Thursday, March 20

"Segregated Schools Were, and Are, Inferior Schools..."

WELL Sir, welcome to Indianapolis, where a lot of African-Americans of a certain age can tell you it ain't necessarily so, or not entirely: there's Crispus Attucks, built back in the 1920s when D.C. Stephenson and the Klan controlled the state, and the mayor, and the school board. Attucks recruited top talent for its (also segregated, on the grounds this would make segregation "seem less offensive") teaching staff, and boasted more teachers with advanced degrees than any other public school, though we ought to surround that phrase in quotes, since the state athletic commission decided black schools weren't "public" for competition purposes.

We don't mention this to nit-pick, and certainly not to recommend the practice, but to introduce you to the idea that it's the quality of the schools, not their racial makeup, that should be our first order of business.
we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

As does health care, nutrition, economic opportunities or the lack thereof, home environment, early enrichment programs, and a host of other things. And several of those are more important than the schools.

Or computers. Forty-five percent of African-American students, and 39% of Hispanics, rely on schools for their computer access.

So, once again, welcome to Indianapolis, capitol of a state where what the President, or the next President, or the Congress has to say about education doesn't really change things much. At last count there were forty-nine others.

The Circle City is the very model of what White Flight (and the Black Menace--they work together) and political meddling have accomplished in the fifty years since Brown (which, one feels the need to inform the historicity-challenged Obama campaign, marked a Supreme Court decision, and--pointedly--not the beginning of desegregation of schools).

In the mid-60s Republicans found themselves in complete control of Indianapolis government (under now-Sinecured Senator Dick Lugar) and annexed the entire county for voting purposes, but kept the county township school systems in place. This should be enough to tell you whose votes were being added. In the early 70s, or fifteen years after Brown. the Federal courts ruled that the Indianapolis Public School system was still segregated, on the grounds that it still was. The court ordered the busing of inner-city students (from inside the old city limits) to the township schools. And the court ordered the citizens of the old city to foot the bill.

And this meant that the very people who'd been discriminated against were now taking money from their own schools to pay to desegregate the districts the perpetrators of that system had fled to, and who were now free to spend all the state and federal monies attached to those minority students, as well as all of their own, on their own, still-separate, schools. We are still in the process of phasing-out the program thirty-four years later, at a time when natural population growth has achieved something like racial balance in most of the old county township systems. The other remnants of the old township system--all survived because of their political juice back in the 60s--are gone or in the process of being dismantled. The city police and county sheriff finally merged last year. Most of the fire departments have opted in to city management. Nobody says a word about consolidating schools. Nobody needs to. The (old) city schools are 76% non-white and 72% free lunch.  Like the man said, it's National Brotherhood Week.

And all of this, of course, has occurred to the constant drum beat about Failing Schools.

Welcome to Indianapolis! You can drive around it on I-465 and see the shining whiteness of the doughnut counties school systems, the ones that had no worries about their political boundaries being breached. The ones that experienced explosive growth beginning in the 1980s, although by then no one would call it White Flight, because whites were the new victims.

These are not the bastions of people whose "resentment built over time". They're people who ran for the hills. They want to feel safe, they want to feel their children are safe, they want them to receive a quality education. These things are understandable. What isn't is why they'd just as soon Those Others die poor, and stupid, and somewhere else. Every time I hear someone talk about Our Failing Schools I'm reminded of how long I've been hearing it, and what's happened to urban school districts during that time.

Four years ago the citizens of Indiana--apparently of their own free will--elected as governor the man who'd just finished getting the ball rolling on the Bush II economy. And practically his first act as Entrepreneur-in-Chief was to promote a phony balancing of the budget, which is to say he found a different and more cryptic way to amortize budget shortfalls than the Democrats had been using. The major urban school districts were caught in the crossfire. They took a two-year hit; now they're about to take another of at least equal size because of an orchestrated "revolt" over property taxes. Meanwhile, the governor's two great educational initiatives of his first term involved moving Stupid State Standardized Testing (SSST) from fall to spring, thereby, I dunno, changing the weather patterns that follow it, and changing the law to permit organized volume purchasing by multiple school districts, which proved to be a roaring success when it turned out they already had the right to do so, and in several instances already were.

(Post-revolt and pre-election, the Guv now wants the state to pick up 100% of eduction costs. When this results in something approaching equality of spending per student. let alone putting our money where our mouth has been for thirty years, I'll be sure to let you know.)

Regardless of what a President can do about it, a discussion of race and education in this country is welcome. And an honest one even more so.

5 comments:

James Stripes said...

...fifty years since Brown (which, one feels the need to inform the historicity-challenged Obama campaign, marked a Supreme Court decision, and--pointedly--not the beginning of desegregation of schools).

In Alaska, for example, part of the United States, although not yet a state, the work of the Alaska Native Brotherhood resulted in desegregation of schools that had been denying access to Alaska Natives (Aleuts, for example) in the 1920s, a few decades before Brown. The issue is not now, nor has ever been black and white.

aimai said...

doghouse, this is simply brilliant in its clarity.

especially this:

These are not the bastions of people whose "resentment built over time". They're people who ran for the hills. They want to feel safe, they want to feel their children are safe, they want them to receive a quality education. These things are understandable. What isn't is why they'd just as soon Those Others die poor, and stupid, and somewhere else. Every time I hear someone talk about Our Failing Schools I'm reminded of how long I've been hearing it, and what's happened to urban school districts during that time.

LittlePig said...

It's the same situation here in Little Rock. LRSD is majority black, while Pulaski County schools are majority white.

My son, after being in the 8% white contingent of his high school (3% Hispanic, 89% black), wanted to go to private (aka white) school, so we put him in one for his junior year. There he learned an important life lesson: he found out assholes come in all colors. He went back to his old high school for his senior year.

Brendan said...

I was just about to rave about one paragraph in particular myself, but I see aimai has beaten me to it. So, I'll just agree: Brilliantly said.

Lalita said...

Good points James Stripes, though I think you meant to say that this issue has not been "merely" or "only" black and white. From my work, I've found almost intractible, generational segregation in white communities where generations of poor whites live in areas where they receive lower quality and their wealthier brethren (and, um, sistren) received greater educational largesse.

President Johnson in his 1965 address to the graduating class at Howard University spoke of the mutual impacts of "separate but unequal" education and opportunities...for everyone.