Monday, August 24, 2015

School segregation, societal irresponsibility and liberal acquiescence with racism

By Isabel Manuela Estrada Portales, Ph.D., M.S.

My previous post dealt with the second of two This American Life’s radio shows about school segregation. I decided to go in reverse order because Part II clearly showcased the basic tenants of our current educational system and how the odds are stacked against black and brown children in impoverished neighborhoods, due to historic and present day racism on one hand and the eternal catering to white fragility on the other. Even integration efforts need to be done in a way that favor whites so that it is accepted to put some resources in places black kids may access them.
Among many other seminal issues, Part II points to the essential problem of local funding of education, which was put in place for the stated purpose of preventing white dollars from going to fund black schools.
Part I discusses, among other things, the Normandy School District in Normandy, Missouri, which is on the border of Ferguson, Missouri, and the district includes the high school attended by Michael Brown, the black 18 year old killed by a police officer in 2014. A district that lost its accreditation in January of 2013, after having a provisional accreditation – a warning of sorts – for…15 years.
This part, however, will enrage anyone with a sense of right and wrong, anyone with a conscience, because there is no need to understand the intricacies and finer points about education funding, integration or even the racial history of the United States to see through the despicable spectacle with which these white parents regaled us.
As I mentioned before, the overall premise of the programs is that school integration is the only educational strategy that has proven to be effective in closing the achievement gap between black and white children and improving attainment across the board for all races.
I won’t retell the episode here, listen to it, please, it is worthy. At the very least, listen to the segment in which white parents scream about how to prevent black children from coming to their schools…in the presence of some of those children and of many of their parents. The kernel is that the Normandy School District had to send its (nearly all black) children to another district – they chose one that was far to make it very inconvenient for children to transfer out – and the one chosen was Francis Howell whose children were nearly all white.
Just listen to this segment and tell me that the United States is not a structurally racist society; indeed, purposely structured for whites’ racial advantage. It was racially structured for oppression and suppression and, while no doubt progress has been made, we have continued to rebuild and recast some of those foundational structures to ensure submission of some groups for the sustained privilege of others. That these groups are demarcated along racial lines is plain to see.
Tell me that we have not, willfully, turned our backs to the most basic truths that will require of us acting justly and, therefore, that will require of some of us to forgo minimal measures of the immense privileges we enjoy in order to create a more equitable society and to bring forth the real conditions of progress for those on whose work our privileges were built.
Just listen to this segment and see how we, black parents are a bunch of lazy bums who do not care about our children’s education. That is why we are willing to wake them up at 5 am to send them half way around the county to get a public school education they wouldn’t be able to get in the school around the block. I wonder why…Perhaps because of that pesky idea of locally funding our schools.
They assumed parents and children wouldn’t want to go through the trouble:
1,000-- that's how many kids wanted to do that. That fall, fully one quarter of Normandy students chose the evacuation plan the law created, even though many of them would have to get on a bus at 5 o'clock in the morning and travel a good 30 miles away. The word “integration” does not appear in Missouri's transfer law. When the law was passed, no one thought an entire district would lose accreditation. Integration was not the law's intent.”
It is perfectly apparent that our black kids are a bunch of criminals, dumbs and good for nothing who…thrive in good schools, are willing to wake up at 5 am to go to those good schools and, surprise, surprise, don’t stab anyone once they are there. Oh, Lord!
Listen to this segment and see how white parents are NOT RACISTS, they just demand that the black kids coming from the other neighborhood bring with them their health records to make sure they don’t have some communicable disease – wouldn’t blackness be contagious?; their criminal records – because they assume black children are coming straight from prison instead of a school.
“The woman says she was an education professor and warned Frances Howell officials not to be naive about the type of students they'd be receiving.“Woman 2: So I'm hoping that their discipline records come with them, like their health records come with them.”
And they demand that before black kids come in the school installs metal detectors and brings drug sniffing dogs. Yeah, this was actually said:
“Woman 3: I want to know where the metal detectors are going to be. And I want to know where your drug-sniffing dogs are going to be.
“I deserve to not have to worry about my children getting stabbed, or taking a drug, or getting robbed because that's the issue. I don't care.”“One mother asked why residents did not get to vote on letting in Normandy kids like they vote on public transportation.“Woman 3: Years ago, when the MetroLink was being very popular, Saint Charles County put to a vote whether or not we wanted the MetroLink to come across into our community. And we said no. And the reason we said no is because we don't want the different areas-- I'm going to be very kind-- coming across on our side of the bridge, bringing with it everything that we're fighting today against.”
Notice that she was “going to be very kind” and, what? Not refer to them as niggers?
Did I mention Normandy parents and kids were in the audience?
And what does the school board members, you know, the leaders say when witnessing this lovely situation?
“School Board Member: I just want to remind everybody that this timeline, nor this solution, are solutions that Francis Howell would have chosen either... We did find out yesterday that those student scores will become our scores.”
It was so embarrassing that the school teachers from the “white” high school were ashamed and organized a very nice welcome for the children of the Normandy School District.
Referring to integration, the reporter, a product herself of desegregation the first time around, said the saddest and truest phrase in this program: “We somehow want this to have been easy. And we gave up really fast.”
A piece in The New York Times, The Continuing Reality of Segregated Schools, summarizes this well:  
“Most black children will not be killed by the police. But millions of them will go to a school like Michael Brown’s: segregated, impoverished and failing. The nearly all-black, almost entirely poor Normandy school district from which Brown graduated just eight days before he was killed placed dead last on its accreditation assessment in the 2013-2014 school year: 520th out of 520 Missouri districts. The circumstances were so dire that the state stripped the district of its accreditation and eventually took over.”

