Home | All Solution Papers » | All Columns » | All Blogs »
Solution Paper #40, posted February 3, 2010
Originally published in November 2002
in The Minneapolis Story, Through My Eyes,
by Ron Edwards
Patience, and shuffle the cards
As a school system goes, so goes a city. Cities rise and fall on the quality of the education they provide their future workers. That education is determined by how the government shuffles the cards of resources. And for those in the inner city who get dealt out of the game, we must create our own cards to win with while we continue to work for the big deck of cards to be shuffled yet again, and for everyone, including inner city Blacks.
I interpret the recent plan to carve out a separate corporate island downtown, which I discuss later in Chapter 12, a further indication that the people in power, both behind the scenes and out front, have decided to isolate the neighborhoods further, sacrificing them and their schools in the hopes that circling the wagons around their precious downtown buildings will save the city by then relying on suburban schools and workers. The reality is that only education on one end and jobs on the other end can save the city, something which is not accepted nor appreciated by either the City or the schools’ controlling body, the teacher unions, based on how they have allowed education to go downhill for minorities in the inner city, just as they have allowed it to uphill in terms of pay, benefits, and retirement in the suburbs.
All groups, and especially minority groups, need an asset base. No group or person can succeed without human, financial, and physical capital. All of this is now being denied the Minneapolis inner city wards where minorities are concentrated.
The struggle for schools to succeed is not about who is in charge but about loosening poverty's grip on the wards where the schools are. Schools in poor areas have fewer resources and a higher turnover of students, making improvement in their test scores more difficult. Add problems at home and you have the need to completely change the model used to instruct. Using a suburban model in the inner city is doomed to fail. Without providing all three groups—students, parents, teachers—with the appropriate resources, student lives won’t improve nor will their education.
I’ve experienced this the hard way. My own big turning point in high school came when I went to my Guidance Counselor to talk about college, who turned out to be a Shove Counselor. When I told him I wanted to go to college, he just laughed at me and said: “You want to do what?” And he laughed some more. He told me: “You’ll do vocational, Boy, that’s what you were made for.” In other words, no college. Not for my race of people. He shoved me off the higher education track..
Now we come to my favorite question: If this was said to me, to how many more was it also said? And to how many today is it still being said, followed by laughter in the kid’s face, pointing a finger down, meaning lower goals. Indeed, White friends have told me that even their kids, if the counselor thought there was a problem, either with grades or behavior, laughed and said no, and shoved them in a non-college direction as well, telling them they were lucky that they were allowed to stay in school. In a phrase, this is how we club our baby seals, clubbing them into a sense of inferiority and helplessness. Of course, this helps keep them in their place.
I was lucky. Although my dad and his dad were railroad porters, my mother’s father, as I’ve said, was a doctor and attorney. I was bound to study more, and I did. But how many did not because of being shoved out to keep them in their place: “You’ll do vocational, Boy, that’s what you were made for.”
Is there any wonder why we are amazed when those who can escape do so? Is it any wonder that in Minneapolis, only 70% go to public schools, whereas South of City only 50% go, and that only 17% of the Black males of Minneapolis graduate?
But to get a true flavor of this, lets first be a fly on the wall in New York. If this doesn’t make you a true believer, nothing will. This is a mirror of Minneapolis (and of how many other cities as well). Let’s listen in to The New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division in Manhattan. Did you read or hear about the June 2002 ruling regarding funding for New York City students and their education?
The lower court had said that the state failed to provide “a sound, basic education” for the students, as required by the New York State Constitution. The appellate court overruled that ruling. And here is where see the power of words in defining reality. The definition of the situation by one court was the exact opposite of how reality was perceived by the other court. And it was not a close vote, as it was 4-1. Here is what they ruled, which should make your blood boil: that the State of New York is obligated only to provide a “minimally adequate opportunity.” This is certainly not an equal opportunity. And how does this court of justice, the wearer of the blindfold of justice, define “minimum opportunity?” Very low, as you might assume: an eighth-grade education. And get this. The court said that that was already being provided. This means that the kids can waste the last four years in school and learn nothing. The state court finds nothing wrong with that. And isn’t that one of the question of Chapter 3, whose Rule of Law, the people’s or the judges?
