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Posts Tagged ‘racism’

Trump and DeVos Want to Undo Public Education

February 14, 2020 Comments off

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This powerful USA Today op ed lays bare the GOP/Trump/DeVos agenda, which is to eviscerate public education. Derek Black concludes his essay with these two paragraphs:

When the nation sought to lift poor whites out of illiteracy and blacks into citizenship at the end of the Civil War, Congress demanded that state constitutions guarantee uniform school systems that provided education to all children. To fund them, they mandated taxes. When the nation was struggling to break free of its Jim Crow discrimination, public education was chosen to lead the way — even as resistors explicitly tried to end public schooling (and replace it with vouchers).

Trump and DeVos have a vision of private education and individual freedom that is more than misleading; it’s dangerous. They are sowing the notion that a fundamental pillar of our democracy is antiquated and oppressive. The truth is that many kids will lose what little freedom they have — and the one social thread that still binds us together will fray even more — if we buy what they are selling.

Redistricting to Address Resegregation an Uphill Battle in Maryland and Virginia— and EVERYWHERE

February 4, 2020 Comments off

AP reporters Regina Garcia Cano and Sarah Rankin dug deeply into the redistricting recommendations advanced by the Superintendents of two school districts south of the Mason Dixon line and found that the situation in those districts is no different than the situation anywhere in the United States: most affluent homeowners want no part of any plan to redraw school boundaries to increase racial or economic diversity. As Mss. Cano and Rankin write:

From New York City to Richmond, Virginia, sweeping proposals to ease inequities have been scaled back or canceled after encountering a backlash. The debates have been charged with emotion and racist rhetoric reminiscent of the aftermath of Brown vs. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that threw out state laws establishing segregated schools.

While the federal government has largely stepped back from the aggressive role it played decades ago in school desegregation, some local districts have acted in recognition of increasingly apparent racial divides and the long-established educational benefits of integration.

Mss. Cano and Rankin did not examine the larger picture of funding differentials between affluent districts and/or schools and those districts and/or schools serving low income and minority schools… but if they had they would see that the latent racism they witnessed in Howard County MD and Richmond VA is also intertwined with an unwillingness on the part of the affluent to mingle with those who are less well off. And since the level of education and the level of income are highly correlated, it means that those raised in affluence seldom if ever come in contact with those raised in poverty. The children of college graduates are seldom sitting beside the children of high school graduates or– especially— high school drop outs. As a result, we find ourselves with a widening gap in communication between the children of well educated parents and the children of those without degrees. As a result, we find ourselves in a nation of what Thomas Geoghegan describes as “Educated Fools“. And those who never had a chance to get the same opportunity as children raised in affluence feel rejected by society and look to leaders who can save the day for them.

If we want to live in a harmonious democracy we need to make certain that everyone has an equal chance from the outset and no individual or group is permanently marginalized. That will, at the very least, require those who are well off to open the doors of their community’s schools to children who live outside of their geographical area, or allow housing for low income families to be built in their community, or pay higher taxes so that the children of those shunned from their community are afforded the same opportunities as their own children.

Right Wing Perspective on Purpose of Public Education Replaces Mann’s Utopia with Friedman’s

February 1, 2020 Comments off

My phone feeds me articles on public education that come from a wide range of sources, which gives me a window into the rationale of those who favor simplistic right wing solutions to complex social problems. Readers of this blog know that I see the notion of “choice” as a implausible if not disingenuous solution to the major problems that lead to the “failure” of public education: poverty, racism, and parent indifference. A recent National Interest article by Neal McCluskey, “Why Utopian Promises on Public Education are a Bad Idea to Abandon School Choice” didn’t change my thinking on “choice”, but it did make me appreciate the broken promises voters and taxpayers made and the impact of those broken promises on children…. and on the strength of our democracy. Mr. McCluskey opens his article with this:

I recently read Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America by Johann Neem, which in its title delivers the bedrock myth of public schooling: that it is essential to building harmonious, well‐​informed, citizens of a democracy. And it’s not just in the title that Neem waxes poetic about the public schools. In his preface he briefly recounts his experience as an immigrant child in Bay Area, California public schools, concluding that “by democratizing access to the kind of liberal arts education that was once reserved for the few, the common schools prepare all young people to take part in the shared life of our democracy.” Neem echoes the rhetoric of Horace Mann, the “father of the common school,” who in the 1830s and 40s brought a missionary zeal to promoting largely uniform, free public schools in Massachusetts.

