Thursday, June 30, 2011

Striving for better educational opportunities for our children

Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice at the Education
Law Center

In a tempo that harkened to the days of the Civil Rights Movement, the young and dynamic NAACP President Benjamin Jealous recently urged a captivated audience to fight for better educational opportunities as if America’s children’s lives depend on it.

“Because they do,” he said to punctuate his call to action to end shocking gaps in educational opportunities, the re-segregation of America’s schools, and extreme incarceration rates.
The audience was with him, nodding and applauding, as he tied these problems together and connected with our own experience. He had people on the edges of their seats when he reminded us that the dream of the NAACP is to push the entire country toward equity and justice. (Fortunately, the organization is growing rapidly. Join, if you’re not a member!)

To fulfill the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, Jealous said – as he delivered the annual Education Justice Lecture at Rutgers University in New Jersey – we need to increase educational opportunity. 

“Most of what we call the achievement gap is a resource gap,” he said, and we need high-quality preschool, extended school days and years for kids who need more time to learn and ways to learn, and high-quality teaching for all students – a vision that is shared by the growing National Opportunity to Learn Campaign. (See OTL’s similar proposals here.) 

"If you are in a hospital and your recovery isn't going so well," he explained, "we give you more resources to catch you up, to make sure you walk out that door as strong and healthy as anybody else. In school it should be the same way. If you're falling behind, we should devote more attention to you, more resources."

In moving forward, Jealous said, it’s imperative to avoid the pitfalls of the past – namely the re-segregation of our schools. To drive home this point, he spoke of what he calls the "Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future" – the three North Carolina regions that illustrate the challenges of different stages of integration.

Brown never reached Halifax County, N.C., which Jealous labeled the Ghost of Christmas Past. The county has three highly segregated school districts, two of which serve almost exclusively black students, and one of which is primarily white. The district lines don't follow the geography of the city, Jealous explained, and instead track the boundaries of white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods, as they have since before Brown

Wake County, N.C., is the Ghost of Christmas Present. This district had one of the best desegregation strategies in the country, but newly elected school board members are seeking to dismantle the district's socioeconomic integration plan and return students to racially separate schools by basing enrollment on the district’s segregated neighborhoods.

That brought Jealous to Christmas Future -- Charlotte, N.C., which integrated its schools under a court order in 1972. In 2002, the court lifted the order because the district was integrated. With no court order, the district re-segregated, and, when the district recently decided to shut down a number of schools to save money, it chose schools that served primarily students of color, causing these students to bear the burden.

Jealous pointed out that school re-segregation is happening within a broader context of our country’s rapid regression on multiple fronts: voting rights are being attacked, hate crimes have increased, and there's a backlash against immigrants. To address this problem, he argued that we must begin by affirming and acknowledging that we have a long-term crisis. His generation of black men was raised to believe that they would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, but they became the most incarcerated generation on the planet. 

Pointing to Misplaced Priorities – a new NAACP report on America's escalating prison spending and how it’s bankrupting our states, especially our state colleges and universities – Jealous pulled out a startling statistic: with just five percent of world's population, the U.S. has 25 percent of the world's prisoners. To counter this stark reality, he said, we should embrace rehabilitation, which is seven times more effective, and send the savings to our public higher education systems. 

In summing up this call to action, Jealous stressed his concern that as diversity is rising, prosperity is declining. One can be like Donald Trump, who attacked diversity to distract people from the economy, or be like Dr. King, who embraced diversity and focused on ending poverty and building up prosperity, Jealous said. 

Join us in the good fight, Jealous said, because “"to be silent is to be complicit."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for reading our blog and for your comment!