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DISCLAIMER: These are my personal views and do not represent the opinions of my employer, or any other organization.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hartford, Connecticut’s school desegregation: For the comfort of whites

By Isabel Manuela Estrada Portales, Ph.D., M.S.


This American Life aired two shows about school segregation, what they call, as the title of the episodes, “The problem we all live with.” I am very glad these hit the airways. I hope they are shared wildly and widely and people listen to them. Then, I wonder what the questions might be. I find myself in such a quizzical state, I need to write two posts to probe the issues.
My posts will be written in reverse order to the airing of the shows because I firmly believe that, contrary to the premise of the shows, Part II is not an “answer” to the problem, but actually showcases the root causes of it in its most brutal fashion; despite Part I ability to make one yell at the iPhone in disgust about the overt racism and disregard for black children’s lives that white parents showcased, openly, without remorse or shame.
The overall premise of the programs is that we have disregarded callously and prematurely the only educational strategy that has proven to be effective in closing the famous and famously pervasive achievement gap between black and white children: school integration. The programs discuss how school desegregation has worked to improve the educational gains across the board for black and white children and the results have been consistent everywhere it has been tried.
Part I discusses the Normandy School District in Normandy, Missouri. Normandy is on the border of Ferguson, Missouri, and the district includes the high school that Michael Brown, the black 18 year old killed by a police officer, attended. A district that lost its accreditation, after being in a provisional accreditation – a warning of sorts – for…15 years.
Part II goes into, I guess, a successful school integration effort in Hartford, Connecticut. The inner city schools there were so bad that a civil rights lawyer, John Brittain, sued the school system and won. But he knew mandated integration wouldn’t succeed long term and decided that the strategy had to be that people wanted to integrate, that every day, every school year “parents continue to opt into integration over and over again.”
Doesn’t that sound lovely? The problem is that the adjective is missing. It is not that “parents” continue to opt into integration, but that “white parents” choose to integrate over and over again. And things go downhill from there.
There is a whole marketing strategy and a host of resources has been put in place to convince suburban parents to send their kids to the schools in the inner city. This, scandalously, includes providing free preschool to white suburban parents who send their kids to magnet schools in the inner city.
No, the people doing this in Hartford are not stupid. They see this clearly. They also are so convinced this is the only choice they have to provide a good chance of improving the schools of the inner city so that, one day, they may benefit a majority of the black kids, that they are willing to settle for this monstrosity.
Just look at this exchange:
Enid Rey, a lawyer and the person leading the effort to integrate Hartford schools: 
“You know, some of our suburban families come because they get free preschool. I mean, think about it. They could afford to pay. But if you get a magnet seat, you are going to get free preschool. And I think a factor is that in the back of their head is also, if it doesn't work I'll just go back to my neighborhood school. Right? If this whole thing just doesn't work out for my child, or I don't feel comfortable, I always have another option, right?”
Chana Joffe, the reporter: 
“It's an experiment.”
Enid Rey: 
“Right. And they can experiment, quite frankly. Not so much the case for Hartford resident families. This is it. This is their shot at quality.”
Bottom line is the entire effort aims to ensure that each inner city school has 25 percent of white children. That is considered an integrated school. 
Remember I said that the causes of the outright racism reported in Part I were apparent in Part II? So, let’s unpack this.
