Still Separate, Still Unequal
September 19, 2005 2:51 PM   Subscribe

Still Separate, Still Unequal: America's Educational Apartheid, by Jonathon Kozol, from the September issue of Harper's. Even if you're familiar with a big-city public-school system , it's an eye-opener. (Also, if (like I might be on a worse day) you're miffed by yet another Harper's cover story FPP, what do you think about the posting site's Fair Use application? I've never seen that before. No more inside.)
posted by mrgrimm (30 comments total)
Thanks for posting (particularly the site; they've got quite a bit of goodies there).
posted by iamck at 3:10 PM on September 19, 2005

I think it's pathetic the way children in this country(US) are given lip service about how important they are... Between this post and the one earlier about advertising aimed at kids...
posted by jaronson at 3:21 PM on September 19, 2005

I read this over the weekend in the dead tree version and was pretty shocked at his descriptions of the more ramshackle schools. It's shameful really. But then, beyond that moment of indignance, he makes the point over and over again that rich people tend to pay great amounts for their children's education, whereas poor people don't -- and he doesn't suggest anything to remedy that situation, aside from more government intervention. What do you do? Take more money from the rich and give it to the poor?

Seems like this is another redistribution of money issue, like so many in American politics.

All that said - -the above being a slight deviation from the subject I admit -- the separate but unequal scenario he paints is devastating. Also, the militarism of the so-called Skinnerian approach - -wtf? Fecking Chilling. And the "Robots won't break into your car" bit, good lord, this shit has to change.
posted by undule at 3:33 PM on September 19, 2005

Unfortunately Harper's isn't read by many of the wealthy white Americans who genuinely believe that they live in a meritocracy....

Actually it does make you realise that there's a lot to be said for having a (openly acknowledged) class system and an aristocracy (I'm a Brit). At least with them around you can't kid yourself that there's equality of opportunity.
posted by rhymer at 3:36 PM on September 19, 2005

It's a goddamned shame is what it is.
posted by zpousman at 3:40 PM on September 19, 2005

I read this a week or so back when my issue of Harpers arrived. It's a very interesting read. It has been over 50 years since Brown vs. Board of Education. It is sad to read about the state of things today. The US government should be embarrassed with itself -- for lots of reasons I suppose, but this article points out a good one.
posted by chunking express at 3:42 PM on September 19, 2005

I had the luck to go to a racially gerrymanderd (now barely constitutional, but still operating with *boogieman* quotas) public magnet school that was 50% black and 50% non-black. About 30% were white. Because of this designed diversity, the school was a much better place. Our school was actually diverse -- with many students from China, India, Pakistan, Thailand, etc.

I am thankful everyday for that experience.
posted by zpousman at 3:44 PM on September 19, 2005

I'm white and a new teacher at a school where the student population is 99.9% African-American. I've lived in the surrounding neighborhood (85% African-American) for the past few years. My intentional crossing of the voluntary segregation line has been a very rewarding and perspective-changing life experience.

I understand, to a degree, the inertia that seems to sustain many people's voluntarily segregated lives. I don't really understand why it is still so strong and widespread, though. I keep coming back to class and economics, which gets played out as black and white thing.
posted by john m at 3:57 PM on September 19, 2005

I went to schools where I was one of only two or three white students. While I did have a chance to meet and get along with a wide variety of people, I also had the usual horror stories of violent kids, drunk or absent teachers, and dilapidated school buildings. I still believe in public schools, but I can also see how parents are torn between supporting their local schools and giving their kids the best opportunities possible.
posted by piers at 3:59 PM on September 19, 2005

On the front wall of the classroom, in hand-written words that must have taken Mr. Endicott long hours to transcribe, was a list of terms that could be used to praise or criticize a student's work in mathematics. At Level Four, the highest of four levels of success, a child's "problem-solving strategies" could be described, according to this list, as "systematic, complete, efficient, and possibly elegant," while the student's capability to draw conclusions from the work she had completed could be termed "insightful" or "comprehensive." At Level Two, the child's capability to draw conclusions was to be described as "logically unsound"; at Level One, "not present." Approximately 50 separate categories of proficiency, or lack of such, were detailed in this wall-sized tabulation...."That's a Level Four suggestion," said the teacher when a child made an observation other teachers might have praised as simply "pretty good" or "interesting" or "mature."

