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Saturday, September 10, 2005
Many Americans who live far from our major cities and who have no firsthand knowledge of the realities to be found in urban public schools seem to have the rather vague and general impression that the great extremes of racial isolation that were matters of grave national significance some thirty-five or forty years ago have gradually but steadily diminished in more recent years. The truth, unhappily, is that the trend, for well over a decade now, has been precisely the reverse. Schools that were already deeply segregated twenty-five or thirty years ago are no less segregated now, while thousands of other schools around the country that had been
Kozol has the credibility to write on this subject. For those who do not know his work, he has been writing about inequality, including in schools, for many years. To give a sense of his background to write the piece this diary features, let me offer the first few paragraphs on Kozol from Wikipedia
Jonathan Kozol (born 1936 in Boston ) is a nonfiction writer, educator, and activist, best known for his books on public education in the United States . In the passion of the civil rights campaigns of 1964 and 1965, Kozol moved from Harvard Square to a poor black neighborhood of Boston ( Roxbury, MA ) and became a fourth grade teacher in the Boston Public Schools . It was after he was fired from the Boston Public Schools for reading Langston Hughes poetry to his class that he was thrust into the limelight and became a more prominent figure on the Boston civil rights scene. After being fired from BPS he was offered a job to teach for Newton Public Schools, the school district that he had attended as a child, and did so for several years before becoming more deeply involved in social justice work and dedicating more time to writing.
Death at an Early Age , his first nonfiction book is a description of his first year as a teacher in the Boston Public Schools. It was published in 1967 and received the 1968 National Book Award in Science, Philosophy, and Religion. It has sold more than two million copies in the United States and Europe .
Among the other books by Kozol are Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America , which received the Robert F. Kennedy Book award for 1989 and the Conscience in Media Award of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and Savage Inequalities , which won the New England Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992.
His 1995 book, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation , described his visits to the South Bronx of New York , the poorest congressional district in the United States. It received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1996, an honor previously granted to the works of Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King, Jr.
He has also written Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope which Wikipedia describes as
A vivid narrative that steers away from fevered ideologies and partisan debate. . . .a book about the little miracles of stubbornly persistent innocence in children who are still unsoiled by the world and can view their place in it without cynicism or despair.
Kozol was a Harvard Summa who turned down a Rhodes Scholarship to go to Paris to write a novel. In his body of nonfiction work he has in his work returned again and again to the subject of inequality. The article to which this posting refers is derived from his forthcoming book The Shame of the Nation : The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America which has a publication date of September 13.
Kozol is a difficult writer from which to extract. I strongly encourage you to take the time to read the entire article from Harper's to which I have offered the link. In the rest of this posting I will first make a very few comments of my own, and then offer just a few selected paragraphs that I hope will serve as sufficient enticement to (a) read the entire article, and (b) follow my example in obtaining the book when it is released next week and then devoting the time to reading it and pondering its contents.
First my remarks. I teach in a predominantly Black school in a heavily Black district. Our jurisdiction, Prince George's County Maryland, is perhaps the wealthiest majority black civil jurisdiction in the US. Located just east (and north) of the nation's Capital, the average household income is over 50,000. The County is about 55% Black, but the school system is well over 70% Black, with the percentage of white students now down in the mid-teens. There are a few neighborhood schools at the elementary level that are still overwhelmingly white, but by middle school such patterns begin to disappear. Of our 21 high schools, we have some that are overwhelming black, with few white students. My school has a substantial number, in part part because about 1/3 of our students are admitted by competitive examination to our science and tech program and because we offer languages like Latin, Italian, Russian and Japanese. Do not misinterpret what I have just written -- we have many black students in those programs. But we also draw into our school many white students who have not been part of the public schools below the 9th grade level, but who choose to come to our high school.