The one dissenting judge wrote, quite profoundly, that this meant that the state had no meaningful obligation to provide any high school education at all.
And is it me or are you also scandalized that only one judge dissented?
This lone dissenting judge noted the common thread in studies that show that to succeed in today’s society and earn a decent income, a high school diploma is no longer enough; one needs a college diploma. He then went on to write that:
chronic underfunding, although interspersed with some years of greater funding, has also led to deterioration of school buildings, overcrowding, inadequacy of textbooks, library materials, laboratory supplies and basic classroom supplies, and, in some schools, even an insufficient number of desks and chairs.
Change “New York City” to “Minneapolis” and the same description applies.
The appellate panel in New York legitimized what one author called the state of education in his Death at an Early Age. This is what I mean by the clubbing of baby seals. Just like in Minneapolis, the state of New York will continue funding the polar bears, the wealthy suburbs, while it continues to club the baby seals of the city’s public schools. In other words, the long tradition of the wealthy suburbs robbing the funds and thus the opportunities of the poor city schools may continue, legally.
This means that the New York State appellate court in Manhattan, all male, all White, has a different definition of fairness and of justice regarding who has to meet the state constitutional requirements and who does not, who the state has to be fair to and who it does not have to be fair to. For these judges, the schools serve the wealthy, not the poor. And now, in education, it is no longer 2002, as the schools revert to 1702, or 1802, or 1902, when few were educated and the rest were considered either uneducable or not worth educating. This is not how I define fairness or justice.
In Chapter 9, I discuss the concept of “minimum wage” vs. “living wage.” Here we get a new concept: minimum education. It has been proven that workers cannot support a family of four on the minimum wage, although the pretext of both private and public employers has been that they can. But with education, we see New York ripping off its mask in a naked declaration not only of power but in a demonstration of how they will keep minorities in their place: with minimal education sufficient for the lowest forms and lowest paid labor, but no more. They will make sure there is no chance for them to climb the ladder of social mobility.
This also means that they are arbitrarily denying college education. Just like on the Plantation. All that the schools need do is prepare students for the lowest-level, lowest-paying jobs. That is all. As the three majority justices wrote
Society needs workers in all levels of jobs, the majority of which may very well be low level.
Majority? Pure and simple, this is using education to provide de facto apartheid: no access, no opportunity, and no hope. As their schools are more than 70% of a city’s schools are Black and Hispanic, then these judicial experts have singled out the Blacks and Hispanics, by race, to be the maids and gardeners and service sector servants for the Whites, as, by the definition of these judicial experts, Blacks and Hispanics are not worthy of a decent education, as they are of little value. So club them. This is racism at its most blatant and most vicious. And it resides in Minneapolis education too.
The litmus test for such judges should be sending their kids and grandkids to these schools. Indeed, even many of the teachers don’t send their kids to the schools in the districts where they teach. And so, we have now come full circle with Brown Vs. Board of Education. Only now, the Board of Education is served, not the kids. Now, as it was then, education is for Whites. Blacks who get educated do so in spite of the school systems.