I bristled at the use of the word “myth” because, like Horace Mann and Johann Neem, I do believe that “…by democratizing access to the kind of liberal arts education that was once reserved for the few, the common schools prepare all young people to take part in the shared life of our democracy.” To justify his use of the word “myth” to describe public education’s purpose, Mr. McCluskey offers ample evidence that public schools have fallen short of achieving its ambitious goal. He is particularly concerned with the mistreatment of “religious Americans”. He writes:

Public schools were not forging unified, enlightened citizens, as was the goal, but were largely just a mundane part of life. Which would be fine, except that taxpayer support of uniform public schooling is compelled on the grounds that it is so much more than what it actually is—it is essential for “democracy,” right?—and in that privileged position it has often been worse than just ineffectual at its professed purpose. It has imposed or reinforced inequality and injustice.

I won’t go over all the injustice in detail—you can see where I’ve discussed it in more depth—but remember that for much of its history public schooling often discriminated against minority religions, most notably Roman Catholics. It often either completely barred or segregated African Americans—not just in the South—and in some places Mexican and Asian Americans. It attacked the culturally unifying language of German immigrant communities. It now systematically treats religious Americans as second‐​class citizens. And it forces people with different values, cultures, and identities to fight to see which “equal” people win, and which lose.

This is all true historically… blacks were and are still forced to attend segregated schools, foreign language students are compelled to learn in English, and those who speak a “culturally unifying language” are ofter forced to abandon it in order to succeed in school. The discrimination against Roman Catholics within public schools is debatable, but the government’s unwillingness to provide tax dollars to education children in schools that teach Catholicism as part of the curriculum is irrefutable and completely aligned with the Constitution.

The historic part of that paragraph may be largely accurate, but the idea that public schools now treat “…religious Americans as second‐​class citizens” is preposterous given that there is no way for public schools to identify “religious” students thereby making it possible for them to discriminate against them as a finite group.  And the idea that it “…forces people with different values, cultures, and identities to fight to see which “equal” people win, and which lose” also lacks credibility. The link associated with the statement regarding these identities fighting against each other for power leads to a Cato Institute “battle map” that highlights culture wars such as:

…pitting educational effectiveness, basic rights, moral values, or individual identities against each other. Think creationism versus evolution, or assigned readings containing racial slurs. The conflicts are often intensely personal, and guarantee if one fundamental value wins, another loses.

If “creationism versus evolution” is a battle between “cultures, values, cultures, and identities” it is clear to me that rigorous science should win over religious superstition.

There is a battle going on between Utopian visions… but it’s not even mentioned in Mr. McCluskey’s article: it’s the battle between the Democratic Utopia where every child has an equal opportunity for success no matter where they were born and raised and no matter how well off their parents were and the Darwinian Utopia where every child can buy whatever kind of education their parents want for them. The first Utopia requires a common agreement on truth, justice, and values. The second Utopia believes in the magic of the marketplace.

The market Utopia seems to be prevailing… and the planet and our freedom are being compromised as a result. There is still time to salvage the Democratic Utopia… but the time is getting very short.

Nick Kristof Bursts the “Personal Responsibility” and “Bad Choice” Bubbles in Cogent Op Ed

January 19, 2020 Comments off

A few days ago, Nick Kristof and his wife posted an extended essay describing the fate of the Knapps, a family that grew up in Kristof’s home town of Yamhill OR. The five siblings in that family all ended up dead, diseased, or incarcerated as a result of alcohol and drug addiction. It is a story of many working class families from rural outposts and one that puts a face on and explains the cold statistics showing that the life expectancy in our country is declining.

In today’s op ed column, Mr. Kristof offers several rejoinders to those who responded to this earlier essay with declarations that essentially boiled down to this: the Knapps got what they deserved. In his evenhanded and clear-eyed response to those who suggested this, Mr. Kristof burst the bubbles of personal responsibility and “bad choice” bubbles. The crux of Mr. Kristof’s arguments against these social Darwinists can be found in these paragraphs:

A newborn in a ZIP code of North Philadelphia with a largely poor and black population has a life expectancy 20 years shorter than a newborn in mostly white central Philadelphia just four miles away; that’s not because one infant has displayed “weak character.”

