But What About Us? Student Photographs from the Corridor of Shame
May 10, 2006 6:12 PM   Subscribe

"But What About Us? Student Photographs from the Corridor of Shame" is a traveling photography exhibit that follows up on “Corridor of Shame: the neglect of South Carolina's rural schools" [wmv], a 58 minute documentary that tells the story of the challenges faced in funding an adequate education in South Carolina's rural school districts. The documentary tracks the evidence presented on behalf of eight school districts in Abbeville County School District v. The State of South Carolina [pdf]. The exhibit is a powerful demonstration to the needs still unmet in South Carolina's rural schools. Only five pictures and captions are on the website now, but most of the pictures appear inside with permission from the copyright holder.
posted by ND¢ (28 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by ND¢ at 6:12 PM on May 10, 2006

Thanks for posting this. I've seen the news pieces on this on WIS-TV for the last couple days and it makes me absolutely sick. Where's the Blatt building? I might make the trip to go see this tomorrow.
posted by chiababe at 6:22 PM on May 10, 2006

The Blatt building is behind the statehouse on the right. You're lucky you didn't go today, because today was Confederate Memorial Day apparently, and on my way in to take these pictures I had to see this:

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posted by ND¢ at 6:36 PM on May 10, 2006

Right. These Children aren't being Left Behind.
posted by oflinkey at 7:05 PM on May 10, 2006

Many school buildings in these rural districts date to the 1920s, and the oldest, J.V. Martin High School in Dillon District 2, was built in 1896. Many of the newer facilities were constructed in the 1950s, over half a century ago.

Years of diminished revenue sources and the passage of decades have reduced these facilities to deplorable and often unsafe conditions. Roofs leak. Ceilings collapse. Stormwater and raw sewage accumulate in hallways and classrooms in rainy weather. Plaster falls. Wooden floors, molding and trim are rotting. Windows and doors do not seal. Water fountains and toilets are broken. Heating and cooling systems are unreliable. Mold accumulates. Fire alarms fail and some have no sprinkler system at all. Some schools are open to rats, bats and snakes. Few of these schools can be fairly considered appropriate learning environments in 21st century America.

Teachers in these poor, rural South Carolina school districts comprise only 2.8% of the state’s teaching force but hold 11.4% of substandard certificates or out-of-field permits. Teacher salaries range from $3,000 to $12,000 less than neighboring wealthier districts. Teacher turnover rates are the highest in the state. In Hampton School District 2, almost 40% of its teachers have less than five years experience. One out of every four teachers in these districts leave every year.

Classrooms here often lack basic materials, such as current textbooks, and equipment such as computers, calculators and pencil sharpeners. Science and foreign language labs are ill-equipped. Libraries are poorly stocked. In Estill High School’s library, books date to the 19th century.

In these 36 rural elementary, middle and high schools, academic performance consistently ranks “below average” and “unsatisfactory” among the state’s 85 school districts. Language and math scores in these schools are routinely the lowest in the state.

By the time students in these poor districts reach the 8th grade, between 50% and 60% of them score below Basic, Proficient or Advanced levels on the state “PACT” tests.

High school graduation rates in these districts range from 32% to 48%, all below the state average (via).
posted by ND¢ at 7:11 PM on May 10, 2006

Wow. Right here in America, thanks for posting this.
posted by marxchivist at 7:21 PM on May 10, 2006

I have a good friend who grew up in Abbeville County. He tells me that the most common sardonic comment among his friends was that you would get a better education in better facilities if you got yourself sent to prison.

/second hand anecdote
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:25 PM on May 10, 2006

That video link isn't working for me
posted by atrazine at 7:28 PM on May 10, 2006

Works for me, the video is really good.

[ND-Cent, I emailed you a question re: the rebel statue pic.]
posted by marxchivist at 7:33 PM on May 10, 2006

So, how do you propose this gets fixed?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:34 PM on May 10, 2006

They're Big supporters of the Republican Party and fundamentalist Christianty out there, I'd bet.
posted by Artw at 7:40 PM on May 10, 2006

How do you fix something like this? Well, let's see, raising awareness might be a good start.

Or was that an honest question?
posted by lekvar at 7:43 PM on May 10, 2006

So, how do you propose this gets fixed?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:34 PM EST on May 10

That's a hell of a good question. I'm about 30 minutes into the video and haven't heard any suggestions for solutions yet, they're still laying out the problem. I'm guessing like most school districts, they're supported by local property taxes. These counties appear rural and poor, so I don't think raising local taxes is an option.