This is bellyfeel doubplus ungood.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 4:02 PM on September 19, 2005

The teacher's response to this distraction was immediate: his arm shot out and up in a diagonal in front of him, his hand straight up, his fingers flat. The young co-teacher did this, too. When they saw their teachers do this, all the children in the classroom did it, too.

Hey teacher, leave them kids alone...
posted by dash_slot- at 4:04 PM on September 19, 2005

What do you do?

have regional (county, or multi-county) school districts instead of city and suburban ones

eliminate zoning laws that keep the poor out of certain suburbs

of course, all of this goes against the middle class american's "right" to seclude himself from the "wrong" people and only be near the "right" people ... so it'll never happen ... and we'll continue to have a divided country
posted by pyramid termite at 4:40 PM on September 19, 2005

As others have suggested, the creepiest thing here is how failing schools have to adopt "success" programs where the kids act like Model Future American peaceable conforming prisoners. The author is right-on to say this is training for Wal-Mart, not college. In an actually succeeding school, no one would stand for these child management/indoctrination tactics, but in minority schools no one gets a choice, and no one makes a peep about it. The schools were failing, so the rationale is, "How can this not be better?"
posted by Zurishaddai at 5:21 PM on September 19, 2005

pyramid termite is right about larger consolidated school districts. If you look at this Newsweek list of top American public high schools (crude methodology = average number of AP exams taken), many of the best are in large urban-plus-suburban districts, where magnet programs actually are available to minority students (this is the case e.g. with the Jacksonville schools at #2 and #3, they have large African American populations). (Of course, countless others on the list are in elite suburbs where the whole district has a median home price of $400k.)

The Northeast is the worst for apartheid education. You can have an urban area with fewer students than Jacksonville's single school district, but with literally seven dozen school districts (most of them in a land area smaller than Jacksonville's school district, too!).
posted by Zurishaddai at 5:27 PM on September 19, 2005

What do you do? Take more money from the rich and give it to the poor?

posted by rdr at 5:38 PM on September 19, 2005

Does posting an entire Harpers article with pictures really count as Fair Use?
posted by stbalbach at 5:57 PM on September 19, 2005

Does posting an entire Harpers article with pictures really count as Fair Use?

Hey, no fair. That was my question!

For those too lazy to click on the link above:

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, and so on. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
posted by mrgrimm at 6:00 PM on September 19, 2005

Wow... semi-self-link here, but I just posted our interview with Kozol on Campus Progress about 20 minutes ago and then came here. So, there you go.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:15 PM on September 19, 2005

One of the reasons that many parents work really hard to get a good education, good job, etc is so that they can send their kids to nice schools. I, personally, intend on buying my future children the best education I can afford.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't work to achieve some sort of baseline education that is better than the current state of affairs, but people who harbor idealistic illusions that one day every child will have flat screen TVs at their desk and a teacher with a Ph.D are being impractical. How much do we "redistribute" before everything is mediocre?

Btw, I did read the article and am aware of the atrocious, embarrassing conditions of some inner city schools. Not trying to be insensitive, just giving the counterargument.
posted by gagglezoomer at 6:41 PM on September 19, 2005

The NYPL only has this book on order on Spoken Word CD, grrrr. I love Kozol.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:07 PM on September 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

School funding should not be tied directly to local property taxes. Doing this creates inherent inequities in school funding and education quality. Education funding is something that should be uniformly allocated (subject to adjustments for different cost of living and rents) at a national level.

This would be good for at least two big reasons, first it would distribute opportunity more equitably. Second, it would better internalize the positive externalities associated with education. For example if a child is educated at a community with large taxes to pay for good public schools and then as an adult moves to a community with low taxes for inferior public schools and makes use of his superior education to be a more productive citizen the first community is not getting an appropriate return on its investment. If education dollars were levied and distributed on the national level inefficiency would be largely mitigated, communities would get what they paid for.
posted by I Foody at 7:19 PM on September 19, 2005

I don't know if money is the answer to the problem. Spending on children in DC schools was at $8637 in 2001. The nationwide average was $8,019 for 2002-2003 with New York near the top at $12,140. New York City is at $11,937. Perhaps apathy and corruption are more to blame.
posted by Alison at 10:34 PM on September 19, 2005

I was going to mention the taxes, and the disparity in student spending mentioned in NYC and suburbs.