Kozol's writings about segregated living and schools are also dealing with the questions of economic apartheid. That is something not really reflected in our school. We have a wide range of SES among our students. I know students who drive their own Lexis or BMW to school, and I know others who carefully manage their two or three sets of appropriate school clothing so that they appear neat (only one seat of jeans) but not repetitive. Official statistics on free and reduced lunch are meaningless when students don't take a lunch period (to take an extra course) or brown bag because they do not like the school food. Because I call the homes of all of my students I encounter more than a few where the phone has been "temporarily" disconnected because the parents cannot afford to pay the bill.
I am a firm believer that all students can learn. Too often by high school the eagerness for learning is gone. Some of the students who pass through my room may have inculcated beliefs that they cannot succeed in social studies, that they cannot write, that it really doesn't matter how they do in school. Sometimes this can be blamed in part on their school experience before they come to us. In other cases there is a lack of family support for the importance of schooling. I have had 15 year old students living on their own, in one case a young lady who deliberately got herself pregnant so she could apply for (and to my surprise obtain) status as an emancipated minor. That said, even those students who may have been beaten down still retain enough of a spark that with patience and persistence those of us who teach in our school often find that we are able to reawaken an interest in learning. Our faculty and administration are quite diverse, and we take pride in caring about all of our students, and about the whole student.
How does this relate to what you will read from Kozol? Many of us have made a deliberate decision to teach in a racially and economically diverse high school. Our level of pay is less than what we would make in most of the surrounding jurisdictions, our classes are more crowded, and most of us teach 6 classes instead of the 4, 5 (or even only 2 or 3 for those schools which are block scheduled). Right now I have 157 students on my rolls (one class has only 13, but each day as more students enroll that size is beginning to increase), and in the past I have had more than 190 at a time. Our system spends only a bit over 8,000/student per year. Now that is above the national average. But I can compare it to nearby jurisdiction such as Arlington VA where I live, where the rate is well over 14,000/student and note (as I can from one year teaching there) class sizes that averaged under 24 as compared to the 30+ I have had some years. This is somewhat related to Kozol: our voters have placed severe restrictions on property taxes and an analysis of the voting patterns showed a higher support for such limitations in precincts with older white voters (who no longer had children in the heavily black public school system) than in the inner suburbs that were heavily black and working class. In fairness, some of the wealthier majority black communities - also showed strong support for such tax limitation, so it was not purely racial, but it may have had elements of economic apartheid.
Let me limit my remarks to one more topic. I grew up at a time when there were two institutions that meant at least males were required to mix to some degree with people not like themselves. These were the public schools of the 1950's and early 1960's, and the military in which so many of u had to participate because of the draft and in many public universities ROTC. Yes, schools were somewhat segregated by race and class because of economics, restricted access to housing, and a history of de facto as well as de jure segregation. But the percentage of students in public schools was significantly higher than it is today. We have seen the growth of schools which maintain a religious focus -- here I do not mean just so-called Christian academies, but also the blossoming of things like the Jewish Day School movement. Home schooling has also increased substantially, in part because laws have been modified to make it easier to withdraw from public schools in favor of home schooling. We have also seen an increased polarization of public attitudes on schools, as politicians have chosen to make public schools an issue of convenience. The weight of mandates imposed on schools tends to fall far more heavily on those schools serving minorities and the economically disfavored, precisely because their test scores (which again usually correlate heavily with SES) are much lower and because the community and parents lack the resources to supplement what can be spent from the taxes dedicated to public schools. it is the schools that serve our minorities and economically disadvantage that are in greatest danger of losing music, art, recreation, and becoming little more than test-preparation centers. In the process we lose meaningful educational contact with an increasing number of the students in these schools. While I have neither time and space to discuss it in this piece, the future implications of such an approach to schooling are staggering - Kozol's use of the inflammatory term "apartheid" is thus totally appropriate.
And now to selections from Kozol. I assure you that I have quoted far less than half of the article, so there is no copyright violation. Read these, go read the entire magazine, then get the book.
