by Ralph Brauer | 11/03/2007 03:37:00 PM
In 1985, Pulitzer Prize-winning school reformer Jonathan Kozol accused America of fostering “apartheid education.” Given there has been little improvement since, perhaps it is time this country confronted its sins, like South Africa finally was forced to do. But first the charges.
In 1973, the United Nations defined “the crime of apartheid” as:
Similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa,
The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid went on to enumerate this practices which included:
Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups.Among these is “the right to education.”
In the 1987 at the Anrusha Conference Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress issued its statement that apartheid was illegitimate and a crime against humanity. The Anrusha statement outlined the many evils of the South African system, which it distilled into its own definition of apartheid:
The grand design of apartheid was to keep the Africans herded into the rural areas in a number of spurious ‘homelands’ which were allocated to them against their wishes and without their being so much as consulted. These ‘homelands’ or bantustans provide pools of cheap labour for the white industries which can be utilised when and as required.Kozol does not mention this definition in his book The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, but his descriptions of the inequities of American public education chillingly resonate with the situation the ANC portrayed in South Africa. Kozol charges that America has become so resegregated that many inner city schools have so few white students that they are regarded as curiosities by teachers like one Kozol interviewed in the South Bronx who said she had seen one white student in eighteen years. The situation has become so acute that most white suburbanites have never even been in an inner city school. A fair number have not even seen one. The reverse is also true, for few inner city people of color have ever walked the corridors of one of America’s suburban education edifices.
Accompanying this resegregation, Kozol charges, has been an unequal distribution of resources that has become so distorted that many inner city schools lack basic necessities such as toilet paper, while suburban schools have the latest technology and teaching tools. My own experiences working with schools echo these charges. I have visited a school where the principal kept a mop bucket in her office because there weren’t enough custodians and another school that had a sound recording studio so sophisticated that professional musicians used it. Kozol notes:
Black school officials in these situations have sometimes conveyed to me a bitter and clear-sighted recognition that they’re being asked, essentially, to mediate and render functional an uncontested separation between children of their race and children of white people living sometimes in a distant section of their town and sometimes in almost their own immediate communities.Kozol presents a great many statistics and examples to support his case, but perhaps the best way to understand what our country has become is to contrast two schools. One is nicknamed the Mustangs, its logo a green bucking bronco surrounded by a horseshoe with the school’s name on it. The other is the Wildcats, its burgundy-colored logo sporting a snarling face baring its fangs while paw prints along the side punctuate the school’s name.
The pictures from the web sites of the two schools follow a well-worn script used by virtually every high school in the nation. At one school, the choir stands five deep on risers, dressed in black suits that meld together so well you know they must harmonize perfectly. At the other school the debate team stands and kneels holding all the trophies they have won–enough that some students have to hold two while another trophy is so monstrous it dwarfs the student holding it. Both schools boast of championships won, one with the big sign that now hangs in front of virtually every American high school broadcasting that they are “athletic school of the year,” the other with a picture of the football team carrying a trophy as if they had just won the Bowl Championship.
My little brother’s trying to learn his mathematics
He’s asthmatic, running home from school away from crack addicts.
Eminem – It’s Okay
Scattered among the web pages are pictures of smiling students, notable achievements, dedicated teachers and administrators–all the things that Americans like to think their own high schools exemplify. Those pictures evoke the pride we take in our high schools, perhaps more than in any other community institution. Everyone who lives in the community knows that behind the doors of their high schools lies what may be the most important transformational experience of their children’s lives.
The pictures at the beginning of this essay show these two schools, their differences symbolizing our separate but unequal education system. The crosses in the windows of the one on your right draw your eye, their jagged shapes outlined over drawn blinds evoking a sinister, funereal feeling heightened by the dark window in the center. Imagine yourself standing outside that building when the doors open on a November day when a cold, misty rain obscures the half-light of early morning. Would you send your child alone into that building not knowing what lies behind those shuttered windows with their skeletal crosses?
And what about the other one? It resembles the corporate campus of some Fortune 500 company, complete with its own lake surrounded by trees and lush green grass. Sitting amidst this Eden-like landscape, the building seems to look to the post-industrial future as much as the other looks to dawn of industrialization.
If you had to choose between the two as a place to send your child for four years of high school–the four years which increasingly have become either a gateway to the future or a trapdoor into darkness–which would you choose? The one on the left is Plano, Texas High School, generally regarded as one of the top high schools in the country. The one on the right is Morgan Park High School, built in 1916 and the highest-rated general admission high school in Chicago.
The Chicago School Profiles note Morgan Park is the home school of Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut. Seventy-three percent of its students go on to post-secondary school. Its average ACT score is 19.2. Seventeen percent of its students score at the three level or above on Advanced Placement exams. Seventy-seven percent of its students report the school has “a Safe and Respectful School Climate.” Eighty-eight percent of the students report having “Supportive Teachers and Staff at School.”