For the suburbs of Rye and Scarsdale, both in Westchester county, the property taxes are insanely high. I mean, we're talking close-to-your-mortgage-amount high. This money is largely funnelled directly into the public school systems in that area.

NYC property taxes are probably 1/10th of the Westchester property taxes.
posted by fet at 10:35 PM on September 19, 2005

Sorry that should read "spending per pupil".
posted by Alison at 10:35 PM on September 19, 2005

Hmmm..I hadn't finished reading the article before posting. Bad me.

Anyway, I still find the issue of money to be a red herring. Iowa public schools consistently rank towards the top as far as test scores, but spend well below the national average at $7,534 per pupil.
posted by Alison at 11:01 PM on September 19, 2005

Alison, spending per pupil is higher in urban areas because running a school is more expensive in urban areas. In order to get faculty and staff of the same caliber schools need to pay more in urban areas than in other areas because of large differences in the cost of living. Looking at entire cities and states is misleading for this reason, generally in a given area schools that spend more get better results. Money isn't the only factor but it's a very big factor.
posted by I Foody at 11:16 PM on September 19, 2005

On preview let's use Iowa for an example according to the salary calculator around $60,000 in Des Moines is equivalent to $100,000 dollars in DC. Now I'm going to make an assumption that cost of providing schooling correlates directly to cost of living, this is probably not true, but it's not a bad guess. So spending $8,637 per pupil in DC would be like spending $5,182 in Iowa dollars compared to Iowa's $7,534 per pupil. It's probably not quite this bad but Iowa spends the equivalent of nearly 50% more when adjusted for cost of living.
posted by I Foody at 11:33 PM on September 19, 2005

> School funding should not be tied directly to local property taxes. Doing this creates
> inherent inequities in school funding and education quality. Education funding is
> something that should be uniformly allocated (subject to adjustments for different
> cost of living and rents) at a national level.

I don't expect you to know this because the outcome didn't fit in with the facts as you would like them, but uniform allocation has been tried several times. For instance, it was tried statewide in wealthy Vermont and here's what happened.

The connection between parents and their children is in general too profound to be severed by regulations of any kind, even regulations aimed at "equality." If you prevent parents from applying their education taxes directly to their own children, you get revolts. If you put down the revolts, you've created slaves (who, be it noted, don't produce much in the way of taxes.) Then you do have equality, of a sort--equality of impoverishment.

Of course, for many of those for whom equality is the ultimate good, equality of impoverishment is OK--not the ideal outcome, maybe, but better than the continued existence of any sort of inequality. If we can't save everybody then we should save nobody. That idea probably won't ever achieve much in the way of mass popularity, though. Luckily for thee.
posted by jfuller at 5:08 AM on September 20, 2005

Anyway, I still find the issue of money to be a red herring. Iowa public schools consistently rank towards the top as far as test scores, but spend well below the national average

That's a red herring too, though.

Depending on the test score, one reason why Iowa does well is that fewer students take the tests. This is certainly the case with the SAT, or was the last time I looked -- IA is an ACT state, so the only people taking the SAT are people expecting to get into (probably prestigious) universities elsewhere.

Iowa is also one of the most ethnically and socially homogeneous states in the union. This means that there are next to no immigrants dragging test scores down because, gosh, they don't speak English when they show up, and it means that there's next to no oppressed racial underclass to keep educational resources away from. This doesn't help WV, which is also homogeneous, but that place is just cursed.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:46 AM on September 20, 2005

Spending per pupil statistics are very misleading simply because it doesn't take into consideration the cost of living in those areas.
It may surprise no one that it costs considerably less to live in Iowa than in New York City, thus the "per pupil" costs look skewed.
Adjust for cost of living and you may get a more realistic picture of community investment in their kids.
That's why NYC was used in this article, 'cause these schools are just a few miles apart and the basic cost of living should then be nearly equal.
posted by nofundy at 10:10 AM on September 20, 2005

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