Parental involvement is key, are the parents busy working trying to earn money, or maybe not too well-educated themselves? I don't know. These kids are in trouble, makes me grateful for what I thought was a mediocre primary school experience.

and what lekvar said.
posted by marxchivist at 7:49 PM on May 10, 2006

There's some (empirical) evidence from neighboring NC that addressing unequal school funding can lead to impressive results. Forbes also weighs in.
posted by rob511 at 8:01 PM on May 10, 2006

I'll never forget going on a recruiting trip throughout South Carolina during my senior year in high school (we were recruiting schools for a youth leadership program). I saw schools that barely qualified as having four walls and a roof. School after school just like those photos. Most of them were almost entirely African-American. I'm not sure it's racism, though. Perhaps as an adjunct, an excuse to make it easier to continue an economically unjust school financing system.

As to fixing it, the solution is relatively simple: redistribute a portion of the property tax proceeds above a baseline into poor school districts until they meet a minimum budget. Yes, rich schools get "poorer" but that might force the state to confront the problem of school funding once and for all (the lottery has done nothing, which doesn't surprise me a bit). Tack an aggressive Teacher Corps program tied to student loan forgiveness, and you're well on your way to raising standards just a bit. Oh, and you've got to repeal some onerous federal directives that can't possibly be paid for and are of dubious value. Of course, South Carolina has a weak education culture (always has) and the most active education movements are towards home-schooling and vouchers, and expressly against public schools (those hotbeds of liberalism, whatever that means).

If I still lived in South Carolina (and I live in a state that has similar problems, so this comment applies), I'd say to raise my taxes as high as they need to be to pay for good schools. Some things are too important to gripe about. Educating kids is high on that list.
posted by socratic at 8:16 PM on May 10, 2006

Talking about closing down adult shops had me shaking my head.

When the "confederate memorial day" made the front page at Fark I turned away. (This in a state where Martin Luther King's birthday is often not recognized.)

But this FPP is beyond the pale.

I am ashamed of my home state, its populace, and their leaders.
posted by wfrgms at 10:42 PM on May 10, 2006

Strange video and good links rob511.

In the words of the South Carolina Secretary of Commerce who saw a bad school when he needed to use the phone upon having car problems when returning from his coastal hunting lodge: "this has got to stop.....its got to stop."

You gotta love South Carolina. Senator Lindsey Graham states that there is disparity in funding schools, but that the reason of funding is "not due to prejudice.....on a governmental level (an important qualification in light of the photo up the page), but because we collect taxes based on property value and the property value of these areas are low." (48 minutes). And this doesn't make South Carolina prejudice toward its economically less-fortunate? It would seem that school funding based on property values ultimately reinforces economic segregation, isolation, and eventual desolation.

as for rob511’s links:
The second link makes a clear connection to the fact that when people of different economic income levels are kept apart, they will have vastly different results than if they are educated together.

While it is obvious that the schools in the video need more cold cash, it would seem that economic segregation could be even more detrimental to the students. In these areas, moving up in the world is synonymous with leaving altogether. Thus, those left behind don't have much to build on.

Forbes is basically reinforcing this idea by telling people the obvious: where you live has a direct effect on the education that will be offered to your children. And we know who he is catering to: those who maintain economic segregation and "live well".

I think the second link about school integration combined with the commentary of Charles Berry (39 minutes in) is the quite revealing. Berry says, "everybody can't go to private schools. Dillon county is a county that attracts low-paying jobs." In stating that Dillon County is poor (20% unemployment), it would follow that most of the people who live in the county are not highly skilled or educated. Therefore, there is only so much that the parents can do to guide their children in their efforts at school because the parents simply don't know much about what lies beyond a high school education. These are class issues at their purest. Rob511's second link clearly demonstrates that economic diversity is WAY MORE IMPORTANT than so-called racial diversity. Take a poll of the nation's law schools and medical schools. Count how many minorities come from low income families. Most have parents that are lawyers and doctors themselves. Of course, this phenomenon is no different for the white students. This is a good example of America's chronic problem of focusing on race and forgetting about class.

In economically integrating schools, kids issued from different economic groups will doubtlessly learn from and compliment one another. But it is nearly impossible to economically integrate when people move to certain counties and school systems in order to not expose their children to their lower class counterparts. Inversely, those who can’t afford to live in areas where there is more opportunity and a better quality of education are stuck in the hinterlands.

