Albuquerque Cultural Conference

Education and Gentrification–Where Do We Go From Here?

Talking about the educational institutions and their connections to the people they serve is always difficult. Problems stem from the role that the individuals play (or the ways that an individual has a connection) to those institutions. This is the same when discussing gentrification. How a person connects to the neighborhood/area mentioned brings problems to the discussion. The level of power and authority of a person, the investment (monetarily or emotionally) that someone has in the outcome, and the role a person feels they have to play in the discussion all make a difference in how the conversation begins. Not to mention what path the conversation takes once it starts.

Many of the current problems in New Mexico education stem from the division between community needs and what those local educational institutions are prepared (or allowed) to give them. I would argue this is a larger, systemic problem in education as well–not specific to NM. It is easier to point to local examples and practices in order to create a more robust picture of how these issues are systemic though. Much like when talking about gentrification. The process of gentrification is systemic as well, but it’s most easily noticeable when looking at the changes that have occurred in the neighborhoods you are familiar with and the changes brought particularly to your front door. This is not the only connection between gentrification and education though. The most glaring connection between these two topics is the role cultural hegemony should play in the conversations we have on both.

When we talk about educational institutions, education policy,  and education workers, we rarely mention the cultural hegemony that is a part of how each of these sections are assumed to work. We rarely mention the class and ethnic barriers that are a part of the foundation of institutional education as it functions today. That is, until stories like the axing of entire cultural educational programs show up in the news. If nothing else, we can thank the Tucson  Unified School District and Arizona law for bringing  these conversations to the forefront nationally.  [Of course, our conversations outside of Tucson are doing very little to help the students and teachers affected by these changes right now.  Our actions, on the other hand, can and do. Support their efforts in any way you can. That’s the difference between spouting theory and praxis.] And, more often than not, when smaller actions are taken (the banning of books by administration, the lack of availability of courses students/teachers have requested, or the refusal to renew the contracts of certain teachers because of their “radical” teaching methods) there are no news stories. You’ll be lucky if most of the members of that school district are even aware of what happened.

This is true of gentrification as well. We rarely talk about how cultural hegemony works within the process of gentrification, although the process itself is inherently one of cultural and social environment change. We talk about the local businesses that are affected when a large corporate store moves into an area, but we don’t talk about the cultural hegemony that large corporate store supports with its existence. Yes, you may be able to find piloncillo at the corporate store in the “ethnic foods” section. What about a good pan dulce? Not likely–unless they’ve hired a local person that has lived in the area for years in the bakery and given the baker the freedom to create the items they wish. We talk about the demolishing or renovations of older houses that is always a part of gentrification. We don’t talk about the diaspora a 60-year-old couple experience when they are forced to leave their home because they can no longer afford the property taxes in their area. Or the indignation a First Nations person may feel when told by the homeowner association they were forced to join (or their new neighbors along the block) that they cannot paint their home in tribal colors because it will decrease property values.

The process of gentrification also affects the educational conversation thoroughly.  The community that specific educational institutions serve changes due to gentrification. It may even displace the existing educational institutions for that area. The needs of community members, which should be forefront in any conversation about education, change with the community at large. This process often leaves many individuals and their needs lost in that traffic. Going beyond the individual, many educational institutions in New Mexico are lost in the process of educational policies and legislation written by individuals and governing bodies which have little knowledge about the communities those particular institutions serve.

The problem of explaining the reasons behind high dropout rates in poor local communities and poor states is the same problem of explaining the difficulties brought to local neighborhoods by developers bringing higher cost housing into the area. And depending on the authority and power you hold when speaking, the gender you embody during the conversation, the level of investment you have placed in the elements of the conversation, the ethnic and racial background you embody, and the role you are allowed to play in the overall space of the conversation, the conclusion of the conversation will change. The only irreparable damage you can do is by staying silent for too long.


About Shauna

Shauna Osborn is an activist, artist, author, and educator working in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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