With a straight face, the Minneapolis school system calls the poor inner city schools, as reported with pride in the newspapers, the “Beat-the-odds” schools, as if the game is for a few winners, as in a casino, rather than for everyone who walks in. It is another sign of the travesty being perpetrated upon innocent children. In casinos, the games are set so that the house always wins something, no matter how much is won by the few. But always, the majority of bettors lose. That is NOT supposed to be what happens in the schools, but it is. When the Minneapolis School District says these kids “beat the odds,” the district is saying they only expect a few to do well in their schools and are surprized when they do. How do they deal with it? By giving them a nickname: ‘Beat-the-odds.” In these beat-the-odds schools, over 90% are kids of color, and most of those are Black. Many affluent parents, Black and White, send their kids to suburban or private schools. Minneapolis schools are 90% minority, where 9 of 10 kids are eligible for free or reduced lunches. Although Minneapolis school personnel would say differently, given the results, I must conclude that these kids get clubbed by the adults who are supposed to be looking after them, and by “adult” I refer to those in the school buildings, those in the legislature, those in the teachers’ unions, and those Whites in their voting booths. The Minneapolis district’s expectations are so low that if a kid makes it, they say he or she “beat the odds.” That is a travesty. In my view, leaving minority kids in public schools that graduate only a few minorities, compared to Whites who are truly able to read and write and do numbers, is a form of child abuse.
We have in Minneapolis, plain and simple, segregated schools. But worse, as it is accepted policy and is the result of policy, I have to call it apartheid. The press says we accept segregation. Yes, that true, just as we accepted slavery. Minneapolis liberals postured with great piety against South Africa and demanded that anyone holding stock in companies doing business there divest themselves of that stock. And yet, in our own backyard, our own city, we do the opposite; we divest ourselves of the kids themselves, of our seed corn for the future.
It never ceases to amaze me how few outside the Black community complain about this. We divest ourselves of our kids, club them, and then wonder why they wind up on drugs, in prison, or hanging out on the street corners, not only unemployed but unemployable. We have contributed to the short-circuiting of their development and then we blame them, when the blame is clear and shared by Whites, Blacks, and students alike.
And although there is plenty of blame to go around, Black and White, I am more concerned about what Blacks are doing to sustain poor education by supporting the DFL’s education policies. How many young Black men are dead or in prison who could have avoided that fate had we fought for education for kids rather than just more salary for teachers who had either already given up on our kids or never believed in them in the first place? What is in it for Blacks when Whites understand how the rigging of education is to work against their Black students? And those Whites who protest my comments here and yet refuse to look at the statistical variations and not conclude it is the education, are just as bad, no matter how naive or well meaning they are, as they too blame kids and parents for to them they are too noble and pure to ever have it be their particular system or approach. For these, blame is never for the schools. What other organization do you know, dear reader, that gets away with this kind of thinking? Well, OK, the state legislature and City Council do, none of whom have to meet a payroll, as it’s always paid for by the tax payer, where in a normal business they would be fired for these results.
What we have participated in is horrible. Poor schools for poor kids. Divesting ourselves of our kids. That is what the education system is: a place to club the cubs. That means that the system has destroyed many kids who are young and defenseless before they have a chance. It starts with the system clubbing them. The statistics I cite should both alarm and shame you, dear reader. They should alarm you because kids are the seed corn of the future and our abandonding them is the same as a farmer eating his seed corn rather than plant it. And the statistics should shame you because you have either bought into an abusive system that clubs kids or, even if you don’t buy into it, have done nothing to change it. The cubs can’t defend themselves and so get clubbed. The kids have no power. Those with power wield clubs. Where you have poor kids in Minneapolis, you have poor schools. Minneapolis has good schools for good economic areas, poor schools for poor economic areas. What more proof do you need?
Rather than address this situation and change the status quo, the NAACP and Urban League are too busy prancing for being the first significant civil-rights groups and are too busy upholding this miserable status quo of education by providing support for it, simply because they are Democrats.
How much longer will Minneapolis allow the schools to be consumed by politics and controlled by special interests that don't put the kids first? Why did parents once think of Minneapolis schools as the best in the country whereas today’s parents are fleeing them? Because White flight has left the schools primarily Black and poor.
The National Assessment of Education Progress reported in June 2001, that “a third of America's fourth graders are illiterate.” BUT, the average disguises stunning divisions: for Hispanic fourth graders, for whom the figure rises to 58% and for African Americans, for whom the figure rises to 63%. This is not simply failure. This is mass fraud. And in an economy that increasingly puts a premium on skills, the system is condemning too many of these children to second-class citizenship in the American Dream. The problem is that the soft bigotry of low expectations is by no means confined to the teachers’ unions and school systems; it also implicates politicians and parents. The reading advocates at Achieve Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Public Schools Title I department, note that in 2002, 70% of 6th graders at a North Minneapolis school came in reading at the 3rd grade level.
