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Education Advocacy Issues
Massive institutional racism and structural inequalities still exist in the United States, especially in housing, public education and the criminal justice system in inner city areas. In every urban area, the quality of education available to poor and minority students is demonstrably worse by any measure than that of their white peers in the suburbs. This type of institutional discrimination is not caused by genetic or cultural deprivation but by the fact that the U.S. has always been and remains a highly segregated and unequal society based on race and social class. Of course, this violates the liberal, egalitarian and meritocratic ideals on which the nation was (supposedly), but after all, the U.S. managed to survive with slavery for almost a hundred years after its founding, and with legal segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks for a hundred years after that. Chicago, Detroit, East St. Louis, Camden, New Jersey all have crumbling public school systems serving mostly black and Hispanic students funded at levels far below those of white suburban districts. Ghetto neighborhoods also lack banks, supermarkets, parks and other public services, and have high levels of crime, gang activity, unemployment and drug dealing (Kozol 1991). Detroit serves as a particularly egregious example of structural racism, segregation and unequal funding between urban and suburban schools, and was also ground-zero for the Bradley v. Milliken case in the 1970s that effectively ended any new attempts at busing or school integration in urban America. The same problems remain as in the 1960s and 1970s, and are indeed worse than ever, and the proposed solutions have all been attempted in the past -- and usually blocked by suburban whites. No one is seriously attempting to implement school integration today or even a policy of equalized funding for minority schools, although this certainly should be done.
History of Segregation and Inequality in Urban Public Schools
Detroit is a classic Rust Belt city that has lost most of its industrial base over the last thirty years, and has been driven nearly into bankruptcy during the recent recession. It also has a long history of racial segregation and violence, while its public education system is among the worst in the country. In 1980-90 alone the city lost one-sixth of its population and over one-third of its residents lived in poverty, but compared to the inner city the white suburbs were relatively affluent. As with all American cities, residential segregation was nearly absolute, with the Detroit suburbs being 95% white and the inner city 76% black. Almost half of the children in the city live in poverty compared to 10% in the suburbs, and Detroit long ago earned the reputation as the "first Third World city" in the U.S., although it was by no means the last (Farley et al., 2000, p. 4). Suburban schools reflect the general social and economic conditions of the Detroit area as a whole and have always been as segregated as the communities themselves.
Detroit's history as the Motor City began in 1908 with the development of the assembly line by Henry Ford, who was himself a notorious racist, anti-Semite and financier of the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. In both world wars, the motor industry expanded greatly and recruited blacks and poor whites from the South in large numbers, although blacks were employed in the lowest-paying unskilled jobs. Up to the 1930s, Ford and the other auto barons resisted unionization with great violence until the great sit-down strikes of 1937. Industrial unions like the United Auto Workers (UAW) negotiated generous pay and benefits for their members and lifted workers out of poverty and into the middle class for the first time in American history. As those jobs began to disappear in the 1970s to the oil shocks and imports from Asia, so did the factories and well-paying union jobs in Detroit. Whites also moved to the suburbs after 1945, which remained almost completely closed to blacks, and in 1950-90 the white population of Detroit fell by 85% (Farley et al., p. 10).
White flight increased rapidly after the 1967 riots, which left much of the inner city devastated, to the point where less than 10% of whites in the metropolitan area still lived in the city by 1990. White incomes doubled in 1950-90 while black incomes actually decreased, and on average family incomes in the suburbs were twice as high as those of inner city blacks (Farley et al., p. 50). Thus the pattern of black poverty, segregated housing and schools and a failed public education system in the inner city was set decades ago. Short of the city annexing the suburbs -- which it has not been permitted to do since 1926 -- or a major influx of federal resources to decrease these inequalities, this situation is not going to change in any meaningful way. Since the 1960s, when the civil rights movement ended in urban riots and the assassination of Martin Luther King, there has been no political will in the United States to address these problems of poverty, racism, inequality and segregation. At best, the minority populations of the inner cities have been treated as a problem of social control and law enforcement.
In Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol offered an absolutely horrendous description of public schools in inner city ghettos that at times reduced him to tears and rage. Chicago, Detroit, East St. Louis, Camden, Jew Jersey all have crumbling public school systems serving mostly black and Hispanic students funded at levels far below those of white suburban districts. Like Detroit, they are all Rust Belt cities and urban wastelands from which industry fled decades ago, leaving behind the poor, the disadvantaged and minorities who were unable to escape. These ghetto neighborhoods also lack banks, supermarkets, parks and other public services, and have high levels of crime, gang activity, unemployment and drug dealing. Public schools in these cities are examples of truly illiberal education in the United States in which not even a pretext of meritocracy exists. Kozol asks rhetorically whether Americans even believe in equality at all, and judging from the condition of these public schools the answer would seem to be negative. Everyone even slightly familiar with these urban public schools knows very well that they are "closely tied to class and race" (Kozol, 1991, p. 60). Most of them lack adequate textbooks and equipment, and even functioning playgrounds and bathroom facilities. Almost none of their students will go on to higher education and dropout rates are often as high as 80-90.
In absolutely every case, the quality of education available to poor and minority students is demonstrably poorer by any measure than that of their white peers in the suburbs, as researchers like Jonathan Kozol have pointed out many times. This is not caused by genetic or cultural deprivation but by the fact that the U.S. has always been and remains a highly segregated and unequal society based on race and social class (Ryan, 1976, p. 16). Of course, this violates the liberal, egalitarian and meritocratic ideals on which the nation was (supposedly) founded, but such hypocrisy has rarely seemed to disturb most white Americans in the middle and upper classes. After all, the U.S. managed to survive with slavery for almost a hundred years after its founding, and with legal segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks for a hundred years after that. Meritocracy in the United States has always been a complete myth in the sense that every individual regardless of color or social class has equal opportunities in life (McNamee and Miller 2004).Students who graduate from these places will be lucky to read at an elementary schools level, and they realize by 5th or 6th grade that they are being cheated and do not have nearly the same educational opportunities as whites in suburban schools. Indeed, the disparities are so great that they might as well be living in separate countries, with the inner cities being part of some impoverished Third World nation. Only the threat of lawsuits or shutdowns by state and federal officials brings about even slight improvements in schools like these, because there is simply not enough money to go around.
Strong democracy in inner-city public schools requires the empowerment and mobilization of low-income, minority, youth, and other marginalized and under-represented groups who are being poorly served by the present segregated system. Major decisions that affect the poor, the marginalized and minorities from major public policy decisions require the active participation from all sectors of society. It also requires changes in the curriculum and pedagogy so that these will reflect that values of strong democracy and maximum participation by groups that are presently ignored and marginalized. To accomplish this end, the following recommendations should be enacted:
• Renewed efforts to integrate the inner-city and suburban schools, through busing, exchange programs, or attracting larger numbers of whites or immigrants back to the inner city.
• Abandoning the system of property taxes and also seek more funding from…[continue]
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