In Chicago, by the academic year 2002-2003, 87 percent of public-school enrollment was black or Hispanic; less than 10 percent of children in the schools were white. In Washington, D.C., 94 percent of children were black or Hispanic; less than 5 percent were white. In St. Louis, 82 percent of the student population were black or Hispanic; in Philadelphia and Cleveland, 79 percent; in Los Angeles, 84 percent, in Detroit, 96 percent; in Baltimore, 89 percent. In New York City, nearly three quarters of the students were black or Hispanic.
A teacher at P.S. 65 in the South Bronx once pointed out to me one of the two white children I had ever seen there. His presence in her class was something of a wonderment to the teacher and to the other pupils. I asked how many white kids she had taught in the South Bronx in her career. "I've been at this school for eighteen years," she said. "This is the first white student I have ever taught."
It is even more disheartening when schools like these are not in deeply segregated inner-city neighborhoods but in racially mixed areas where the integration of a public school would seem to be most natural, and where, indeed, it takes a conscious effort on the part of parents or school officials in these districts to avoid the integration option that is often right at their front door.
In a Seattle neighborhood that I visited in 2002, for instance, where approximately half the families were Caucasian, 95 percent of students at the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School were black, Hispanic, Native American, or of Asian origin. An African-American teacher at the school told me--not with bitterness but wistfully--of seeing clusters of white parents and their children each morning on the corner of a street close to the school, waiting for a bus that took the children to a predominantly white school.
There is a well-known high school named for Martin Luther King Jr. in New York City too. This school, which I've visited repeatedly in recent years, is located in an upper-middle-class white neighborhood, where it was built in the belief--or hope--that it would draw large numbers of white students by permitting them to walk to school, while only their black and Hispanic classmates would be asked to ride the bus or come by train. When the school was opened in 1975, less than a block from Lincoln Center in Manhattan, "it was seen," according to the New York Times, "as a promising effort to integrate white, black and Hispanic students in a thriving neighborhood that held one of the city's cultural gems." Even from the start, however, parents in the neighborhood showed great reluctance to permit their children to enroll at Martin Luther King, and, despite "its prime location and its name, which itself creates the highest of expectations," notes the Times, the school before long came to be a destination for black and Hispanic students who could not obtain admission into more successful schools. It stands today as one of the nation's most visible and problematic symbols of an expectation rapidly receding and a legacy substantially betrayed.
Perhaps most damaging to any serious effort to address racial segregation openly is the refusal of most of the major arbiters of culture in our northern cities to confront or even clearly name an obvious reality they would have castigated with a passionate determination in another section of the nation fifty years before--and which, moreover, they still castigate today in retrospective writings that assign it to a comfortably distant and allegedly concluded era of the past. There is, indeed, a seemingly agreed-upon convention in much of the media today not even to use an accurate descriptor like "racial segregation" in a narrative description of a segregated school. Linguistic sweeteners, semantic somersaults, and surrogate vocabularies are repeatedly employed. Schools in which as few as 3 or 4 percent of students may be white or Southeast Asian or of Middle Eastern origin, for instance--and where every other child in the building is black or Hispanic--are referred to as "diverse." Visitors to schools like these discover quickly the eviscerated meaning of the word, which is no longer a proper adjective but a euphemism for a plainer word that has apparently become unspeakable.
School systems themselves repeatedly employ this euphemism in describing the composition of their student populations. In a school I visited in the fall of 2004 in Kansas City, Missouri, for example, a document distributed to visitors reports that the school's curriculum "addresses the needs of children from diverse backgrounds." But as I went from class to class, I did not encounter any children who were white or Asian--or Hispanic, for that matter--and when I was later provided with precise statistics for the demographics of the school, I learned that 99.6 percent of students there were African American. In a similar document, the school board of another district, this one in New York State, referred to "the diversity" of its student population and "the rich variations of ethnic backgrounds." But when I looked at the racial numbers that the district had reported to the state, I learned that there were 2,800 black and Hispanic children in the system, 1 Asian child, and 3 whites. Words, in these cases, cease to have real meaning; or, rather, they mean the opposite of what they say.
