Tuesday Reading List: Incarceration, Poverty, Schools, and The Politics of Outrage

Melinda D. Anderson is in The Atlantic, highlighting new research that discusses how having an incarcerated parent affects children in the classroom:

The report shows that having an incarcerated parent translates to a range of learning obstacles and health challenges. After a parent is imprisoned, children’s grade-point averages fall, as the likelihood of dropping out of school rises. Compared to children of non-incarcerated parents, these youth show a higher incidence of anxiety (51 percent more likely) and depression (43 percent), and are considerably more likely to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (72 percent), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (48 percent), and behavioral issues (43 percent).

Anderson compares the impact of incarceration with that of classroom reforms and wonders whether the effects might be similar. It's a reasonable point to explore, but we should end mass incarceration, AND we should make significant reforms to schools. It's important to break out of this either/or dichotomy, wherein supporting progressive causes is somehow antithetical to supporting meaningful changes that improve schools and classrooms.

On a similar note, Linda Lutton of WBEZ in Chicago has a long interactive piece about schools in that city's Lawndale neighborhood. She struggles to draw conclusions about the linkages between poverty and schooling:

What if we’re putting way too much faith in schools to overcome all the obstacles poverty presents? I’m not suggesting that would be true because poor kids are any less bright or talented or because they don’t work as hard. But because money — the kind of money that middle-class or affluent people have — buys experiences that help kids understand the world, understand the word ripe. It buys music lessons and sports practice, connections to people with jobs and opportunities. Money buys dinner every night, a neighborhood where kids are not shot, a school with more resources. Money buys freedom from the stress poverty brings. I want to be really clear: I think we should work as hard as possible to make schools as good as we can make them. It’s where our kids learn to be thinkers and citizens. But what if we’re just plain wrong about schools being able to overcome poverty?

That last question might be a bit of a straw-man, because I'm not sure there are quite as many people as Lutton thinks who believe that schooling alone can eradicate poverty. From a policy standpoint, though, the federal emphasis on education reform has flourished in the last several decades, without a concomitant investment in poverty amelioration. Poverty amelioration programs and schooling improvements are not mutually exclusive from a policy perspective, so the idea of having both isn't impossible. The politics, however, complicate the picture.

Goldie Taylor is in The Daily Beast with a moving tribute to Coretta Scott King:

It was in 1986 that she wrote a scathing nine-page letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which at the time was considering the nomination of an Alabama attorney general to the federal bench. In the document, unearthed by The Washington Post, Coretta denounced now Senator Jeff Sessions, saying, “Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts.” She had known men like Sessions, men from the Deep South, who worked to maintain systems of inequality—all the while smiling gingerly at their colleagues and constituents. That rebuke, including allegations from others involving racial epithets purportedly used by Sessions, sank his bid.

Taylor's piece, unlike the rest of the "what would Dr. and Mrs. King think" genre, relies on Coretta's actual words and political perspectives. On a day when we celebrate a great man, let's not forget the great woman who stood side-by-side with him.

Finally, in the last segment of a six-part series on the Obama presidency in The New York Times, Michael Shear and Yamiche Alcindor look at the transformation of the president's rhetoric on race. Despite Obama's emotional press conference after the killing of Trayvon Martin, Shear and Alcindor pinpoint Ferguson as the real turning point:

For the rest of his presidency, Mr. Obama would strive for the balance he struck in his remarks that day: empathy and understanding for African-Americans and support for the police and the rule of law. But however he weighed in, the events in Ferguson made clear that he could no longer hang back and instead had to lead a national debate about race, violence and unity. “Once it was so in America’s face, police brutality, it blew the circuit,” said Bill Burton, an African-American who served as deputy White House press secretary during the first term. “It made it possible to have that conversation that our country had actively not been having.” Inevitably, Mr. Obama’s striving for balance often left him vilified by both sides.

The inability to split the difference is congruent with our national slide into the politics of outrage. It's hard to imagine the president-elect deescalating the current conflict, so emerging leaders in both parties need to figure out how to pave a path forward.