Saturday, July 2, 2011

Not everything is about Civil Rights

Let’s see how well I can paint a picture for you to better illustrate what I want to say in this piece.  Pretend that you’re a teacher, and you have the opportunity to apply to two different schools in the same district that have an opening in your license area.  One school is a private school, the other public.

The private school is an extremely good school.  It has a 100% graduation rate, and about 90% of its graduates go on to college.  The graduating class usually generates about $4 million in scholarship money per year, and this is out of a class of only 250 students.  Because the school is a private school, it can enforce standards of conduct that directly affect the student’s ability not only to attend the school, but even to graduate. 

Not only do the conduct standards affect the behavior of the students, but most of their parents actually give a shit about their education because they’re paying tuition in addition to their local school taxes.  The parents expect their children to get a good education, and place high academic standards on their kids.  After all, who wants to feel like they’re wasting their money?  The result is that although kids will be kids, there is virtually zero violence at the school, and the environment is safe for all involved.

The public school across the street has a graduation rate of about 60% each year.  Almost half of the students that go through that school will not even graduate high school, let alone attend college.  Maybe 10-20% of the 60% of students who graduate each year go on to college.  The expectations of conduct at the school are not unlike the private school, but they’re not enforced as rigorously because nearly half the student body would be expelled.

Additionally, many of the students’ parents don’t give a damn about what they do so long as they’re not getting picked up by the police or expelled.  Many of these parents did not graduate high school either, and some parents, not all, are the welfare lifers that use their monthly clothing stipends for drugs.  Because of these conditions, violence at this public school is through the roof.  The school has to have at least 2 police officers on the campus at all times to maintain some semblance of law and order, and it’s fairly often that a student is hauled off for bringing some sort of weapon to school.

Now, given those two scenarios, as a teacher which school would you want to work in more?

The article I read today says that schools whose student body is mostly made up of African American kids have less experienced teachers than schools in the same district whose students are mostly white.  Of course, the article says it’s a Civil Rights issue, but it is way deeper than that.

Where you go as a teacher has nothing to do with the race make-up of the school and everything to do with the level of violence and academic performance of the students.  Some teachers like to go to the shitty schools because they feel they’re doing some good in the world.  Many of them realize that it’s pretty fucking hopeless, and work hard to get into a school that is less violent and one that has better academic performance.  The scenario I described above is actually a true scenario.  I went to the private school described, and literally right across the street from us was the public school.  Out of around 1,000 students, maybe 30 of them were black at my school.  Out of about 2,000 students at the public school, there were probably about 200 white kids.

This doesn’t mean that black people are inherently inferior or violent, it’s just a cultural thing.  The kids that went to the public school were all about the gangsta thug lifestyle that is perpetuated by rap artists, and their parents simply didn’t give two shits about their education.  Those who have been teaching for a while generally try to get into a school that’s not going to have a bomb threat or lock-down every week.  I think the reasons are obvious.

This isn’t about Civil Rights, it’s about a culture that keeps these kids down.  Maybe when the thug life is no longer idolized as a viable alternative to productive citizenry, then perhaps schools with mostly black children will be less violent?

Does it really make sense to get experienced teachers in to teach a bunch of kids that already don’t give a shit anyway?  Doesn’t that seem like a bit of a waste?  I know that everyone is entitled to a good education, or at least should be, but that premise assumes that everyone actually gives a shit about getting a good education.


Karen Howes said...

(Raising hand) Ooo! Oooh! I want to teach at Gangsta High!


This gangsta culture/mentality perpetuated by crap-- I mean rap-- is a problem. It glorifies crime, drugs, and misogyny. Every day at school I have to tell male student that I don't want to see their friggin' underwear, and then I tell them where that style originated-- prisons.

Harrison said...

But taking a job at the private high school doesn't make for a good movie, does it?

Silverfiddle said...

Demagoguery is all the left has left. Anything to avoid facing facts.

Jack Camwell said...

Karen: right on. It sucks having to teach kids that can't even dress properly.

Harrison: LMAO.

Silver: I think you're right on that. I think in their hearts that they believe they're doing the right thing, but no one likes to face facts.

Stupid Git said...

"Demagoguery is all the left has left. Anything to avoid facing facts."

As one who is more often than not on the left side of the political spectrum, thanks for the insult. I'd respond but I don't feel like it'd do any good explaining things to someone who feels facts have an ideological side. I am shocked that Jack agreed though since it seems much of your writing is about broadening peoples minds away from this simplistic left/right, black & white mentality.

