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LIU Post Professor Arnold Dodge Looks to Bridge Racial Divides With Education Research

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Arnold Dodge remembers the moment with crystal clarity.

It was 2009, and the chair of LIU Post’s Educational Leadership and Administration Department had had recently joined the University’s faculty after retiring as the superintendent of schools in the East Rockaway School District. Now, two years into his career at LIU, the longtime teacher, principal, and administrator in Long Island’s public schools found himself in South Africa as part of a People-to-People exchange, visiting with colleagues from the University of Stellenbosch. At dinner one evening, Dodge found himself exchanging stories with one like-minded professor.

“We’re chatting,” Dodge said, “and we’re talking about how poverty is terrible and the kids are so oppressed, and we’ve got to do something about it. He’s about to leave, and he takes out his keys, and he has a BMW logo, and I said, ‘You have a BMW?’ He said yes, and I said, ‘So do I.’“

The shared symbol of wealth amidst the discussion of oppressive poverty was not lost on either educator.

“Here we are,” Dodge said, “these big shot professors, talking about how can we do this, and then our own privilege comes in.”

It was a formative moment for what has become a constant thread through Dodge’s career at LIU Post: the study of inequality and its effects on education. Dodge’s findings in eight years of study were published this past January in the International Journal of Education and Social Science, in an article entitled “The Persistence of the Racial Divide in South Africa and the United States: Examining Critical Race Perspectives of School Leaders in the Western Cape and Long Island.”

In his annual trips to South Africa, Dodge has seen the legacy of apartheid thrown into sharp relief.

“It’s an interesting juxtaposition,” Dodge said, “because the country is magnificent, the countryside. It belies what’s on the ground. One of the things we see is this magnificent countryside, and then we go into one of these townships, and we have guides take us through the townships, and it’s appalling to us; not only the beautiful countryside, but then the beautiful schools we see, and then we’re in the middle of this land of nothing. I think that what I get over the years, the reaction is, the unfairness of it all.”

What may be the most shocking aspect of the divide, however, is how familiar it feels.

“If you look down the main drag in Hempstead,” Dodge said, “there are million-dollar homes with tree-lined streets, and then, you look back and there are tenements and people who live over storefronts. How does that happen? The same thing happens in South Africa.

“You can have all the laws you want about discrimination, but how do you get to the fact that there’s 100 percent white kids if the laws say you can’t do that? We always find a way to do that; same thing in South Africa. The biggest takeaway for folks is the similarity between the two.”

Dodge’s research explores the origins and causes of these divisions. “We divide the discussions up into de facto segregation, de jure segregation, and white privilege,” he said. “Those are the themes that emerge.”

More than studying the causes of disparity among schools on Long Island and in the Western Cape region of South Africa, though, Dodge also looks to explore methods of bridging the divide. “I think the biggest takeaway for folks is the similarity of the division,” he said, “and that’s what we’re working on. How can we heal that divide?”

Part of the answer comes from using LIU’s technological capabilities, along with those in corresponding facilities at Stellenbosch, widely regarded as one of Africa’s top universities. Dodge and his colleagues at Stellenbosch facilitate Skype video chats between classes of children from Queens and Long Island and their peers in South Africa, conversations that routinely turn into emotionally powerful experiences.

“Within five minutes,” Dodge said, “the kids are just kids, and they’re talking about songs. Some kids break out into song; the South African kids once broke out into a dance. Then they start talking: ‘What do you after school?’ And then, it’s vanished, the whole divide. It’s pretty extraordinary: the connections, the observations, and maybe the hope for the future, that the kids are going to be OK as long as the adults get out of the way.”

That said, however, Dodge is looking to involve more of his colleagues in the exploration of educational challenges on Long Island and in South Africa. In February, he led a delegation of school administrators from Long Island on a tour of schools in South Africa, which he plans to grow into an annual occurrence, complemented by annual symposiums in December.

“We get a whole other paradigm going,” Dodge said, “where people want to talk to us and then there’s so many roundtables and so many discussions with kids, so that’s a great stimulating aspect of the whole program.”

As the scope of his work grows, Dodge hopes to stimulate more and more of his colleagues, building more bridges across the racial divide.

Posted 06/05/2017

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