We now know full well that integration does work. We also know that (white) people cannot be forced to integrate – notice how, for instance, suburban schools in the area can and indeed do decide to limit the number of black kids from the city they will accept in the schools – or they basically riot and flight away. Isn’t it interesting how in America the word “force” comes into play really quickly when whites are told to do the right thing? In this case, the right thing would be to take some responsibility for the conditions they managed to create for the inner city schools and to proceed accordingly.
Then, the solution is to ensure voluntary integration. So, people of color have to go around begging and courting white parents to send their kids to schools that are better than the ones they have around their suburban houses – although, granted, their schools are not bad, but here we are talking about building state of the art schools to attract white people.
Yes, we know integration work, but the main reason it does – beyond the side benefits of educating people for equality and exposing them to difference which we must assume, lest we commit collective suicide, that is a vehicle for improving this world of ours in the very long haul – is that otherwise black kids would be going to miserably messed up schools, with bad teachers and no resources. Schools where the roof comes down and “pigeon carcasses came tumbling into the building. Pigeon carcasses.” This is not a metaphor, in case you were wondering.
No, it is not, as a friend put it, that magic white people’s pixie dust rubs off on the kids of color. Just seeing white people having good lives doesn’t change anything, because poverty is not an attitude problem. Dead pigeons don’t shower down from a roof that caves in because black kids don’t believe they can achieve. Opportunities and resources is what need to change.
The truth is if we build those great schools in the black communities, with those great teachers and the magnets and all the niceties needed to attract whites, I can assure you, black people will do just fine!
But apparently, the only way we get resources to build those great schools in black communities is if we have the excuse that we are trying to attract white children from suburban neighborhoods. This is so to such an extent that the people leading the integration effort are plainly terrified that they may not have the resources around much longer if they don't get more people worthy of them, i.e., white people.
It is a sort of trickle down good education, if you will. Because, if the resources are there, they will be able to build more good schools/programs inside schools, hence, expanding the opportunity more black kids from the neighborhood could attend a good school.
The bottom line here couldn't be any plainer if they had spelled it out: black kids ain't worth the resources just for themselves.
We should not be surprised. It has been blatant for a very long time that this very wealthy country unquestioningly tolerates insane levels of poverty because it has been studiously associated with black people. The unworthy poor.
By the way, it is patent in the reports that black parents don’t care about their children’s education…that’s why they are begging and demanding and complaining to get them into those separate and unequal great schools right there in their ‘hoods but as out of reach as if they were on the other site of the tracks in the 1940s.
The marketing efforts targeting white parents cater to the known white fragility. They cannot be told they are a bunch of racist pricks – even if unconsciously so:
“Enid, who is selling them on magnet schools, which exist to promote integration, also does not mention integration. The long history of segregated schooling doesn't come up. The current reality of segregated housing is irrelevant. No one here is being moved by a sense of collective responsibility. It is as if John Brittain never happened.“Instead, the experience Enid is curating is for comfort. All the details she considers, like making sure there are white kids in the brochures. Or if parents do tour a school, Enid does her best to have their child shadow a white student. That way they can see they won't be the only one.”
I can only hope that children of any color do not listen to these shows.

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DISCLAIMER: These are my personal views and do not represent the opinions of my employer, or any other organization.