As for the topic at hand, it is very spot on in regard to our nation's total devaluation of education and it's loss of understanding the purpose of it.Never is this more clear than when visiting developing nations where the poor and disadvantaged hold education up as an honor. I was once in a small fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua with a teacher friend of mine and she was amazed at how different the response was there versus in the US. Here when others hear she is a teacher it is barely of interest at best and at worst they assume she did not excel at anything else. In Nicaragua they treated her like she was a rockstar. (On the other hand, my work in TV and film meant nothing to them as opposed to in the US where what I do often excites people).

Since race was mentioned in the post, I will mention that this was a entirely black community in Nicaragua.

Stupid Git said...


"This doesn’t mean that black people are inherently inferior or violent, it’s just a cultural thing."

It's sad you actually have to add this statement since many people feel such a thing does prove inferiority. SInce you used your person experience I will use mine as well: My girlfriend (of 4 years now) is a black girl who grew up in Queens, NY. As the oldest of three sisters she was able to go to private school early on and gain scholarships to continue on through her junior high and high school years. Her sisters were not so fortunate and had to go to public schools through all those years. My girlfriend now works at one of the largest ad agencies on the planet and is successful by most standards where as her sisters are unemployed and for the most part act out the worst stereotypes of black culture in this country (I don't want to air out all their dirty laundry online, but it's a long ugly list of troubles).

It isn't all about the "thug life" that is glamorized in culture though that doesn't help at all. No one blames the "redneck life" for the meth epidemic and failures in rural communities where I grew up. The problem is poverty.

Access to better schools helped my girlfriend have the opportunities, social circles (not majority white, just majority well-off) and experiences that opened up doors for her. Her sisters when to those troubled schools like you mentioned in your article and had bad social circles, horrible guidance councilors (they didn't even have books on how to apply for college in their school - my girlfriend had to buy her sisters those books), and few good opportunities. The only people they knew who had nice things were the thugs and dealers so of course they would gravitate toward that. When you're a 16 year old girl would you rather date the guy who has to take the bus or who drives the Mercedes? Blaming rap music is a lazy excuse to ignore the real problem. Just as blaming rock or jazz back in the day was lazy. Black Sabbath wasn't responsible for drugs and crime and neither is 50 Cent. Crime, drugs, misogyny and gang violence all existed before rap music and hip hop culture.

Stupid Git said...


Now that my race v. poverty rant is over, back to education: Like I said, in Nicaragua and many other places I've traveled, education is a source of pride. It is seen as a hope for a better tomorrow. Here, it has been trivialized into a means to an end. Unless it makes us more "competitive" in the job market a class is seen as a luxury. Who needs P.E., arts, critical thinking and philosophy - these things don't make us better workers. Sadly they don't, but they make us better people. Our CEO worship has lead us to treat schools as a business and standardized testing has become our bottom line that must improve each year or we bring in consultants, have lay-offs and restructure. Yet, standardized testing does nothing to examine the effectiveness of learning, only the ability to store information. Sure, the remember answers but do they know why those answers are correct? What if they are told things which aren't true? Evolution vs. Creationism is one good example. If one way is taught and the kids don't know why that way is true, just that the test says it is, have they actually learned anything? If they learn about the origin of each idea and why scientists believe one while their pastor believes another then they have learned something and using critical thinking can come to their own conclusion.

"If you are afraid to be wrong, you will never have an original idea." - Sir Ken Robinson

Until we stop treating education as a means to an end and as a society regain our respect of learning as a way to be better people our education system will continue to be ineffective.

(Sorry this was such a long comment but both topics deserve more than just a brash denouncement of one group of people or another).

Jack Camwell said...

Stupid Git, thanks very much for the very thoughtful response. I really do appreciate it.

As for agreeing with Silver, I want to assure you that I don't think either side has a monopoly on demagoguery. The ugly part about broadening people's minds is that you have to agree when the bullshit of one side is brought to light. If someone commented and said "it seems that the Right relies on uneducated people who will not bother to fact check anything," I'd agree whole heartedly with that statement.

I think you've hit the nail on the head with your last statement, that we have to stop treating education as a means to an end, that end being a higher salary.

And of course the thug life thing isn't the sole determining factor in whether or not a kid is successful, but those sort of cultural influences do play a heavy role in how terrible American public education has become in some communities.

And yes, socio-economic status does have a lot to do with it. Although I don't think that a kid needs to be well off in order to learn, the added stresses of poverty profoundly impact learning.

Again, thank you for sharing your personal experiences. I've never been anywhere south of the United States as all of my travels were in Europe and the Middle East, so it's always a welcomed thing for me to hear about other people's cultural experiences.