credit rinkusen.com

Rinku Sen is an author, speaker and activist. She'll be in Connecticut next week to keynote a conference, talking about "The Structure of Race and Poverty: Implications for the Future of Young Children." She appeared on WNPR's Where We Live and spoke about institutional racism, and about her website Colorlines

Colorlines is described as "a daily news site where race matters." Its mission statement includes, "We believe that instead of being defined and divided by racism, we can become uplifted and united by racial justice. To do so, we have to confront explicitly the racism that is so often at the core of our society's challenges."

On education, Sen spoke about the achievement gap, and about desegregation in schools -- specifically the Sheff vs. O'Neill ruling in Connecticut. Sen said we have to re-frame the achievement gap. Instead, we should call it an "opportunity gap:"

Just that little bit of shift in the language that we use indicates that there’s somebody responsible for making sure that kids learn - that all kids learn - beyond the kids themselves. So the achievement gap language puts a lot of the onus on students themselves, whereas the opportunity gap language begins to get us looking at what are the opportunities available to all kids. And that is the real promise of a desegregation plan.

The desegregation plan in Connecticut took shape in the landmark case Sheff vs. O’Neill, which has at its core a plan to get white suburban kids and urban children of color in the same classroom. Sen said that multicultural and diverse educations settings like this are good for kids. The most important thing, though, is that they all get access to the kinds of resources that provide them opportunities to learn. 

Now I have to say that I’m a little bit cynical about the notion that suburban white kids are going to be sent by their parents to study in what are certainly going to be perceived as, if not actually, lesser schools, schools that have fewer resources in the city. But if that kind of desegregation plan is accompanied by a plan to make sure that every school has what it actually needs to serve the students who are in that school, then it’s going to have some potential to make the kinds of changes folks are looking for.