Violently competitive, a school unacredited
Mos Def – Hip-Hop
According to its profile, Plano has a mean ACT score of 24.7. Seventy-two percent of its faculty holds advanced degrees. Their 2007 class was offered an astounding $16.7 million in scholarship monies! Eighty percent of the members of the class of 2007 went on to a four-year college. Eighty-one percent of the class of 2007 scored a three or better on advanced placement tests. Plano also boasted 47 National Merit Scholarship finalists.
Chicago Public School System (CPS) data show Morgan Park is 91.7 African American and 2.8% white. Of those students, 58.7% are low income. Plano is 65% white, 8% are African American, 11% are Hispanic and 12% are economically disadvantaged. Need we add that the median household income in the Plano zip code is $96,112?
It is a sad comment on contemporary America, the land that worships equality and the level playing field that if you happen to be born a Mustang and go to Morgan Park rather than a Wildcat and attend Plano, your prospects for the future may be determined the day your parents bring you home still wrapped in that fluffy hospital blanket fresh with the new baby smell that holds all the dreams parents have for the newborn children. Those mythic scales that weigh a child’s future are weighing one female astronaut against all those Merit Scholars, weighing teachers with advanced degrees against a teaching force far less experienced, weighing $16.7 million in college scholarships in a community with a median income of $96, 112 against those who even make it to college.
When Kozol wrote an article based on his book for The Nation he pointed out:
Hypersegregated inner-city schools–in which one finds no more than five or ten white children, at the very most, within a student population of as many as 3,000–are the norm, not the exception, in most northern urban areas today.Kozol quoted Gary Orfield on the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, who admitted:
The desegregation of black students, which increased continuously from the 1950s to the late 1980s, has receded to levels not seen in three decades. The proportion of black students in majority-white schools stands at a level lower than in any year since 1968.Perhaps the biggest revelation is that the most segregated states in this country no longer lie in Dixie. Take a guess as to the top four? If you said New York, Michigan, Illinois and California, you showed some excellent deductive skills, because those are all states with failing inner-city schools.
Morgan Park is a great example of this trend. A Chicago School System press release describes the history:
CPS developed magnet schools specifically to create racially diverse student populations after a 1980 federal consent decree mandated the integration of schools in the district. Then, the district was described as 17.2 percent white, 60.7 percent African American, 19.6 percent Latino, and 2.5 percent other.Two decades later, the percentages are: 48.6% African-American, 37.6% Latino, 8.1% White, 3.2% Asian/Pacific Islander, 2.4% Multi-Racial, 0.1% Native American. In short, the Chicago Public Schools have become MORE, rather than less segregated. The number of whites in the system has DROPPED 50%! Since the decree, CPS has walked a tightrope on which it tries to balance the problem of white flight to the suburbs and private schools against equalizing enrollment. Each time the Chicago system has tried to add more white students to schools with high black enrollment, some whites decide to leave the system rather than send their children to schools with high numbers of African Americans.
The time has long since past to point out that this new apartheid is a DELIBERATE result of government policies. In virtually every state in the union public schools are financed by local property taxes. Any idiot can figure out that communities with high incomes like Plano will have more resources for their schools than communities with low incomes. Schools with more resources like Plano can attract more teachers with advanced degrees, they can afford to buy the latest technology, they can afford to buy the latest textbooks, and they can afford to send their teachers and staff to sophisticated training opportunities.
Considered a fool ’cause I dropped out of high school
Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood.
The Notorious B.I.G. – Juicy
As for schools like Morgan Park, Kozol writes about a packet of letters he received from a class of third-grade students in the Bronx. One student wrote:
Dear Mr. Kozol, we do not have the things you have. You have Clean things. We do not have. You have a clean bathroom. We do not have that. You have Parks and we do not have Parks. You have all the thing and we do not have all the thing. Can you help us?Perhaps the most damning story Kozol relates is of a discussion he had with students who attend a school that has only two women’s restrooms for all of its students. One student’s reply still reverberates as it should in the mind of every decent American:
“This is the question,” said a wiry-looking boy named Edward, leaning forward in his chair. “Students are not animals, but even animals need to relieve themselves sometimes. We’re here for eight hours. What do they think we’re supposed to do?”When the suburban boom took off after the Second World War, government and lending agency policy fostered the “red lining” of suburbia for whites only, erecting an invisible fence around places like Plano that was the equivalent of the white-only enclaves of South Africa. Although red lining is now illegal, most of America’s suburbs remain predominantly white and middle class. So begins the evidence of the crime that has produced Plano and Morgan Park.
The definitive study of suburbia, Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier, found that FHA policies deliberately discriminated against people of color. Since the FHA and the VA financed almost half the housing in the 1950s and 1960s, they shut the door of opportunity on millions of Americans. Jackson states:
FHA also helped to turn the building industry against the minority and inner-city housing market, and its policies supported the income and racial segregation of suburbia. (pp. 213-214)Unfortunately, while red lining has become illegal, lenders find other ways to keep people of color out of the suburbs. In October 2002, ACORN Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) released “The Great Divide,” a report on 2001 national loan data as well as for 68 metropolitan areas. The report found continuing and even growing racial and economic disparities in home mortgage lending. Nationally, African‑American mortgage applicants faced rejection 2.31 times more often than white applicants, and Hispanics were denied 1.53 times more often than whites. Income made little difference. ACORN notes in Chicago African‑Americans earning more than $84,600 had 2.06 times more likelihood of being turned down than whites earning less than $28,450.
