Saturday, April 21, 2007

Public Education

My Grandfather has a tendency, as do most old people, to talk like a bigot from time to time. This used to drive my sister crazy and she would make attempts to ''teach'' him to be more open-minded about different ethnic groups. My mother, in turn, would remind my sister that, while Grandpa tends to talk a big game, off the record, he used to spend quite a bit of his own money on the local black high school because he thought it was unfair that they were so desperately underfunded. This was back in the sixties, and we're supposed to remember how bad those days were. After all, the schools with the black children didn't even have textbooks.

Of course, not much has changed on that front, aside from a more widespread acceptance of the status quo. It was right after my friends started graduating from college that a number of them began working in DC public schools. We grew up in Fairfax County schools that were palatial by comparison. An ex-girlfriend of mine worked in an elementary school that didn't even have chalk, much less textbooks. Many of the students came to school, at seven years old, on the public bus. Others had seen relatives murdered recently. Very little education happened. Many kids simply gave up by the fourth grade. What's strange is that most people I've met understand perfectly well that schools in poor black neighborhoods are dumps; but unlike my 'bigot' grandfather, they just accept that this is the way things are. It's reality. It's up to people to fend for themselves. Even in regards to public services. Living in a lower class part of Canada, I would like to point out that this is the way things are in the US, not here.

I've been told that the government spends more on poor students than they do on rich ones by people who probably read that crap on the Internet. It's not accurate. Jonathan Kozol has written a number of books explaining, school by school and county by county, how much more money goes to students in wealthy suburbs as compared to students from poorer areas in the US. Considerably less money goes to poorer children, who are considered to be a less worthwhile investment than their middle class white counterparts, and much of the pittance that does go to poor areas is used to maintain crumbling, ancient school buildings. Everybody has to go to school, and most have to go to public schools. The condition of those schools, and the absolute refusal to spend more public funds on certain school districts, makes a mockery of our ideas of democratic equality of opportunity. We literally don't behave as if we believe things which we claim are fundamental to our nation.

My skepticism about university affirmative action is based on the fact that I think it's too little and too late. University-level students are not the ones that need the help. The real problem is that very few lower class students make it to the university level, and given the state of their schools, I understand why. On the other hand, people who say that affirmative action is ''unfair'' and ''racist'' are surprisingly selective in their sense of outrage. When I lived in a poor black neighborhood in Buffalo, the public school on our street was an overcrowded former bus station with no playground or schoolyard. Inevitably I heard the same crap from people... ''But the state is spending a fortune on these kids already!'' God knows where- the school didn't even have janitors.

This is where I think the Internet can be of some use. It's just amazing that I can sit here in Canada and read about the parents who are trying to improve DC public schools. One of my favorite sites actually details exactly what repairs need to be made in DC schools, complete with pictures. Even better- it lets the students themselves post comments on the quality of their schools. This is the sort of transparency that Enlightened thinking has always embraced.

I've heard a lot of astute critiques of hip hop music in the wake of Don Imus and 'nappy ho-gate'. The critics of the music say that it degrades black women and insults black men. It is said that young black men don't value the lives of other young black men. I hear that the 'black community' doesn't value education, or faith, or its own children from people who have, literally, no idea what they are talking about. On one hand, the criticisms are very fair. On the other hand, if the larger society wants black children to behave as if their lives have worth, it should start treating them that way, and stop accepting such a horrid status quo.

Note: Current Photo of Cardoza High School classroom in DC.


gregvw said...

Hey that reminds me. When the Imus story happened, I had to "look up" the word nappy. This usually accomplished by yelling "Hey, Holly! What the fuck does nappy mean?" After having it explained to me, I was unable to reconcile the definition with the fact that the entire pictured basketball team had their hair straightened. Did this happen after the Imus broadcast, or did Imus just not know what he was talking about. Sorry not to comment on education.

Rufus said...

No problem. I think Imus just didn't know what he was talking about. In the British press, they have had to explain that he did not mean a garden hoe with a diaper.