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“We Can Ratchet Up Accountability All We Want”: America’s Schools; Still Separate And Very Much Unequal

I have taught in two different Mississippi Delta high schools, and now work in a community college.

From the 30,000 foot level, at the federal Department of Education, and even in the Mississippi statehouse, we are told that the problem with our schools is low standards and lack of accountability for teachers. From the ground, it looks quite different. Schools that serve the highest-poverty students like the one where I teach are consistently and intentionally under-resourced, exacerbating the dire circumstances in which many of them live.

I once visited the three-room trailer home of one of my high-school students near the town of Alligator, Mississippi, which was housing 10 people — six of them young children. There were only two light fixtures: one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom. No tables, so they ate meals and did their homework on the kitchen floor.

Many Delta children are technically homeless. They “float around” from house to house, relying on strangers or relatives in very unstable living situations. And because there are not enough health providers, just getting to see a doctor can be an all-day event.

In 1954, the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision identified segregation as the shameful and harmful toxin that it is. We have failed for 60 years to eradicate that toxin, with dire consequences for our schools.

Schools do not operate in a vacuum. Family circumstances that accompany students when they walk through the classroom door every day have a big impact on those students’ success. We all know this. But less often do we acknowledge that those students do not operate in a vacuum either; the communities in which they live have as big an impact on students’ learning as do their family circumstances. And when those communities are economically and racially isolated and segregated, schools face much larger challenges.

Even at the community college level, poverty’s effects sharply challenge the pursuit of education. Lack of transportation is a huge obstacle in this rural area. Students may walk four miles to get to school. I have seen kids walk in all kinds of weather. It’s heart wrenching to hear that they can’t make it to class or to lab or to get extra help because they have kids, or jobs they are trying to get to, or “my ride is leaving.”

Some reformers dismiss these as isolated issues, but when you see it over and over, you realize that it’s pervasive, and that people don’t know how to fight it or change it.

From the moment the Brown decision was delivered, political, civic, business and religious leaders across the Deep South adopted what became known as the “massive resistance” strategy. They refused to integrate schools, and did everything they could to stall the inevitable federal imposition of it. Local officials used all manner of diversions, impediments and excuses to either prevent desegregation or to sabotage its implementation so it could be deemed a “failure.” Indeed, most schools in the Mississippi Delta did not begin to desegregate until the late 1960s, and tens of thousands of black teachers and administrators across the South lost their jobs in retaliation.

We have not “abandoned” the mission, we never fully committed to it.

In 1995, 40 years after Brown, I was teaching at the black high school where my own children were enrolled. A colleague and I went dumpster diving at the other high school for the English textbooks they were throwing away, to get enough just for classroom sets for our students. The white high school had a fully equipped science lab; ours had no lab equipment or supplies. Decades of such inequities laid the foundation for today’s “failing schools.” They were designed to fail.

We can ratchet up accountability all we want, test students more often, and fire more teachers. That will likely cause more children to feel like failures, more dedicated and exhausted teachers to leave our schools, if not our profession, and fewer of our students to graduate from high school and become engaged, employed, productive citizens.

Fixing the complex, longstanding problems holding back our communities, however, will require acknowledging some harsh realities. Starting with the reality that we treat some children as if they are worth more, and mine as if they are worth less, and that growing up and going to school in segregated, isolated communities makes success elusive. We must ensure that money – to pay teachers (and parents) well, to make classrooms engaging, and to ensure that all children are fed, housed and healthy – is available to all. We must stop advancing policies that promote individual “choice” at the expense of developing good, equitable public schools, that treat public schools like market commodities, and that reward outcomes like increased segregation.

Shifting to policies that incentivize integrated, diverse schools and neighborhoods and community-level investment in our most precious public good are critical steps toward fulfilling Brown’s mission. It’s not too late.

 

By: Renee Moore and Elaine Weiss; Moyers & Company; Bill Moyers Blog, October 20, 2014

October 22, 2014 Posted by | Education, Public Schools, Teachers | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“NRA Vs. Common Sense”: The NRA Is Selling Guns, Not Saving Lives

When the National Rifle Association promised “meaningful contributions” to prevent another massacre like the recent horror in Newtown, Conn., I didn’t expect much, but I hoped for more than what we got.

After a mentally ill gunman killed 20 children and seven adults, including himself, a remorseful public has been jerked alert once again to the need for some sensible gun reforms.

I had hoped NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre might try for a middle ground with some common-sense reforms on which gun owners and non-owners tend to agree — like measures that can help keep guns out of the hands of the mentally or criminally unfit.

But, no, LaPierre hunkered down. His “meaningful contributions” sounded less concerned with promoting gun safety than promoting gun sales.

