Dec 05

Connect the Dots

Too many people, it seems, want to look at the many tragic events of the past year as isolated incidents, but it strikes me that, as teachers and as citizens, if we are to make sense of who we are as a nation right now, we must step back and see these events not as isolated, but as part of a larger system.

In short, if we are to be honest with ourselves, we must connect the dots.

And so…

When a young black man is killed by a self-appointed neighborhood vigilante and the killer is not convicted…

When a white police officer shoots an unarmed black teenager six times and is not even indicted for use of excessive force…

When a white police officer chokes an unarmed black man, causing his death, and is not indicted on any charges…

When a twelve-year-old African-American boy holding a toy gun is shot by a white police officer within two seconds of arriving on the scene…

When the unemployment rate for African-Americans is double that of white Americans…

When African-Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at three times the rate of white Americans despite having nearly the same usage rate as white Americans…

When the governor of Pennsylvania can cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget of the School District of Philadelphia, disproportionately affecting over one hundred of thousand of children of color and exacerbating the per pupil spending gap between Philadelphia and the majority white suburbs…

When those cuts can leave Philadelphia schools without nurses, causing the death of a young African-American girl...

When the net worth of the average white family is six times higher than a non-white family…

When marketing of sub-prime loans are targeted toward black families, continuing decades of systemic denial of the acquisition of property — and thus wealth — for black families…

When the percentage of black Americans living in poverty is more than twice the rate of white Americans living in poverty…

When every national economical, social and educational crisis I can think of disproportionately hurts African-Americans comparatively to white Americans, then the anger and frustration we are seeing in the protests is put into a context far greater than a single precipitating event. When we step back and understand that the rate of racial progress in this county has been haltingly slow at best, we understand why many people are demanding to be heard when they — when we — say that America must face that we nowhere even close to being a post-racial society, that the structural racial inequities and injustices of our nation are far from over.

And when we think of the responsibility we have as educators to help our students critical analyze our nation and our world, we must not be afraid to, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has written, “reckon with our compounding moral debts,” so that our children can build a better world than the one we have left them.

And when we examine structure after structure, statistics after statistic, we must understand why it is imperative that we say, over and over again, that #BlackLivesMatter.

We simply have to connect the dots.

Dec 23

Poverty, College and A Dream Deferred

[Influencing this Post: For Many Poor Students, Leap to College Ends in a Hard Fall.]

The New York Times had an amazing front page long-form story today about how three young women who grew up in poverty in Galveston, TX struggled with the transition to college. All three women were excellent high school students who should thrive at the next phase of their life. Those girls are the kids that a high school puts their faith in. At SLA, approximately half of our student population come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and many of our students will be the first in their family to either go to college or complete college.

But what is scary is how many students who struggle with staying in college. We have heard story after story of SLA kids who found that a college changed their financial aid or how a raise in tuition meant more loans or how the hustle it took to earn scholarships for 1st year was hard to duplicate once in college. We joke around about providing the Extra Care Card to SLA alumni so that they know they can still use us as a resource in college and we spend a lot of time in senior year Advisory on preparing kids for what they will face in college and overwhelmingly, SLA kids do navigate the challenges, but the reality is that, for many kids of poverty, there is little safety net once they get to college.

This is the problem that KIPP faced when they realized that only 32% of their graduates were also graduating from college. This is what we – as a magnet school – fear when we sit down with parents in January and help them fill out FAFSA forms and then again in April when we go over financial aid packages. And again, we’re a magnet school with a college-going culture that can prepare kids for some of these challenges, and I don’t think we’ve come close to solving this problem – merely mitigating it to the best of our ability.

And let’s understand this — this problem affects kids well before they ever get to college. Every kid in an economically challenged neighborhood in Philadelphia knows someone like those girls – the kid who did everything right and still ended up on the block, thousands and thousands of dollars in debt, without a degree and struggling to get by. The dream of a college education as the ticket out of poverty is dying a faster death in our cities than policy makers and college presidents want to admit.

And if that dream dies, we’re in trouble as a nation. As the New York Times article suggests, we are dangerously close to a permanent underclass in America, and as the idea of class mobility fades, we face questions that I don’t think we want to face. It was over eighty years ago that Langston Hughes wrote A Dream Deferred:

What happens to a dream deferred?

 

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

 

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

 

Or does it explode?

Perhaps it is time we all take heed.