Joel Klein’s recent resignation had an interesting alignment to a report that showed that black males in the United States aren’t doing well in this country. You’ve read the statistics. Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys. Only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys. In 2009, the average mathematics scale score of large city black males who were not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch was eight points lower at grade four and 12 points lower at grade eight than the score of white males nationwide who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Young white male students in poverty do as well as young black male students who are not in poverty. African-American boys drop out of high school at nearly twice the rate of white boys, and their SAT scores are on average 104 points lower. All of these were provided by the Council for Great City Schools’ recent report on this “crisis.”
People’s reactions to this report tell me one thing that’s persisted for ages in this country: We’re selectively oblivious to the plight of those less fortunate than us. Thus, “crisis” is relative.
Every time a report comes out about an underprivileged group, we get the same surge of pseudo-interest: people make calls, the media channels put the numbers in a 3D graphic, people from that group are highlighted and interviewed, a “regular” person states their opinion via email, phone, or video, the government makes a statement about it and “assures” that they’re doing everything in their power to help the situation, someone alludes to an event from the past century that’s just like this event, a stated expert from that group gives their scholarly stern advise that they’ve been researching for years. People nod and the nation forgets about it as soon as another big flare-up happens. Because of this, people still believe we’re really doing something about the current problem and thus, “regular” people don’t have to worry about that crisis and it’s not a crisis anymore.
What a waste of human potential.
In the last couple of generations alone, we have tons of examples where the world could have done “something” but instead let a few (very influential) people sweep those reforms away. Ask anyone who was around for the War on Poverty after people like Milton Friedman criticized the social programs that regulated on behalf of the people and Bill Clinton helped enact bills that called for “personal responsibility.” Ask anyone who was around for the War on Drugs after we found out that state and federal governments helped urban drug dealers pass those drugs to the people they were supposed to arrest (while simultaneously ignoring rural and suburban districts with other drugs!) Ask anyone who saw those heart-wrenching commercials in the ’90s depicting Ethiopia and Somalia as sub-human wastelands where the monies and services went for those people (never mind the country of Haiti and the city of New Orleans a decade later). Ask anyone who was shocked by the idea that we’re still saying “Peace in the Middle East!” 20 years after it was cool to say it in a rap song.
Ask any of them if they thought that we’d still have all these problems in 2010.
I’m glad that there’s this much attention being given to a population who so desperately needs this (not that black women, Latinos as a whole, the multifaceted groups of Asians, indigenous Americans, poor whites, and any number of subgroups don’t, either). Around 20 percent of black males (many of them presumably fathers, for argument’s sake) are unemployed. Thirty-two percent of black males can expect to see prison as inmates in their lifetimes. They live 7.1 years less than any other racial groupings.
Oh, and under Joel Klein’s administration, the gap between black/Hispanic children and white/Asian children’s test scores widened. Plus, graduation rates are rather inflated due to erroneous criteria.
But these aren’t crises. These are facts for too many of us. The difference between people who care and people who don’t, though, are that people who care also see this as an opportunity rather than the status quo. We’re not going to be shocked and awed by issues so many of us already knew from personal experience. We’re going to speak out and inform. We’re willing to work in the places where we can understand and address the problems. We won’t bite when capitalist edu-reformers bring about ideas that only enforce the status quo.
Furthermore, we won’t resign until we’ve made progress on these issues. Then again, I’m always the one who has to speak up about issues of race and poverty amongst my fellow edubloggers. Appropriate since it’s always the job of the underrepresented to tell the majority about themselves. Or, in this case, tell them the facts.
P.S. — Renee Moore and I see eye-to-eye here.