Friday Reading List: Schools, the American Dream, and Privilege Hoarders

Former United States Secretary of Education John King and recording artist Jidenna have a new op-ed at CNN:

We write this piece to call for action on behalf of our children, so they can build a better future for themselves and future generations. It is simply not enough to shout about the problem. To be true advocates, yes, we have to show up on the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, New York or Washington, D.C. We also have to sit down at community meetings in rural New Mexico or Alabama. We have to run for that open school board seat in our town. And we have to realize how important it is to vote -- not just every four years in a presidential election, but in contests that decide who represents us in city hall, the state house, and Congress ... Consider becoming a teacher --especially for people of color, who represent just 18% of the teaching force when the majority of students in our nation's public schools are students of color.

King and Jidenna make important points about both reducing suspensions for children of color and supporting immigrant students. Perhaps the most poignant thing about this piece, though, is that the authors position these issues as critical to delivering on the "American dream." I expect that, if King continues to be a public leader on these issues, he'll find many followers behind him.

If the prior article serves as an exemplar of inspiring rhetoric, Erika Sanzi of Good School Hunting found and critiques a piece that might qualify as the polar opposite:

Steven Singer has actually penned a piece in which he makes the claim that Common Core has led to a spike in middle school suicides. Though he does admit that there are a variety of reasons for the increase, he stands firm in his claim that the Common Core State Standards are one of them ... The mixed messages that bombard kids in the media keep me up at night. The over-sexualization of young girls and the confusion it causes in their young minds keeps me up at night. The epidemic of sexual abuse—including in our nation’s classrooms—keeps me up at night. The 24 hour cycle of cruelty and bullying that torments some children (made possible by social media) keeps me up at night. The naïveté of our children around the consequences and the permanence of their online behavior keeps me up at night ... Did Singer include any of that in his piece?  Nope.

Singer's original piece is a good example of how far the education policy debate has strayed from the standards of reasonable discourse. Singer is a part of a small - yet loud and committed - group of individuals who seem eager to shoot down any meaningful reforms by any means necessary. Crap like this reveals his true colors.

Edwin Rios at Mother Jones uses data from EdBuild to look at the new ways in white white families reinforce school segregation:

Gardendale [Alabama] is just one of many communities—often small, wealthier enclaves—which have attempted to secede from larger school districts across the country over the past 15 years, sparking a nationwide debate about modern segregation. A report released this week by the education nonprofit EdBuild documents the reach of the movement. Since 2000, researchers find, there have been 71 attempts by communities to secede from larger school districts, and, so far, 47 communities have been successful. Another nine, from Malibu, California, to Daphne, Alabama, are currently considering breaking away. Yet another nine community’s plans have been defeated since 2000. 

Two things to consider here. First, it's important to remember that racism and institutional discrimination depend on both systemic measures and personal actions. In the case described above, you see both. Individuals - acting on their racialized self-interests - are pursuing policy measures to reinforce racial divisions. In almost every case of residential segregation, people will deny that such actions have ANYTHING AT ALL to do with race ...

But if you willfully participate in a community that hoards wealth and privilege, whether you acknowledge it or not, you are reinforcing systemic racism.

The second thing to remember is that this is not a new phenomenon. When the Supreme Court decided on Brown v. Board of Education in the mid 1950s, schools had been either factually or statutorily segregated for hundreds of years. Integration efforts reached their peak in 1988 and have been in decline ever since. In other words, during a 400 year history of systemic racism in America, we spent about 30 years giving desegregation "the old college try." We should not pretend that those efforts were sufficient, but we also shouldn't be willfully ignorant in our definition of the problem. School choice and charter schools did not cause schools segregation, just like Common Core isn't responsible for increasing suicide rates among teens.

Finally, I leave you for the weekend with an uplifting read! Lizette Alvarez is in The New York Times with a profile of a performing arts school:

Performing and visual arts high schools like New World inspire a fierce devotion among students and graduates. It is no wonder. Many serve as springboards to the professional world. Just as important, graduation and college attendance rates are typically high (100 and 96 percent for New World), particularly impressive considering the schools’ urban setting. The best of these schools offer a conservatory-style training ground that helps budding artists win admission to an undergraduate arts program — training that is expensive, requiring a cadre of specialized teachers and money for student performances.

Have a great weekend!