It's true that the video doesn't do much for answers but it lays out the problems quite well.
Way too touchy-feely. And a theme of the first 40 minutes seems to be to blame the teachers.

Marva Tigner, the Jasper County Director of Curricula laments that her gifted son probably won't be attending Duke because of his poor teachers. In the same breath she claims and that the needs of her other "right-brained" child in need of concrete and abstract learning experiences --WTF?? -- are not being met. Am I missing something?!?! Good ol' Marva knows what’s best, if it just wasn't for those crappy non-concrete/abstract teachers… If I understand correctly, Marva expects underpayed and underappreciated teachers to appear in this county of little opportunity and meet the vastly different needs of some thirty different students per-class, if not more.

Realistically, let's consider the job market for teachers. Most professionals want to have a relatively comfortable work situation. Why should the teaching market be any different from other careers? We hear quite a few times that the teachers should stay in a po’dunk piece of shit school system with half-wit kids, no heat, and parents who seem to think that a teacher can wave a magic "concrete and abstract" wand over their kids heads and things will be fine. Well, while many people entering the teaching profession are idealists and to an extent selfless, I don't think it has ever been established that teaching requires a complete negation of self. Half of the industry seems to have left the area, why should teachers come running?
posted by pwedza at 1:39 AM on May 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

How do you fix something like this? Well, let's see, raising awareness might be a good start.

Or was that an honest question?

Of course it's an honest question. It's probably one of the most important questions in this situation.

Yes this a terrible situation, that's obvious. But *I* don't have much left in me for outrage or some such. This is pratical problem with a pratical solution, somewhere. Rather than going on, and on, and on about how horrible or terrible it is, I'd rather see solutions offered, the problem fixed (or at least the first steps of roadmap to the solution) and then we can move on to the next obviously terrible thing and fix THAT.

And as bad as these conditions are, I have to ask, in all seriousness, what the hell are the teachers, parents and administering allowing this crap for? Clearly, these districts will never have all the benefits of a major city, but WHY do they allow their children to live in such conditions. I'm not being insensative or snotty about it: I've a kid in the Georgia public school system who's claim to fame is battling out it with the South Carolina system for being the worst in the nation (though we don't live in a rural area). These conditions would NOT be allowed by the parents, they'd have a someone's head on a platter AND go to the school itself to patch things up a abit.

What I'm getting at here is that this problem is more than schools in a bad condition: clearly there's a mentatlity, on multiple levels, that these people or districts are not worthy and no effort should be made. Why is that?

And check out rob511's links. Interesting information there.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:57 AM on May 11, 2006

Here's a simple answer as to why the teachers, administrators, and parents aren't doing anything: the ones who could do something have all left.

Think about it. If you're a teacher in a substandard school with inadequate facilities, no funding, shockingly decrepit classrooms, and no support from administrators or parents, you're going to do everything you can to get the hell out of Dodge. Sure, you might last out the year, but after that you're moving to Columbus or Charleston for a better teaching job. The 25% turnover every year testifies to this. Ditto for the administrators; how long could you last in a job where you're not given the financial resources to make any real changes? And parents who have the initiative and time and money to make a difference are going to simply want to move to a better district.

So, this means that the only ones left in these rural counties are teachers and administrators who are too imcompetent or too demoralized or too beaten down to do anything. The only solution, I think, is to distribute property taxes across the state. This isn't that radical of an idea; our federal tax dollars go to support free school lunches in South Carolina, even though most of us don't live there. Why can't Columbia's tax dollars support schools in rural counties?
posted by math at 5:36 AM on May 11, 2006

Also, the people who live in rural counties that do have enough money do not go to public schools, since there are numbers of small private schools around the state, the only ones that go to public schools are the one's who can't afford anything else.

It's too bad, because the SC legislature consistently underfunds students on a per-pupil basis, so the the money that the students do get from the state and not from local taxes keeps going down. On top of that, the primary fix that they keep proposing, and that luckily keeps from being passed, is some form of school choice which would only, basically, give money to people who can already afford provate school some extra dough.
posted by petri at 6:08 AM on May 11, 2006

Brandon Blatcher: So, how do you propose this gets fixed?