The firearms trade business must have been delighted. The guns-and-ammunition industry has contributed between $14.7 million and $38.9 million to the NRA’s corporate-giving campaign since 2005, according to a report last year by the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control advocacy nonprofit. The trade appears to be getting its money’s worth.

LaPierre’s big news: He called for armed guards and armed schoolteachers in all of our schools. My initial thought: As soon as some teacher’s gun is stolen by a rambunctious student, that’ll be the end of that idea.

But, no, arming guards or even teachers is not a totally goofy idea. It’s not very original, either. “Across the country, some 23,200 schools — about one-third of all public schools — had armed security staff in the 2009-10 school year, the most recent year for which data are available,” The New York Times reports. Most are high schools in troubled areas, although a K-12 school in rural Harrold, TX, has allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons since 2007, after proper training. Lawmakers in at least six other states are considering similar policies, according to news reports.

But armed guards are not the panacea that many imagine they might be. Columbine High School in Colorado, for example, had an armed guard on duty during the murderous rampage of two students. He even engaged in a shootout with one of them, according to the official report on the tragedy. But he failed to stop either of the two teens before police arrived and they had killed themselves.

And Virginia Tech’s campus police had their own trained SWAT team. Yet they, too, failed to stop a student before he killed 33 in 2007, including himself.

“There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people,” said LaPierre. No, he was not taking about the gun industry. He was talking about the entertainment industry.

He lambasted violent in movies, videogames, a coarsening of the culture and, ah, yes, that all-purpose scapegoat, the news media — as if massacres were not worthy of public attention.

What about common-sense gun reforms? At least two recent polls, for example, show large numbers of gun owners and non-owners favor measures that help keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, suspected terrorists and people who have a criminal past. But the NRA headquarters opposes them.

Most gun owners who were not NRA members supported a national gun registry, a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and a ban on semi-automatic weapons, according to a poll last year by YouGov, a global marketing firm. Most NRA members in the poll — and the national organization — opposed all three of those measures.

In an NBC Meet the Press interview Sunday, LaPierre rejected a proposed ban on large magazines, saying he didn’t think it would “do any good.” Yet, such a ban might have saved lives in Tucson, Ariz., last year. Jared L. Loughner was tackled and restrained by onlookers when he paused to reload his oversized magazines. That was after he shot 19 people, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, killing six.

If only he had been limited to smaller magazines, one wonders, how many other lives might have been spared? But LaPierre and the NRA don’t seem to be interested in “if only” scenarios that don’t fit their arguments — or promote more sales of guns and ammo.

 

By: Clarence Page, The National Memo, December 26, 2012

December 26, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Simplistic, Shameful And Opportunistic”: Connecticut School Officials Blast NRA’s Reaction To Newtown

Teachers, school superintendents, mayors and police chiefs in Connecticut are rejecting the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) response to the shooting in Newtown, describing the gun lobby’s proposal to equip schools with armed guards and more guns as too simplistic, shameful, and opportunistic.

One Connecticut school superintendent dismissed the NRA’s suggestion as “an ill-conceived reaction from an organization that does not have any credibility or expertise with respect to addressing school violence” and said that the idea “is an excuse for not addressing the need to enact meaningful safe gun legislation in conjunction with an investment in mental health services.” Putnam Police Chief Rick Hayes called the proposal “scary,” noting that teachers can’t possibly have the kind of training necessary to safely handle large weapons.

In fact, newspaper headlines across the state flatly rejected militarizing Connecticut schools:

 

 

 

 

 

The growing outrage against the organization extends beyond school officials — even state Republican politicians are weary of eliminating school gun-free zones. Senate Minority Leader John McKinney (R), whose district includes Sandy Hook Elementary School, called the proposal “ill-timed.” “I also don’t think his idea of undoing or repealing gun-free school zones is a good idea at all,” he said. “I’ve always understood, and believe, that our Second Amendment is an integral part of our Constitution, and people should have the right to bear arms … but I think we should have a fair conversation in this country about what the limits to those rights are.”

Schools across the state are enacting greater security measures, but more guns aren’t on the agenda. Instead, districts are focusing on adding interior classroom door locks, expanding swipe-card access and requiring staff to wear photo identification.

Tom Moore, assistant superintendent for administration for West Hartford schools, told the Hartford Courant that his district “won’t be taking our advice on how to keep kids safe from the president of the NRA.” He added, “I come from a family of hunters; I have four brothers who are hunters and members of the NRA. All I’ll be asking for for Christmas, after hearing Wayne LaPierre essentially blame school officials for the shootings, is for [my brothers] to resign from the NRA.”

December 23, 2012 Posted by | Guns, School Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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