Britain reduced child poverty by half under Tony Blair. It’s not that British infants suddenly showed more personal responsibility; it’s that the government showed responsibility. Here in the United States, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine laid out a blueprint for reducing America’s child poverty by half, yet Congress and President Trump do nothing.

In that sense, Dr. Carson is right: Poverty is a choice. But it’s our choice.

I find it maddening that those who argue that poverty is a character flaw ignore the fact that good fortune plays a huge role in the ability to develop and retain good character. It is much easier for those who have reliable food, clothing to focus on character development. And as pointed out repeatedly in this blog, telling parents in North Philadelphia that their children have a choice about where to attend school is disingenuous at best and completely dishonest at worst. There isn’t a child in North Philadelphia who can choose to attend any school they wish anywhere in the city… and as for attending a school outside the city: forget it!

As is almost always the case with Mr. Kristof’s writing, he leaves the reader with a ray of hope after diagnosing the problem. Here are the concluding paragraphs of his op ed piece which come close to doing that:

We moved from an inclusive capitalism in the postwar era to a rigged system that hobbles unions, underinvests in children and then punishes those left behind. This is the moral equivalent of (placing) spikes on dashboards (to ensure there are adverse consequences for speeders or reckless drivers).

What would a better social narrative look like? It would acknowledge personal responsibility but also our collective social responsibility — especially to help children. It would be infused with empathy and a “morality of grace” that is less about pointing fingers and more about offering helping hands. It would accept that a country cannot reach its potential when so many of its citizens are not achieving theirs.

To which this reader can only say: AMEN!

Assuming Higher Taxes on the Rich is a “Solution” Also Assumes that “Markets” Are Acceptable and Just… and Markets are Neither

December 31, 2019 Comments off

The title of UMass-Boston economics professor emeritus Arthur MacEwan’s recent Dollars and Sense article that was reposted in Common Dreams poses this question:

Are Taxes the Best Way of Dealing With Inequality?

The subheading of the headline elaborates on the framing of the question and the article itself. It reads:

Taxes can redistribute income, but relying on taxes means we are accepting the way the system works—the way markets operate—to create inequality in the first place.

Mr. MacEwan then demonstrates that markets are neither natural nor just, illustrating how regulations and legal constructs undermine the natural impact of markets and, in doing so, distort the way the economy works in a way that contributes to inequality. I agreed almost entirely with Mr, MacEwan’s analysis, but differed with his conclusions about schooling. Here is the section he wrote on that topic:

Schooling and the labor market. Schooling, from pre-K through college, shapes the labor market. The U.S. school system is a multi-tiered system, preparing people for different levels in the workforce. Certain areas of education receive attention—which means funds—according to the needs of employers, as demonstrated by the emphasis in recent years on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. The structure of the school system, good or bad, is not a “natural” phenomenon, but it greatly affects the operation of the labor market and the distribution of income.

Mr MacEwan’s belief that “certain areas of education receive attention” in the form of funds misses an important reality. It is not certain academic disciplines like STEM that receive additional funds, it is certain school districts that receive additional funds… and it isn’t the districts serving poverty stricken areas that receive the additional funds, its the affluent districts. And that reality plays into the conclusions he draws about the difficulty faced in making changes:

…Financial institutions, fossil fuel firms, pharmaceutical companies, software giants, and many others use their wealth and power to see that markets are constructed in ways that work for them… They get the rules made the way they want, play by the rules, and then claim they deserve what they get because they played by the rules. Nonsense, yes, but effective nonetheless.

Of course, it is difficult to fight these powerful firms and the individuals who reap their fortunes through these firms. They are quite powerful. But there is no reason to think it is more difficult than raising their taxes.

A first step is to establish a wide understanding of the fact that markets are social constructs and that they can be constructed differently.They have been structured differently in the past, and they can be structured differently in the future… Even if little change comes in the short run, it is important to send the message that just because firms and rich people play by the rules of the markets, this does not lead to the conclusion that the results are just. (And, of course, they often don’t play by the rules!)