High school students whom I talk with in deeply segregated neighborhoods and public schools seem far less circumspect than their elders and far more open in their willingness to confront these issues. "It's more like being hidden," said a fifteen-year-old girl named Isabel* I met some years ago in Harlem, in attempting to explain to me the ways in which she and her classmates understood the racial segregation of their neighborhoods and schools. "It's as if you have been put in a garage where, if they don't have room for something but aren't sure if they should throw it out, they put it there where they don't need to think of it again."
* The names of children mentioned in this article have been changed to protect their privacy.
I asked her if she thought America truly did not "have room" for her or other children of her race. "Think of it this way," said a sixteen-year-old girl sitting beside her. "If people in New York woke up one day and learned that we were gone, that we had simply died or left for somewhere else, how would they feel?"
"How do you think they'd feel?" I asked.
"I think they'd he relieved," this very solemn girl replied.
Libraries, once one of the glories of the New York City school system, were either nonexistent or, at best, vestigial in large numbers of the elementary schools. Art and music programs had also for the most part disappeared. "When I began to teach in 1969," the principal of an elementary school in the South Bronx reported to me, "every school had a full-time licensed art and music teacher and librarian." During the subsequent decades, he recalled, "I saw all of that destroyed."
School physicians also were removed from elementary schools during these years. In 1970, when substantial numbers of white children still attended New York City's public schools, 400 doctors had been present to address the health needs of the children. By 1993 the number of doctors had been cut to 23, most of them part-time--a cutback that affected most severely children in the city's poorest neighborhoods, where medical facilities were most deficient and health problems faced by children most extreme. Teachers told me of asthmatic children who came into class with chronic wheezing and who at any moment of the day might undergo more serious attacks, but in the schools I visited there were no doctors to attend to them.
"If you close your eyes to the changing racial composition of the schools and look only at budget actions and political events," says Noreen Connell, the director of the nonprofit Educational Priorities Panel in New York, "you're missing the assumptions that are underlying these decisions." When minority parents ask for something better for their kids, she says, "the assumption is that these are parents who can be discounted. These are kids who just don't count--children we don't value."
There are expensive children and there are cheap children," writes Marina Warner, an essayist and novelist who has written many books for children, "just as there are expensive women and cheap women." The governmentally administered diminishment in value of the children of the poor begins even before the age of five or six, when they begin their years of formal education in the public schools. It starts during
their infant and toddler years, when hundreds of thousands of children of the very poor in much of the United States are locked out of the opportunity for preschool education for no reason but the accident of birth and budgetary choices of the government, while children of the privileged are often given veritable feasts of rich developmental early education.
In New York City, for example, affluent parents pay surprisingly large sums of money to enroll their youngsters, beginning at the age of two or three, in extraordinary early-education programs that give them social competence and rudimentary pedagogic skills unknown to children of the same age in the city's poorer neighborhoods. The most exclusive of the private preschools in New York, which are known to those who can afford them as "Baby Ivies," cost as much as $24,000 for a full-day program. Competition for admission to these pre-K schools is so extreme that private counselors are frequently retained, at fees as high as $300 an hour, to guide the parents through the application process.
At the opposite extreme along the economic spectrum in New York are thousands of children who receive no preschool opportunity at all. Exactly how many thousands are denied this opportunity in New York City and in other major cities is almost impossible to know. Numbers that originate in governmental agencies in many states are incomplete and imprecise and do not always differentiate with clarity between authentic pre-K programs that have educative and developmental substance and those less expensive child-care arrangements that do not. But even where states do compile numbers that refer specifically to educative preschool programs, it is difficult to know how many of the children who are served are of low income, since admissions to some of the state-supported programs aren't determined by low income or they are determined by a complicated set of factors of which poverty is only one.
