Saturday, October 31, 2015

Savage Inequalities

I am a firm believer that teachers should continue to know and grow all the time. I challenge myself to read a minimum of six books every year. I have a lot of drive time with my job so using the Audible app makes this much easier. I was made to read Mojo, which you saw in my last blog post. The book made me want to vomit as much as I'm sure that post made you, my readers, want to vomit. It was OK, I'm just not into self-help books. The latest "made to read" is Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. This book had me on a roller coaster of mood swings. I have gone from wanting to cure the social injustices of the education system in East St. Louis to screaming at the book to shut the hell up, as there's no way the writer could know all of the things that go into what he's talking about. (I'm sure he is a brilliant man, I do not mean to discount his work).

When Kozol, in his early chapters, talks about East St Louis I held on to every word. I couldn't believe that this place could exist, but because of my knowledge of Monsanto it was easy to blame them for the issues in this city. I was on the phone to my friends across the state of Oklahoma to see what we could do to get East St. Louis textbooks and other things that were needed to educate these poor children of circumstance. I was researching between reading/listening to the book on the current status of East St Louis, as the book was written in '89 and published in 1991. Things CAN change quickly in this amount of time though we in education tend to think they do not.

In his chapters on Chicago and New York City I literally throw my hands in the air because he writes of a racially segregated problem. I found myself turning the book off frequently and trying to decide if I would actually finish the book. I was angry at the book. In my heart of hearts I feel his argument is a double edged sword - only he never explains the other side. He compares Riverdale (highly affluent school) to PS 79 in the South Bronx (extremely impoverished). He blames the affluent white people for fighting in the 60's with the civil rights movement to now turning a blind eye wishing only the best for their own children. He accusingly suggest that they would never send their children to a school like PS 79 in the South Bronx because they don't want the poverty and inequality to touch their privileged children. Kozol later goes on to write about the medical conditions of the hospitals for the poor are third world as well. He attributes poor education to the lack of medical care at infancy to the lack of immunizations at toddler age, which then points to inner-city schools not caring that the child is so far behind nutritionally and so under cared for that they are mentally retarded. He blames the rich for keeping the poor...poor.

Being poor is not a life sentence. Growing up I was poor. Eat toast for dinner poor. Eat Ramen twice a day poor. The kind of poor where you moved out in the middle of the night and only pack the things that you can carry. We moved around from "home" to "home". I was worried about moving out of my mom's place at 18 because I was a contributor to the rent and bills. I thought so many times that my mom wouldn't be able to make it without my help, but I finally did move out. I knew early on that I was not going to live that life out on my own. It was not easy. Turns out money management needs to be taught and learned. The struggle initially was real...but I digress...

I was able to see first hand, Pastor Tyler from Greater Grace church in N. Tulsa take his beautiful church and transform it into a school. He wanted parents who feel like the public schools were tearing down the black youth in his neighborhoods. I was able to come on as a teacher at this school. I taught pre-k through 2nd, but the school was preK-12. Pastor Tyler and his amazing wife fed the kids daily. Real food. They had daily morning meetings teaching manners and current events to the kids.

Sidebar - Teaching manners to kids who have grown up in a world without them for years is not a job for the faint of heart or for people not fully dedicated to the job.

I watched the kids flush full rolls of toilet paper down the toilets and hang on doors in the bathrooms (eventually breaking them). Students left the worst of messes in the lunch rooms and at recess time work themselves into fights because they could hardly communicate their issues of wanting the ball and having no clue how to share. We had two kids that were involved in a drive-by shooting during the year. They were gone for close to three weeks. When the boys did finally return to school they were the coolest kids at school because they were instantly "hard". I am not saying that all black people think this way, but this clientele of 150 kids and their parents for that matter were not easily changed. The year came to a close and the pastor was done. The teachers were exhausted and the school dissolved. It was sad to know that the minimal progress we made may be lost for good when they returned to the public school system in their neighborhood.

My real thoughts on the matter...sigh...I feel conflicted here. It is sad to me that kids across America are being failed. But the fact of the matter is - when you assert someones rights, and you levy the guy next door, it sucks. Virtue is a choice, not an obligation. Without choice there is no honor and therefore no reward. When you try to legislate, dictate or mandate virtue or benevolence, it creates a false utopic hope. If one decided to insert amazing free education all will not suddenly be well with the Bronx. It is the job of the state to educate. I fully believe that. But when you start to bring race into class it really starts pissing me off. I know a great deal of people that are white and poor OR rural and poor. I know several wealthy black people. This is about education, but it's not education like you think it is. When you have a service or good being offered for free people begin to believe they are entitled to it. The fact of the matter is schools are different because the kids and families coming to the table are different. In my predominately white and Indian town, a school on one side of town is the worst and the school on the other side is the best. Is it because of the money? No. Sorry my town. It's because the parents on our side of town read to their kids at night. Its because by the time our kids hit pre-k they know what holding a book on their own is supposed to look like. On the other side of town, the poorer side, kids start pre-k farther behind. This is not an innercity environment, nor is it a large city. In the school in which my daughter attends parents must volunteer a minimum of 20 hours to the school or toward the education of their kids. The fact of the matter is, they typically go above and beyond. In the aforementioned school I worked as well as the typical brick and mortar district I worked in before that, I rarely saw parents. We had a few that would show up to things like parent teacher conferences, but the attendance for these parents was 50%. Nobody was there to help out or volunteer. Why? You will hear stories of working two and three jobs. Which I do believe - I lived that world too.  But the fact of the matter is, you try hard for the things you really want. Let me say that again...You try hard for the things you really want. When people begin to feel entitled to things that they themselves are not willing to work for, you end up with

"We don't need no EDUCATION" 

That is until you don't provide it, and then people will be up in arms as to why you aren't providing it. The education starts at home. Geoffrey Canada founded Baby College and later the Harlem Children's Zone which principles on the fact that people (especially young black people) are failing their kids and setting them up their own educational disappointments based on the 4-5 years of a child's life before he ever starts school. His school and programs are changing the lives of 1000's of people now in Harlem. Ron Clark was in Harlem and became a world renowned educator in the worst of conditions. In 2007 he started his school in the roughest part of Atlanta. The thing that both of these men and their schools have in common, and the biggest reason these two men are the most influential educators I aspire to be, is because they know it starts before education. These men educate the whole family. They set high expectations and do not accept 1/2 best as an option. Geoffrey teaches families how raise each other without excuses and Ron has a 2 week bootcamp for all new students as well as the expectation that they read his 55 Essential before school starts, which ARE the rules of the school. There are no handouts without hard work.

I am someone who pulled herself up by the bootstraps and worked hard to not continue into an impoverished world. Was it only because I was white that I could do this? I think not. I wanted out, so I worked hard to get out. I do not like the book Savage Inequalities. Fair and unequal, i.e. inequalities are words not uttered in my home any longer. I do not say them nor do my kids. If you want something to be different...change it. I would actually like to write a followup to ask some of the questions I felt were left unanswered.

Got your tar and feathers ready??? I can take it.


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    1. Watching now. But by reading the comments below, looks like you might be suggesting Im racist?