Note again the disparity between Black and White. Note again that only 17% of Black males graduate from High School in Minneapolis.
A person’s success or lack of success in life parallels his or success or lack of success in school. The high drop-out rate needs to be condemned, not accepted, with a goal set of reducing it each year in 5% increments until the average is 5% or less, and then keep on working to keep on reducing it. School leaders who cannot achieve these goals must be fired. Start by telling administrators and teachers that we have changed the deal: all kids get taught how to read and write well, not just Whites. If they don’t follow suit, start firing those same administrators and teachers and then watch how fast their replacements get the statistics to change. And because the education chain is 12 years long, K-12, with the upper grades inheriting the teacher failures of the lower grades, allow more flexibility, and over a three year period. In the first year, give the primary grades, K-3, one semester to show progress and 4-12 one school year. In the second year, give K-3 one quarter, 4-6 two quarters, and 7-12 one school year. Finally, in the 3rd year, all get just one quarter. With any who don’t make it work, let the firing and the replacement begin.
Now some may say how this could be done with a teacher shortage. And yet there are as many certified for teaching who are not teaching, as there are those who are teaching, as our colleges turn out more than there are positions for. With the right incentives, high pay for high performance and being fired for low performance, the incentive would then raise teachers to do their best.
Now you might bring up the statistic that in 1902, one in ten U.S. adults (10%) could not read or write, and that only 6% of Americans were high school graduates. But that was 1902. Universal education didn’t exist. And the numbers fit everyone, Whites included. Today’s numbers show the great disparity, the still very separate and very unequal education provided to young Blacks.
Good education benefits everyone. It enables workers to read and write and contribute and be better citizens. For this reason, all need to be involved in education, including the private sector. The huge discrepancies noted above between Black and White (25% overall illiteracy tests for 4th graders, which further breaks down to 63% Black and 58% Hispanic) shows that both White and Black leaders, and especially the teachers unions and DFL party, are more concerned about their power and their pensions than they are about their students and learning. The statistics speak for themselves, clearly showing who is getting the best education and who is not.
Michael Cassidy made a great observation in writing about post-Apartheid Africa:
As a result of the past, they have a lot of catching up to do in terms of education, training, learning, and how to function in a modern society as a whole, and as part of the majority.
The same applies to our own educational apartheid system. It cannot be solved in one generation, but it won’t get done if we don’t start now. And education is more than school learning. It is also about learning how to relate to others in their private lives as well as participating in the public life of government, beginning with voting. But how can kids develop that sense if they are being clubbed?
Martin Luther King, Jr. acknowledged as much when he talked about Blacks not being qualified but that they were qualifiable, through education and training. The key is to get Blacks, especially young Black men, qualified by whatever training is necessary. And throughout history, people have sought dignity, respect, and recognition just as much as they sought survival, food, clothing, shelter, and safe communities. The poor education provided by Minneapolis takes this opportunity away, on purpose. It is way past time to change the purpose.
This is the truth, and every one knows it. The question is this: will we continue to lead the nation in showing how to club our Black kids or will we lead the nation to demonstrate how to give them as good an education as the suburban schools?
Ron hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm. Formerly head of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and the Urban League, he continues his “watchdog” role for Minneapolis. Order his book, hear his voice, read his solution papers, and read his between columns “web log” at www.TheMinneapolisStory.com.
Permission is granted to reproduce The Minneapolis Story columns, blog entires and solution papers. Please cite the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and www.TheMinneapolisStory.com for the columns. Please cite www.TheMinneapolisStory.com for blog entries and solution papers.
Home | All Solution Papers » | All Columns » | All Blogs »