Wednesday night at the Center for the Junior Blind in Baldwin Hills, Congresswoman Karen Bass and Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali spoke about fixing public education as “the most important civil rights issue of our generation.” And yet, in laying out where we stand now and the Obama administration’s ambitious goals for fixing public education by 2020, Ali tried the impossible task of trying to reconcile her optimism with her equally honest assessment that there was not only no money to fix public education, but the rather extreme likelihood that there would be even less in the future.
In discussing President Obama’s “waiver package” for the failed policy of No Child Left Behind that he recently put forward, because the Congress did not act, Ali acknowledged that “we saw that we had been lying to the kids…and messing with the psychometrics of tests”. To ignore the reality of failing public schools and the “data hobbling…scary” that we have created in public education throughout this country is “correlated to race, poverty, and English language learners” in a manner that has not only not eliminated the “separate and inherently unequal” public education system addressed in Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, but has actually increased the disparity.
While Ali showed that she has a clear understanding of the statistics that indicate “we take kids that need the most and give them less of everything” — to the point of having the dubious distinction of being 1 of 4 countries in the world with the greatest disparity in what is spent on education for the rich versus the poor, she doesn’t seem to really get the true ramification of how this has decimated the educability and socialization of Black and Latino students.
While citing discipline rates of Black males at 72% of all Black students versus only 20% for their White counterparts, she plays to the knee jerk response of her predominantly Black audience that these discipline figures reflect racism, instead of seeing them as a reflection of the complete and utter failure to engage Black and Latino youth in a timely manner, so that they are educated and socialized by public education into young adults ready to assume their responsibility of keeping this country a democracy instead of a rich man’s oligarchy. While it might seem a fine distinction, it is clear to me any student regardless of ethnicity would be disruptive in a humiliating public education system that has made no attempt to educate and engage them.
Pushing for AP Biology or lamenting the fact that motivated minority students might be forced to take such a class on line or have to take a bus to get to a school that offers these courses necessary to be competitive applicants to good colleges, belies the fact that the vast majority of Black and Latino students do not have even basic English language and math skills necessary to do regular work, because school systems like LAUSD still have no expectation that Black and Latino students can learn. What LAUSD teaches best is apathy through the monotony of copying, while blindly following orders and never daring to question, which is in reality the essence of a truly educated person.
Simplistic notions like making the school day or year longer appear to have merit until one realizes that many schools around the world either go to school for the same amount of time that we now do or less and yet still accomplish more, because of the timely and structured education these students get without social promotion to just push them through ready or not. Sending a high school — aged but not educated — student to 12 hours a day of education every day of the year will not undo the damage that continues to be done by school systems like LAUSD that socially promote students into middle and high school without even rudimentary skills in English and math that become less and less amenable to recapture the longer the student is past the time when they should have been taught these skills.
Given that LAUSD has been failing children of color for generations now, I have difficultly in just empowering parents to advocate on behalf of their children as Assistant Secretary Ali suggests, since advocacy presupposes the education necessary to deal with some rather slick customers at LAUSD and elsewhere that profit from public education remaining precisely the way it has been.
Parents who were my students 24 years ago at Audubon Middle School did not get the education they need to effectively advocate on behalf of their children’s interests or their own. That being said, I think that what they have experienced up until now make them a better candidate for bringing about change on behalf of their children and their families. But we have to take the modest amount of time necessary to connect the dots of how they and their children have been sold out for generations.