I'm 30 minutes in and off the top of my head, I came up with a market-based approach.
- professionally edit the video down to 15 minutes to make it marketable. (think split screens: a day at school in the poor district/ a day at school at the wealthy district. Contrast getting on the bus, state of the rooms, equipment, auditoriums, lunch meals, playgrounds, science labs, going home, bedtime, you name it.)
- collect marketing material for the schools (ex: contrast the level of poverty to whatever achievement/dreams the kids have, testimony of condemned buildings)
- make different marketing packages to different audiences. (namely: the teachers/parents and the rich/politicians)
- get some lawyers, iron out the legal details for The Plan.
- get some lobbyists, lobby the rich carolinians. Do it professionally, make it short and to the point. No pressure, just facts and a legal business plan.
- get together the rich that agree, together they are The Consortium.
- The Consortium agrees to two major endowments: (a) the building of new schools, (b) creating a US-wide brain magnet mechanism for those districts.
- Set up a hedge fund from donations. From this fund will come the supplementary income of the schools. Get the best hedge managers available (another group that needs to be marketed to), pay them well.
- gather the principals, superintendents, relevant elected people, parents and our lawyers, and inform them of The Plan. It's a take it or leave it Plan, point blank. This gathering is named The Covenant.
- The Covenant agrees to meet in a year's time, the major players split into 4 subgroup: lawyers, principals+parents, the rich+the politicians, the marketing. Time's counting down and a the bulk of the work hasn't started.
* politicians/rich: lobby state, convince peers, push through legislation, inform the media, boast over lunch at the country club, throw charity balls,
* lawyers: keep everything legit, find loopholes, find tax break possibilities to incite the rich, spread the word through informal legal networks, draw up contracts.
* principals/parents: draw up lists of needs (not wild wants). Inform them that we will build a school, but it's up to them to keep it going. Do they have enough money to heat 200 rooms? Would a coal boiler be more efficient? Carpets are nice but they get harder and harder to clean over the years, what about linium floors? On the flipside: wood is cheaper, but a stone building keeps cool in the sticky summers and maintains heat in the dead of the winter (provided heating exist, and there's no draft).
* marketing. The most important group. You are in charge of three things: (i) continue lobbying the rich, inform them of who is in the Consortium, (ii) start searching for the tangible stuff: a group of sewage system workers that donate expertise, a group of architects that can draw up plans for the cheap, charities that will donate books and science equipment, check out food supplies, check out energy suppliers, determine where to build. We need as much donations and free will as possible, this will be essential to the marketing conclusion, and (iii) the hard part: start the brain magnet mechanism. Contact school district US-wide, contact teaching schools, contact Teach for America. Replay the marketing package above. Insist on two things: (a) the stark reality and (b) The Covenant that will financial support the venture. We need a certain type of teacher: have you worked in the poor rural or urban areas /anywhere/ in the States?, wanna experience a challenge for a 5-year fixed contract?, we propose first a visit tour of the area, a fixed 5-yr contract, after that you can leave with no problems, The Consortium will supplement your income to meet the national level, and will tend to what you need to teach these kids for the duration of your contract.
- Next meeting of the Covenant. Discuss marketing progress, new participants, drawn up architectural plans, what's been pushed through the legislation, discuss tax breaks and incitement mechanism, set the date for breaking the ground, list of teachers who agreed to the terms, etc..
- Start building, and take into account for all the mess that goes with it. Don't expect a miracle within the next two years, keep everyone informed (The Covenant Newsletter, website, forum?), keep the media informed.
- Persevere through the harsh winters, the building crews that strike, the principals that hijack plans, the people that become bored, discouraged, frightened.
- make the buildings sustainable. Greenhouses to plant a minimum of food? A well? A place to fix mechanical things when they break down? Iron out the teacher's contracts: in essence: a sustained living in a challenging environment.
- Get the school functioning. This is not the end of the road. For the next 2 years, the principals+parents get to submit additional stuff they haven't thought of before. More computers, problems with electricity payments, whatever. The 5-yr teachers start filing in. The hedge better start paying dividends. Prepare the district to be cut loose of financial support: theirs will be the hedge fund, but SAT scores and paying the heating bills are up to them. Further financial support will be conditionned on the achievements they can prove.
- The conclusion is another marketing ploy. Hard cast plaques for the walls of everyone who was in the Consortium, "I was a proud member of the Consortium." Get CNN and FOX on the story. Make a final marketing video, perhaps once again split screens contrasting the "then" and the "now". Underline that it didn't cost a fortune because of the donations, underline that it didn't kill the state to support a private venture, underline that..
"(...) a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
- Margaret Mead
posted by ruelle at 6:11 AM on May 11, 2006 [2 favorites]