Is the answer really to throw money into these dysfunctional and failing schools?" I'm often asked. "Don't we have some better ways to make them `work'?" The question is posed in a variety of forms. "Yes, of course, it's not a perfectly fair system as it stands. But money alone is surely not the sole response. The values of the parents and the kids themselves must have a role in this as well you know, housing, health conditions, social factors." "Other factors"--a term of overall reprieve one often hears--"have got to be considered, too." These latter points are obviously true but always seem to have the odd effect of substituting things we know we cannot change in the short run for obvious solutions like cutting class size and constructing new school buildings or providing universal preschool that we actually could put in place right now if we were so inclined.
Frequently these arguments are posed as questions that do not invite an answer because the answer seems to be decided in advance. "Can you really buy your way to better education for these children?" "Do we know enough to be quite sure that we will see an actual return on the investment that we make?" "Is it even clear that this is the right starting point to get to where we'd like to go? It doesn't always seem to work, as I am sure that you already know," or similar questions that somehow assume I will agree with those who ask them.
Some people who ask these questions, although they live in wealthy districts where the schools are funded at high levels, don't even send their children to these public schools but choose instead to send them to expensive private day schools. At some of the well-known private prep schools in the New York City area, tuition and associated costs are typically more than $20,000 a year. During their children's teenage years, they sometimes send them off to very fine New England schools like Andover or Exeter or Groton, where tuition, boarding, and additional expenses rise to more than $30,000. Often a family has two teenage children in these schools at the same time, so they may be spending more than $60,000 on their children's education every year. Yet here I am one night, a guest within their home, and dinner has been served and we are having coffee now; and this entirely likable, and generally sensible, and beautifully refined and thoughtful person looks me in the eyes and asks me whether you can really buy your way to better education for the children of the poor.
One last selection, even though there is so much more of value in the article. Perhaps this is as on point as anything else in the article.
There is no misery index for the children of apartheid education. There ought to be; we measure almost everything else that happens to them in their schools. Do kids who go to schools like these enjoy the days they spend in them? Is school, for most of them, a happy place to be? You do not find the answers to these questions in reports about achievement levels, scientific methods of accountability, or structural revisions in the modes of governance. Documents like these don't speak of happiness. You have to go back to the schools themselves to find an answer to these questions. You have to sit down in the little chairs in first and second grade, or on the reading rug with kindergarten kids, and listen to the things they actually say to one another and the dialogue between them and their teachers. You have to go down to the basement with the children when it's time for lunch and to the playground with them, if they have a playground, when it's time for recess, if they still have recess at their school. You have to walk into the children's bathrooms in these buildings. You have to do what children do and breathe the air the children breathe. I don't think that there is any other way to find out what the lives that children lead in school are really like.
Take the time. Read and ponder.
I noticed that Kozol did not discuss what John McWhorters wrote an entire book about, that no amount of funding, no government program, no entitlement can overcome the rapid anti-intellectualism that dominates the African-American community
Does PG have the lowest test scores except for Baltimore City? Yep. Does that mean that college-educated black parents are anti-intellectual? Nope. Despite the average hosuehold income in PG county, there are a substantial number of (a)children of parents who did not go to college (b)children of immigrants, many of whom have parents who do not speak English: (c) further, the expenditure per child is subtantially lower than that of nearby jurisdicitions in the metro area -- don't compare to the rural areas in the western or northern parts of MD where the cost of living is substantially lower. This leads to lower teacher pay, higher teacher turnover and larger class size, all of which contribute to lower test scores. Also, the student body is far more transient than is the case in places like Allegheny and Garrett.
Thus the commentor, in his'/her rush to judgment, totally ignores many factors that influence test scores. Other than racde, on which s/he wishes to focus.
You also need to remember that many of those college educated parents attended HBU where they received inferior educations, that many of those middle class black families do not purchase books, no not read the newspaper, and engage and fewer cultural events. The question is why Kozol wants to punish white parents by busing their children to the bad schools and hold better parenting against them.
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