Home > Uncategorized > Instead of Debating Equity, We Are Debating Guns… And, Consequently, 50 Years From Now Change is Unlikely

Instead of Debating Equity, We Are Debating Guns… And, Consequently, 50 Years From Now Change is Unlikely

March 2, 2018

When I decided to become a public educator 50 years ago, one of the issues we studied in depth in our undergraduate classes was the findings of the Kerner Report, completed in 1968 in response to the riots that plagued urban areas in the mid-1960s. Thursday’s NYTimes featured a simultaneously depressing and hopeful op ed article written by Fred Harris, a former senator from Oklahoma, and now a professor emeritus of political science at the University of New Mexico and the lone surviving member of the Kerner Commission and Alan Curtis, the president and chief executive of the Eisenhower Foundation, the private-sector continuation of the 1968 Kerner Commission and the 1969 National Violence Commission. The op ed was a synopsis of the findings of the authors as reported in “Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years After the Kerner Report,” a report they co-edited… and their findings are depressing.

After 50 years, schools are re-segregated, the gap between poorer and richer American students in access to qualified teachers is among the highest in the world, the economic divide is widened, and the percentage of incarcerated Americans has increased dramatically. In effect, no progress was made on the items that were subjects of recommendations made by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, (a.k.a. the Kerner Commission because its chairman was Gov. Otto Kerner of Illinois) and, because that is the case, one could easily argue that things are worse. The op ed piece has several charts and graphs that display the disheartening data, but it concludes with one chart that is encouraging, one displaying a list of actions that DO and DO NOT work to mitigate inequities in several areas including: THE ECONOMIC PLAYING FIELD: JOBS; EDUCATION; HOUSING; and the JUSTICE SYSTEM. Unsurprisingly, the area that work all include active intervention and funding by the government. To level the economic playing field, the authors recommend:

  •  Single payer health insurance
  • Substantial increases to the minimum wage
  • Expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to reduce gaps in wealth and income
  • Demand-side, full-employment Keynesian economics for all Americans

To increase employment, they recommend

  • Globalization that prioritizes worker rights
  • More labor union power
  • Job training tied to job creation and placement

For education the recommendations are:

  • Racial integration
  • Investments in public school equity, quality teachers, early childhood education, community schools and other proven models

The housing recommendations:

  • Subsidized housing for all eligible citizens
  • Rigorous enforcement of fair housing laws

And the justice system recommendations are:

  • Community-based policing; partnerships with local nonprofit youth development groups
  • Alternatives to incarceration, especially for nonviolent offenders
  • Funding and wide use of proven ex-offender reintegration programs

As I read these recommendations, it became clear to me that we have done the opposite in each of these categories… especially in the area of public education where we have allowed schools to re-segregate, in part because we have emphasized reform solutions based on the notion that schools are a commodity and not a public good.

So while I am deeply disappointed that we have bought into the notion that government is the problem, I am encouraged to see that the authors of the original report still hold out hope for “big government” solutions going forward. Here’s hoping that in the coming two elections we are able to elect legislators who will be persuaded by evidence and thus reject the direction we’ve taken in all of the areas listed above and adopt the recommendations based on evidence.

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