Nice post.
posted by OmieWise at 7:01 AM on May 11, 2006

Wow, that's horrific. I can't believe how good I had it. Those pictures look like they come from some third-world country, not the powerful country in the world.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:10 AM on May 11, 2006

How do you fix this? Bad idea - The Bush administration is proposing to fix it by selling off large chunks of the national forests to fund rural schools. More. (.pdf)
Better idea - the Baucus/Wyden proposal.
posted by tizzie at 10:11 AM on May 11, 2006

One problem immediately apparent with the selling off national forests idea - it's not a sustainable solution. It's a one time payment stop-gap sort of measure and not an ongoing solution. If you spend a bunch of money to put up buildings but don't have the budget for on going maintenence, you'll just be in the same situation in ten years or less.
posted by raedyn at 11:27 AM on May 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'll close this thread with a rant. I'm surprised how many people give ridiculous "solutions" to poverty, like selling off national forests (!)

Brandon Blatcher wrote: "This is practical problem with a practical solution, somewhere."

I agree.
This is a practical problem, and there's a practical solution as old as time: "Don't give them fish but teach them to fish."

In our day that means don't just give them money but give them the financial instruments necessary to sustain themselves.
I mean, they need a wiped slate (rebuild the schools), then media coverage (create a reputation, marketing), and the financial wherewithal to manage their money and make it grow.

In the US, we're crap at redistribution and big government, but we're really good empowering people and getting wealthy through the markets.

So let's not try to find a communist-era "solution" like redistributing taxes more evenly because that creates resentment from all parties: from the rich that see their property taxes drained to poor areas, and from the poor who are treated like children who can't cope in life.

A market-based solution creates the very opposite feeling: the rich are proud to participate in an innovative philanthropic ventures, and the poor are proud to prove that given the opportunity they can make their communities work.

My previous post gave an example of what I mean. The beauty of our system is that if you use your imagination and wits, you can fix things independently of the state.
posted by ruelle at 4:59 AM on May 12, 2006

ruelle, you may be interested in the Grameen Bank phenomena. It is not exactly what you are describing, but it is an attempt at a market based solution to extreme poverty.

I am not sure that I agree with you about your market-based solution. I think that equally distributing the tax money to educate all children equally would be perfectly fair. Rich people's children don't deserve any better education than poor people's children. However, I can't argue with the success that the Grameen Bank and other microcredit experiments have had.
posted by ND¢ at 7:09 AM on May 12, 2006

ND¢: Thanks, I'm familiar with the microcredit phenomenon, which has been pretty successful according to The U.N.. But it will not solve first-world poverty. No. Microcredit are geared towards a special type of poor: those that have small businesses and that need a loan of let's say 500$, to be paid back in monthly installments of say 10$/month. I think it's obvious that microcredit are only useful in countries where 100$ or 500$ goes a long way, like in Bangladesh.

The American poor cannot profit from microcredits because the amount lent is insignificant compared to the cost of living in the States.
The Economist agrees: When you've lost everything, you need a grant rather than a loan.
[Yes the article is about disasters in Indonesia, but the spirit of the letter is exactly what I want to convey]

The idea of redistributing taxes is fanciful. Ok, let's say that after plenty of lobbying various parties, in the spirit of goodwill a South Carolinian government decide to sign the redistribution bill. Big deal if the next government can repeal it. Or if it's not the next one, it'll be the one in 5 years time. Doesn't matter: the minute the redistribution tax is repealed or even renegotiated, the schools will roll downhill.
This isn't a sustainable solution for anyone.

What the schools need is:
- a grant
- media coverage
- ways to sustain themselves financially without any collateral. And that's possible with a one time grant put in a hedge fund.

That will leave them independent of the lobbying forces in their State's legislature. Which is all the better because I think Jasper county people would loose the lobbying game if they decided to partake in that soap-opera (because lobbying is directly proportionate to your political clout and the money you can pour to lobbyists).

In sum (I'm repeating myself, I know): these people need their slate wiped clean, and a mechanism that'll sustain both their infrastructure and the supply of teachers.

Btw, I don't think I've said it before, but thank you for posting this story ND¢, it's a top-notch post. :)
posted by ruelle at 3:02 AM on May 13, 2006

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