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AllsGravy 1 month ago Learning
Back to School: Coded Educational Language – A Conversation Starter.

(credit: Conversive Thread)

You may think you’re done with all this now, but your children and grandchildren are going through the system. When you hear terms like “systemic racism” and switch off because you don’t see it, it is because you don’t know what it is or don’t want to recognise it. Well here is one example, everyday language used in education – and even we teachers don’t understand the real impact.

Educationalists and parents will be familiar with these terms. But have they considered the coded implications, particularly for BI&POC (Black, indigenous and people of colour)?

“Academic Rigor”

Rigor itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing but when combined with grading it becomes a tool to create classroom meritocracy. In this way rigor is wielded as an extension of the carceral state, to punish struggling students by creating failure where growth might otherwise exist. This cycle of stratifying students into successes and failures is necessary to maintain classist and racist institutions like the school to prison pipeline.

“Growth Mindset”

If educators teaching “growth mindset” do not take young people’s environment into account, particularly, youth experiencing white supremacy, racism, poverty, patriarchy, and ableism, then they are engaged in glorified victim blaming.

Educators should remember that bi&poc experience systemic oppression and are more likely to develop a “fixed mindset” because they are far more likely to be punished for their mistakes.

“Under-represented Minority”

BI&POC are not minorities – but the world’s global majority. They are only “minorities” within the borders of Europe’s colonial projects. And are only under represented to the extent that those projects must continue legacies of genocide, slavery, theft, & empire to maintain control of their borders. Global white settlers must ask themselves who would they be without their borders?

“Under Resourced”

Is a way of describing the historical exploitation of BI&POC communities as happenstance rather than as coordinated campaigns of disenfranchisement, marginalization, and terror. It also positions the current distribution of resources and access as something that can be fixed with some simple policy realignment in an otherwise well intentioned system. It does not name the intentions of white supremacy, capitalism, or empire.


Is a coded term for saying a child survived the conditions of white supremacy, racism & capitalism without having to name those systems of oppression directly – or their correlative effects on young people of color.

“Black, brown [& indigenous] [students] don’t need to learn grit, they need schools to stop being racist.” – Andre Perry


In the context of a bi&poc school this is code which abdicates the education authority of any responsibility to resolve any of the inequalities its systems throw down for children to encounter daily. Instead the expectation that children need to navigate the flawed unfair systems for themselves and bounce back is as racist as it gets.

“Achievement Gap”

There is no “achievement gap.” there is a predictable disparity in learning outcomes between well and poorly resourced communities. Calling it an achievement gap obfuscates the generational wealth and access afforded to white students. Creating an equitable education system means decentering racist outcomes like test scores & grades and shifting resources to meet historically exploited communities’ material and socio-emotional needs.

“Perfect Attendance”

Is the normalised pressure for students to operate as machines rather than human beings who get sick, who navigate trauma, who experience fear, loss, and precarity, or who require support navigating access needs like nutrition and transportation. Perfect attendance is how schools begin to coerce students into internalized ableism and model capitalist work ethic.


Is always created relative to a benchmark or a mean. So educators must always ask “standardised for who?” In the case of an education system created by and for white people, standardisation simply means the institutionalisation of white students’ learning outcomes; outcomes which have been scaffolded by hundreds of years of generational wealth denied to bi&poc communities.

“Inner-city Schools,”

Sometimes referred to as “urban schools,” is a coded way of naming schools whose populations are predominantly black & brown. The term skirts around the history of urban ghettoisation, around the process of white flight to affluent catchment areas since the advent of ofsted ratings – leaving what became bi&poc schools without funding.

“At-risk Youth”

Is a term of misdirection. It positions bi&poc and communities as centres of risk, but the risks in bi&poc students’ lives emanate more from criminalisation, policing, and disenfranchisement from economic freedom than these communities. This misdirection is a form of victim blaming because it holds bi&poc responsible for overcoming conditions created by oppression rather than dismantling that oppression.

“Low Income” and “Disadvantaged Background”

Is a phrase which positions white saviorism, charity, and the non-profit industrial complex as the only viable solutions to the destruction settler, colonial suprematism, capitalism, and anti-blackness which are systemically enacted. Their purpose is to assuage white guilt, not to name systemic oppression or to bring about justice.

“Under-achieving Youth”

Is coded victim blaming. It disappears the generational support middle-class and affluent white students have received to scaffold their academic achievement while at the same time invisibilizing the added emotional and physical labour bi&poc students do everyday while navigating and surviving histories of genocide, white supremacy, anti-blackness, and institutionalized poverty.

“Special Education”

“Special education” is code for identifying neurodivergence and disability in students without having to explicitly challenge the ableism of standardised school systems. A failure to challenge standardisation is ableist because it prevents the possibility of building decentralised systems that encompass all students’ access needs rather than just a normalised neurotype.

“Economic Diversity”

This is a fancy way of saying a school is gentrifying.

This terminology is also used when administrators want to skirt around naming poverty as a prominent and defining force in the school district.

Educators should ask why is it that new language is constantly invented to name poverty?

“Classroom Management”

We recognise there are forms of classroom management that are non-hierarchical and non-punitive. Here we mean to interrogate the ways in which classroom management becomes a synonym for disciplinary punishment, e.g., public shaming, callouts, extra work, and the threats of detention, suspension, and expulsion. Each of these disciplinary actions are early tools in white settler colonialism’s criminalization of BI&POC.

2 replies Share
    • Linde 11th September 2021 at 11:28 pm

      Hello, what exactly is coded educational language? Sorry, just spotted a long article presumably dealing with this very subject. Looking forward to a good discussion! Linde

      • AllsGravy 12th September 2021 at 1:26 am

        I think it is clear from the piece what is meant by the coded language used in education. The taxonomy is just a few of the most common terms encountered by parents, teachers and LEAs.

        I have briefly described what the terms hide in terms of systemic biases against POC particularly (but not exclusively), and expose the multi-generational inequality that the privileged white are at best oblivious to, at worst, resistant to share.

        Now, what to do with this (new?) information?

        I’ve been a teacher for 20+ years and admit I have only considered this language in such terms in the last couple of years; and I have mainly taught in very culturally diverse inner-city schools. I feel ashamed because it’s true. It’s never meant as such: I have never written a report commenting positively on a student’s ‘resilience’ and knowingly meant, “suck it up because you’re black and you don’t deserve/shouldn’t expect better”, but now I know that’s what I was writing. It’s not good enough. I’d say 95% of classroom teachers don’t have a clue about how this language is being used by government systems to embed inequalities – and they are the foot soldiers! Parents need to challenge this, because change can’t come from we’ll intentioned teachers.