Inequality is Learned


Margaret Grange, Scripps College '21

interviewed Malaya Tuyay

My piece, entitled Inequality is Learned, is meant to provide commentary on the unequal distribution of access to education in public school systems throughout the US. The image was constructed by layering pieces of cut vinyl in different colors, the mixing of the colors being the focal point of the print. The text was written by myself with the hope of concisely and eloquently stating my opinion on the subject of access to education. I wanted the text to connect to the image and expand on what it might come to represent.

Growing up in Chicago, I was lucky to have had the privilege to attend one of the top public high schools in the city. It was sometimes easy to forget or dismiss the opportunities I was given because of where I was fortunate enough to learn. Later on in high school, I spent some time volunteering with elementary aged children in Chicago public schools and my eyes were opened to the disparity within the education system I had taken for granted. Because of my zipcode, my parents' knowledge of the school system, and the resources my family was able to provide, I never knew hardship in my education. Unless children in Chicago can test into the few highly ranked public schools within city limits, they are funneled to their neighborhood elementary and high schools. Neighborhoods in Chicago are often majorly segregated, therefore many schools reflect the demographics of the surrounding area. Most of the schools in neighborhoods with majority minority residents have on average received significantly less money and support from the Chicago Board of Education and the state of Illinois than schools in historically white majority neighborhoods. As a result, these schools underperform and thousands of children in Chicago are deprived of an equal opportunity to quality education. How could I not have realized this while I had been benefiting from that same system for more than half of my life? I would not be where I am now without the education I was given and it hurts to think that so many kids in my own city are never even given that chance.

This semester, I came across an artists' book entitled About Education. The book was illustrated and printed by Jim Machacek and features a poem written anonymously by a high school student in Canada who committed suicide. The poem touches on how the student felt misunderstood and forgotten by their school. They felt like they had been failed by their education. I immediately connected to this poem and drew a connection between their story and ones I have witnessed in the past. As someone coming from a place of privilege, I think it's the least I can do to share my piece and provide commentary in whatever way I am able. The illustrations in the book used geometric shapes and repeated images, often superimposed over swaths of solid color. I found the simplicity of the images particularly powerful and was inspired to create a similar effect with my print. The colors in my print are especially important, most of all the small triangular section that is a mixture of the two colors used. I wanted to the image to present a message that might be understood even without text; something that represented the divide and overlap that often occurs in an education system. 

Inequality within school systems can be largely overlooked and I felt that this issue needed a voice. Because of my close connection to this, I wanted to stand up for kids from not only Chicago, but all over the US who aren't given the same opportunities as others.