Saturday, May 17, 2008

Introspective Challenge - Am I A "Jonathan Kozol" Hypocrite?

As I am flipping through my child's elementary school year book and making note of the hue of the children and teachers contained within I am forced to justify the choice of my wife and me to move to a racially integrated community. After all this type of integration is what White liberal educational activst Johnathan Kozol claimed was the only way for a Black child to be insured to receive a quality education. As a frequent critic of his views - am I in fact a living example of what he has prescribed?

We have been living in our Fayette County home for 10 years. Having gotten married and lived in Fulton County to the north we chose Fayette County because it had a reputation for strong schools and a traditional, family oriented environment. Where as Fulton and Clayton are Democratic strongholds, Fayette is a Republican stronghold. It is also the case that there is a higher average income for Black residents of Fayette than White. This is only because there is a smaller population of Black people who live here and the ones who do live here have a relatively high income. The White population is more economically diverse and thus when we talk pure averages alone - the Black people's income is greater. Indeed many Blacks move to Fayette to consume the good schools and solid management of the county.

But what about Jonathan Kozol? His primary focus was on the lack of RESOURCES that are seen in urban school districts as compared to suburban districts such as in Fayette.

For Clayton County, the county immediately to the north of Fayette their per pupil spending is $7,641. (73% Black, 7% White)
The State average for all of Georgia is $8,065 (38% Black, 48% White)
For Fayette County the per pupil spending rate is: $7,685 (20% Black, 68% White)

Clearly there is more to the differences between Fayette county and Clayton than the $44 gap in per pupil spending.

Just to throw in a few additional examples:
Dekalb County's per pupil spending is: $8,426 (76% Black, 10% White)
Fulton County's per pupil spending is: $9.58 (41% Black , 39% White)


Keep in mind that all of these systems listed above are in the "Metro Atlanta" area. Where as one could make the case that the cost of living is vastly different between "New York City" and "Upstate NY" and thus the higher rates of NYC is eaten away by higher relative costs of living.....this is not the case with these metro Atlanta districts. Salaries, energy costs to operate the schools and food costs, for example - should all be relatively equal in the metro area.

Indeed Mr. Kozol frequents the school buildings of New York and Boston where in some cases the buildings are nearing the century mark. Thus his tales of rickety wooden windows that could cut your finger off if they fall on you and the bathrooms that have a hole in the floor where there used to be a toilet are indeed commonplace in at least some of these schools. For Kozol and other activists seeking more money and reduced accountability for the results that they have been amassing the shift in focus to the PHYSICAL PLANT of the schools that they are working on behalf of is not surprising. If someone is gunning after me to improve my product why wouldn't I make the case that I need "X" BEFORE I can deliver to them a better outcome. Upon hearing this stated as the reason for the mediocre results they are bound to get some portion of what they want just because the money granting authority doesn't want to be said to be blocking the academic results that they have asked for. And, of course, in many cases THERE INDEED DOES NEED TO BE MORE MONEY SPENT ON THE PHYSICAL PLANT OF THE SCHOOLS.

Here is the rub though - Kozol and others use the soft science of how "environmental
forces" with regards to the physical plant and paint job have a depressive influence on the creation of an "high achieving academic environment". What do they have to lose in making such a redirection?

From my personal experience as both a parent as I observe my own childrens' school and then as an occasional visitor to other schools what Kozol and the other educational activists seek to put off as LACK OF FUNDING is really an issue of the PREVAILING CULTURE that is ALLOWED in many of these schools.

As I had pointed out in a previous blog entry: "My experiences at an urban elementary school" the culture within the school and the assumptions from the staff that crafted it - made all of the difference in the world between the offensive display that I saw and the more appropriate display that I saw at my child's recent end of year school play (pictured above).

More than any issue of school funding or even the prevailing race that is contained within the school is the issue of the CULTURE upon which the school is governed. Two elementary schools that teach students from K-5. Two schools that put on an assembly in which the students were the central actors within. Yet one was consistent with what we would know as traditional "child content" and the other was executed in the name of "reaching the child where he stands and what appeals to him". As I think about both occasions were an attempt to "reach the child where he now stands". It is the school administrators who perverted that location in the name of cultural indoctrination masked as "fun the way the kids like to have it".

I assure you that if the parents of my child's school had seen the assembly that I saw that they would have immediately put a stop to it and sought to have some of the administrators fired because of it. Clearly both schools are a product of the governing concepts and culture that is present within.

To be sure some people will call my focus on "culture" as being the same "soft science" as I have called the focus on the physical plant as being. The key point that negates such a challenge is the fact that the culture that is present in these same schools also dictates the content that is presented to these students, the way in which disciplinary issues are addressed by the staff and the peer pressure that is present with regard to pressuring "academic attainment" or "social status in conflict with academics". Indeed it is with culture upon which "Cultures of Success" are crafted.

To answer the Kozol Challenge - NO! My wife and I did not move to Fayette County Georgia to have our children sit next to White children. On an expanded note - the schools is "browning" with each passing year. What has remained consistent is the ACADEMIC CULTURE that is present within the school. This is what we "bought in to".

Think about the power of my conclusion. Where as Kozol and other Black Progressives make Black Academic Attainment a function of their proximity to WHITE KIDS....I distill the essential essence of what they are clamoring for and make note that it is the CULTURE that is more likely found within majority White schools not the WHITE PEOPLE themselves. Thus my viewpoint details the possibility that YES an all Black school that is properly administrated and which has the commensurate involvement of the parents can be a world class school regarding their academic performance.

The alternative to believing this? The inferiorization of Black people with our hopes toward academic success being pinned on our placement next to White kids and our lament over any ruling which outlaws racially based classroom allocations that pervert the notion of EQUALITY of each individual so.

Today's "segregated classroom" is not of the segregation of the past. My wife and I qualify for the diversity that we consume because we qualify as residents of the particular district. In the past, regardless of where an African-American lived - the "White school" was off limits. It is clear to me and all others using reason that the only way to proceed is to make note that the average Black student will more than likely be in a school that is upwards of 60%+ Black. We need to focus on enforcing all of the small points that aggregate into the culture that is predominate within the school. This effort, though tough and despite the fact that it will fall on the backs of the parents to express its final product - is the ONLY reasonable way to proceed forward. It places the burden upon the PEOPLE who stand to benefit the most from positive change to be the primary people in the conversion process so that their own children will have the benefit. It will also insure that the change is more permanently fused into the soul and character of each individual in the community.

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