Thursday, March 11, 2010
How much tax money is Arne Duncan going to waste on his Civil Rights adventure? The money that he is about to waste would be better spent creating jobs.
I'm sorry, I just don't buy Duncan's latest PR push to show that he is working to improve education in urban schools. He recently announced that he would launch dozens of Civil Rights investigations, targeting schools across the Country, suggesting that urban students aren't succeeding because their civil rights are being violated. Oh Please!!! I can't drink that Koolaid. Am I the only one who smells bullshit whenever Arne Duncan's name is mentioned? I have been skeptical about this guy ever since Obama appointed him to the post of Education Secretary. He's a Chicago crony. There were certainly better candidates for the job in my opinion. And Chicago's public schools aren't in the best of shape in case anyone hasn't noticed.
It just seems to me that Duncan is playing to the Black urban political elite with this move. He wants to go along with the same old narrative from 20 years ago. But that narrative is out of date. Sure, there are likely some cases of civil rights violations in urban schools that may be uncovered. I don't want to diminish that problem at all. There is probably an even bigger danger of civil rights violations in predominantly white suburban schools against minority students. Hispanics and others may face issues because they speak English as a second language. There may also be cases of students being steered away from certain programs. I can recall guidance counselors refusing to let me into some of the classes I wanted to get into when I first moved to rural/suburban Texas 20 years ago. To this day I don't quite understand what the rationale was. But I still received a decent education because it was a good public school system. However, I believe that these kinds of cases are probably few and far between. Certainly this is not the driving force behind failing students and failing urban schools, particularly those in Black communities. I believe that most students aren't getting into more challenging courses because they don't have the grades...they haven't shown that they can handle the work... not because they are Black. It's interesting how this point is avoided.
Duncan is using the convenient issue of race as a scapegoat, while ignoring the elephant in the room - Urban Culture/Black Culture/Hip Hop Culture and the failure of parents. Urban social norms have a much bigger impact on educational outcomes. Yes, some urban schools have mediocre teachers... that's because good teachers don't want to work in warzones or in environments where their careers are threatened in systems that tie job security to student performance. If I were a teacher in that situation I would probably choose to leave as well...for a better school in the burbs. So let's talk about the elephant in the room. Some students just don't want to learn. Is that the fault of the teacher? Some students don't have parents that are engaged and involved in their educations. Is that the teachers fault? Some students come from broken, dysfunctional families where they don't get the support that they need. Is that the fault of the teacher? Some students follow a Black Hip Hop culture that does not embrace or value education. Is that the fault of the teacher? Of course not.
Now I don't want to suggest that there are no good teachers in struggling urban public schools. You will find some of the most dedicated teachers in troubled schools (another reason not to fire them or threaten careers based merely on student test scores). The fact is, in many of these schools, certain groups of students aren't there to learn. They are there to pass time. Culture and other social factors are the biggest variables in the mix, yet they are the variables that schools have the least influence over.
Who wants to work in an environment where there is always a question about personal safety? I wouldn't do it...especially when there is no hazardous duty pay. I wouldn't teach in these schools even if the job paid more money than wealthier white suburban public or private schools. I would rather have peace of mind. You get the occasional Columbine situation in the white burbs, but most violence still takes place in urban schools. Teachers in urban schools have to deal with fights on a weekly basis. Some...on an almost daily basis. Some of these schools function more like penal institutions...with magnetometers at the doors and movements severely restricted in the hallways. And teachers are dealing with a level of disruptive, belligerent, disrespectful, and violent behavior that has never really been seen before....not like it is today. Urban youth today have almost no respect for any kind of authority. So just as a matter of course, many of these schools are out of control. I can post the youtube videos of Black "students" wreaking havoc, fighting in classrooms and teachers either being assaulted or having no way to control them.
And to aggravate the problems, you have school systems, court systems, and States that don't back up teachers who have to deal with belligerent and violent students (many of them are urban terrorists...period). Instead of supporting teachers who are trying to deal with this kind of madness everyday by giving them all of the tools and authority they need, school systems often punish them. School boards are also of no use. And the teachers not only have to deal with out of control prison inmates in training...and the possible violence from them, they also have to deal with the ignorant parents & relatives who often threaten violence. And who does the school board, the courts, and the State side with? Often with the ignorant parents....not because the parent is right...but because they see it as easier to throw teachers under the bus to avoid having to deal with parents and students who are out of control or who might cause problems for board members or administrators. It's a completely crazy system. I am constantly running across crazy stories in St. Louis regarding belligerent & violent students and their out of control parents....and most of the problems are in schools that are predominantly Black. It's the same nonsense in every big city urban school district across the Country... Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, L.A., Atlanta, D.C., Philadelphia, Cleveland...you name it.
You could fill many of these urban schools with the best computers, the best teachers in the World, the best books, the best technology, and the healthiest food and I would argue that there wouldn't be much improvement academically a year later. Not as long as the other variables remain unchanged. In order for students to achieve in these schools, there would need to be a cultural paradigm shift among Blacks in this Country (and to some extent with Hispanics). Remember Steve Perry from CNN's Black In America Series? He was the Principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford Connecticut. Remember what he said about minority parents and their support of the students at his school? He admitted that parental support was almost non-existent.
This isn't about students not having access to education....that's a bunch of bull. And this PR move is really a slap in the face to all those who fought in the 1950's for desegregation of public schools.... those were the real battles regarding civil rights. Students today have all sorts of opportunities.
Please take a look at the Rap on Culture report that I posted a couple of years ago. (be sure to click on the pdf). The report, by PolicyBridge, looked at the impact of culture on educational outcomes. Others, like Dr. John U. Ogbu, a professor at UC Berkley, also looked at the issue of how cultural/social differences impact educational outcomes for Black students.
It's not about whether these students are capable of learning or not. We know that with the proper tools and the proper support, minority students can learn. The Harlem Children's Zone, Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Connecticut, Urban Prep Academy for Young Men in Chicago, and stories from students like Steven Stafford all tell us that urban students have the ability to learn no matter what their circumstances are. It all comes down to the will to learn... the willingness to study and work hard, support from parents and teachers, and ultimately the degree to which Blacks value education.
Why are we wasting money on investigations when we know what the major issues are regarding minorities in urban schools? This issue has been studied backwards, forwards and sideways for the last 30 years. If Duncan wants to help urban students, he could start by telling Black/minority parents to turn off the damn television. But I guess that wouldn't be politically correct. He knows that the Black urban political elite - the constituency that he feels he has to keep happy- wouldn't like that very much at all.
Additional Report from NPR