Schools have been structured differently in the past… and not necessarily in ways that helped address inequality. Until child labor laws were passed at the turn of the 20th century education was limited to the elite. Until Brown v. Board of Education our social construct of “separate but equal” schooling for minority students was deemed acceptable. We ostensibly offer an equal opportunity to all children and yet the evidence indicates that systemic change is needed if we want to truly offer such an opportunity to all.

Mr. MacEwan is right in his assertion that the “winners” in our system “…get the rules made the way they want, play by the rules, and then claim they deserve what they get because they played by the rules.’ The school district boundaries are social constructs as surely as the markets and the “sorting and selection” structure of our education system whereby students compete with age cohorts is a construct as surely as the “separate but equal” structure was a construct. Until we change the mental models we use to construct the rulebooks that favor those who claim they deserve what they got we will continue reinforcing the economic system we have in place… and the rich will continue to get richer.

Insightful Inquirer Article Sidesteps Segregation that Resulted from Suburban Exclusionary Zoning

December 30, 2019 Comments off

An insightful article by Jason Laughlin in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer describes how racist covenants in the early 1900s restricted black families’ access to some neighborhoods in that city. Drawing on research done by Larry Santucci, a senior research fellow at the Consumer Finance Institute of the Federal Reserve Bank, Mr. Laughlin’s article describes how “...deeds for Philadelphia homes included racially restrictive covenants, with language barring minorities from buying into the neighborhood.”  His research found that “...the practice was especially widespread in two wards in the Northeast” where “…currently, only 18% of the residents in those wards are African American, compared with 49% in the rest of Philadelphia“. He also sensed that his research scratched the surface and offered this understated paragraph:

Philadelphia’s poshest addresses didn’t need (restricted deeds)… There, minorities were excluded largely by housing being out of their price range.

As noted in earlier posts on this blog noting the link between zoning and school segregation, I wrote an essay on this topic when I attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1972. That essay noted that exclusionary zoning practices in suburbs that bordered Philadelphia created artificially high housing process that effectively excluded minorities and families who qualified for Title One funds while generating higher property tax revenues that, in turn, resulted in well funded schools.

Nearly 50 years later, nothing has changed….

NYTimes Editorial Board Connects the Dots Between LI Housing Discrimination and Schools

November 22, 2019 Comments off

As noted in a post yesterday, Newsday investigative reporters recently provided evidence that realtors on Long Island discriminate in a way the prevents prospective minority home owners from seeing homes in predominantly white communities and vice versa. The result: persistent segregation.

Today’s NYTimes editorial, “Jim Crow South? No. Long Island Today“, elaborates on the damage that results from this steering toward segregated neighborhoods and towns:

In a country where homeownership has long been the way to build wealth, discrimination in housing is uniquely harmful. It is the chief reason behind the deep segregation in New York’s public schools, which is among the worst in the country.It also helps explain the startling racial gap in wealth in the United States. The median wealth of white Americans is $134,000, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The median wealth of black Americans is $11,030.

Americans would find it unfathomable if schools or water fountains were labeled “White Only,” as was commonplace across the South just several decades ago. They would be kidding themselves to think this kind of discrimination in housing, without the labels, is any less pernicious.

The editorial board goes on to offer a solution to the problem that is on the books but not in full effect:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a former head of the federal housing department, said in February 2016 that New York would launch a “fair housing enforcement program,” using paired testing and beginning in Buffalo, Syracuse and New York City’s northern suburbs. But Newsday found that the state has not conducted any additional paired testing after that initial round of 88 tests.

Oops! I guess enforcement costs money and the Governor wouldn’t want to spend money to enforce laws that would disrupt housing patterns! Better to use the money to disrupt the way schools operate. You see both the Governor and the NYTimes editorial board see the “solution” to the “deep segregation” in NYC and elsewhere as being “disruptive faces” like school choice and the takeover of “failing schools” by privatizers.

The NYTimes editorial board has connected the dots between housing discrimination and public schools… will they connect the dots and realize that without an infusion of funds the effects of this discrimination will not be readily overcome?