Got a bum education, double-digit inflation
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message
Since the 1960s, America has been trying to unravel the problem its racism created. Foundations and government agencies have poured billions into inner city education in an attempt to equalize the disparity between the Planos and the Morgan Parks, but as Chicago’s data show, those dollars have neither lessened the segregation nor substantially reduced the performance disparity between suburban and inner city schools.
In a few instances states and the courts have sought to remedy the disparity by requiring equalization across an entire state system, but the results have usually involved taking from the Planos and giving to the Morgan Parks, which helps neither because it hurts Plano without really helping Morgan Park. Think of it as a pie which stays the same size, but you just slice it differently. Plano gets a smaller slice; Morgan Park a bigger one, but the equal slices are not enough to feed anyone. What Morgan Park wants is a Plano education, not half of one.
So why haven’t the billions of dollars funneled into inner city education helped to alleviate the crisis? To some degree, they have. The latest Chicago report shows an increase in African Americans going on to college, but everyone would say the increase is not enough. The people who these programs are supposed to help testify about their impact. Edouard Boncy, a community development specialist with the Chicago Urban League says that Chicago’s newest program Access to Excellence:
Won’t help us a bit. Real integration requires that the races deal with each other on an equal footing, but there’s no equality out here and never has been.The Rev. Mabel Elliot, advisory council president at Esmond School and 18th District parent, agreed:
It’s a sham, a lot of beautiful ideas like whipped cream on a cake. Only we don’t have a cake. The purpose of the plan is to appease and please whites. A small percentage of students may benefit from all this but not many.Foundations, researchers and government officials have struggled with the issue of improving inner city schools for four decades, creating program after program, new curricula designed to raise this or that test score and dozens of so-called “leadership” initiatives. Currently the Gates Foundation is betting that smaller schools may be the answer. I’ll deal with that more in Part Two, but suffice it to say, Plano has over 3,000 students and seems to be doing just fine. In fact, mega-high schools like Plano are the norm in suburbia.
A great deal of these funds have been earmarked for specially-designed programs FOR the inner city, not WITH the people who live in these communities. With the advent of No Child Left Behind that has meant what educators refer to as “drill and kill” curricula organized around rote learning aimed at increasing the percentage of students who pass the tests specifically mandated by this draconian and deeply misguided legislation.
Kozol reports that a militaristic atmosphere now pervades many inner city schools, an atmosphere that evokes the regimentation of totalitarian nightmares that have periodically engulfed the human race. Morgan Park is part of a Chicago school system where this type of instruction has been criticized for turning children into “robots.” The head of Chicago’s schools defended these methods with words that should chill any American who still believes in equality:
Did you ever stop to think that these robots will never burglarize your home? he asked, and will never snatch your pocketbooks. . . . These robots are going to be producing taxes.So this is what our nation has come to: confining people of color to “ghettos” where an inferior education takes place in buildings lacking the most basic features of human dignity and the students who must endure this are treated not as human beings but as “things” to be programmed as if they were some android in a Star Trek episode. If you are a Star Trek fan, you may remember the Borg, creatures who begin as humans until they are implanted with various devices that literally reprogram their brains so they become like insects in a hive.
Whether most Americans recognize what has occurred with our public education system as a crime on the level of apartheid is open to question. There is about many of our reform efforts both an air of noblesse oblige and flat-out racism. For example, leadership initiatives imply inner city people do not know how to lead Throwing money at the problem has about it an attitude of someone who decides to give a street person a few dollars to appease their guilt. But the guilt is there, for it is safe to say a majority of these programs have been “top down” endeavors where white do-gooders and assorted experts supply the answers.
My son said daddy I dont wanna go to school
Cause the teachers a jerk, he must think I’m a fool
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message
Meanwhile as the Democrats have thrown dollars at the problem only to have them blow away in a wind it does not comprehend, the Republicans have pushed “market-driven” solutions all centered around vouchers. The GOP’s solution is to let inner city parents have the money for their children and then decide where to send them to school. This, of course, does little to solve the apartheid problem since inner city parents can only afford to send their children to other inner city schools. Vouchers won’t bring the people of Morgan Park to Plano anytime soon. It also makes you wonder why the GOP doesn’t follow a similar philosophy with welfare and unemployment. This makes the right as guilty as the left, for they cannot help but realize vouchers will only PERPETUATE educational apartheid, not relieve it.
The time has come to confront our guilt and confess neither money nor markets are the answer. After four decades. the verdict of history is pretty clear. Right now America is on probation as far as the rest of the world is concerned, for they look to how we treat our own people of color and see a disconnect between what we purport to believe and what we actually do.
More pointedly here at home, the question is how long will educational apartheid persist before its victims, like those in South Africa, begin to rebel? History tells us as Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Can we prevent that collapse? Stay tuned for Part Two. The answer will surprise you, because I will guarantee you have never heard it before.
Labels: Ralph Brauer