"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The New Crusade for Racial and Gender Segregation

Almost 200 years ago in Massachusetts, a new movement for a publicly-funded school system was inspired by the vision of Horace Mann. It was a system of schools that would serve boys and girls, rich and poor, protestant and catholic; it was intended to lessen the likelihood of class and sectarian violence, which Mann believed to be a tangible threat during his time. Mann's vision eventually shaped an American public education system, even though it would take another 150 years for African-Americans to reap the benefits of the Common School Crusade. By 1980, Americans had eradicated educational apartheid in the South, and school integration was a priority that seemed destined to continue what seemed at the time an inexorable march of civil rights, human rights, and gender rights.

Enter Ronald Reagan and the conservatives he brought with him to Washington. Replacing the equality and equity movement in education was a standards movement, a high standards for all movement driven by the desire to make all those black and Mexican boys and girls be accountable for now living up to what American society had refused them during the previous 200 years of inhumane treatment. With standards came accountability for reaching them, and with accountability came the tests, ah yes, the tests that would once again serve as the tool to sustain the economic and social pecking order based on economic privilege--just as the early IQ tests had been used to sustain the belief in white supremacy earlier in the Century.

With equity and equality being replaced over the past 25 years by a bottom-line confusion of equating excellent learning with excellent test scores, minority youth find themselves further shut out by a system that continues to favor those who are economically advantaged and punish those who are not. For these kids who have now had the deck stacked exactly against them, school has become just another place where their second-class status is made more obvious to themselves, the general public, and the pigeon feeders like Bloomberg and Klein who now insult them with a handful of dirty tax-exempt dollars in order to bribe out of them a higher, but no less meaningless, test score. A Third World model for treating poverty in the middle of the greatest economic and cultural megalopolis in the history of the Planet. Think of it.

Now a new crusade is underway that is supposedly intended to make this threatened African-American male child species thrive, but it is not a crusade for common schools or a crusade for an integrated society or for equal opportunity, but, rather, it is a crusade that, indeed, mocks the 9-0 Supreme Court decision in 1954 that concluded that separate schools are inherently unequal. This new crusade is one inspired by an educational philosophy that embraces gender isolation and racial segregation, a philosophy that insists these black male children do more with less, keep their mouths shut, and wear their uniforms and eagle-emblazoned ties to school each day, a day that lasts through breakfast, lunch, dinner. And Saturday. From Ed Week:

In the face of mounting evidence that schools are losing alarming numbers of young black men, a small band of educators gathered here recently to bolster one response to the crisis: creating public schools designed to serve African-American males.

Haunted by the specter of a bleak future for millions of young men—and aware that single-gender programs can face legal and political opposition—the two dozen principals were nonetheless united in their conviction that it is high time to build education programs that meet the academic and emotional needs of black boys.

“[People] ask us why we are doing single-gender education, as though what the kids are currently involved in is working,” David C. Banks, the founding principal of the Eagle Academy for Young Men, a 3-year-old public school that serves predominantly low-income black and Latino boys in New York City, told a roomful of educators, scholars, and policymakers. “When you recognize that you are in crisis, you have to do more.”

Mr. Banks and other school leaders formed the core of a June 3-5 conference billed as “a contemplation on the education of black male students.” It was co-sponsored by Wheelock College, the Panasonic Foundation, Eagle Academy, and the Delores Walker Johnson Center for Thoughtful Leadership, a training institute that is part of the Cambridge, Mass.-based ATLAS Learning Communities, which helps schools implement its comprehensive reform model.

The conference enabled principals to share promising practices for boys who have likely had to learn in crowded schools with inexperienced teachers, cope without fathers at home, and contend with pop culture’s negative images of them. Woven through the conversations about academic strategy were signs of the urgency and passion the school leaders see as necessary to the work.

“This isn’t a job, it’s a ministry,” Jerome Harrell, the principal of the Alpha School for Excellence, in Youngstown, Ohio, told his colleagues. . . .

Yes, a new crusade, a new ministry. Yes, yes. Work hard. Be nice.

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