Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apatheid Education in America

So recently returning from SA I thought I was beginning to have a handle on the depth and lasting impact of apartheid policies. But leave it to Jonathan Kozol to present a major paradigm shift.

Kozol is a huge advocate for connecting with students and sharing their narratives as pure witnesses to the public school system to impact policy and analysis. This is the first full length text I have read by him but I am already really taken with this approach. Too often in education policy it seems that those making recommendations and implementing new practices are removed from the day to day of public education in the US.

While I want to provide solid analysis of the text I would be remiss to not acknowledge my personal biases and initial reactions as well. It's frustrating to recognize that I have been buying into the narrative about America being segregated by class rather than race today. These statistics alone snapped me out of that glossed over perception:
"In the district that included P.S. 65, there were 11,000 children in the elementary schools and middle schools in 1997. Of these 11,000, only 25 were white, a segregation rate of 99.8%. Two tenths of one percentage point now marked the difference between legally enforced apartheid in the South of 1954 and the socially and economically enforced apartheid in this New York City neighborhood.

A certain level of cross-sectional analysis is absolutely required to understand the segregation of the public school system. There is also a strong connection across sectors and access to resources including but not limited to just education. Kozol highlights the severe impact of the lack of inter-racial social interactions. His work in the Bronx during the 80s also sheds some light on how a lack of access to healthcare and information created a rapid spread of HIV that affected many mothers and children.

Ronald Regan and I have never seen eye to eye on policy and he strikes again in Kozol's reflections, the social policy of the Regan Administration essentially reverted the progress that integrated public education had made in the previous decade. A Harvard Study comissioned as part of the Civil Rights Project notes that during the past 25 years "there has been no significant leadership towards the goal of creating a successfully integrated society built on integrated schools and neighborhoods"

It appears that it is local groups, faithbased or otherwise, that continue to work the hardest to create small opportunities for integration. For every well-intentioned effort on the local level, unfortunately, there seems to be efforts on the national level (federal policy, supreme court decisions, etc.) that are occurring without consideration for the impact of segregated schools. This trend does not exclude the latest waves of education reform. Kozol points out that the two largest educational innovation of the past 2 decades, standards-based reform and school choice, completely disregard the impact of racial segregation.

While this initial insight presents more questions than answers, I'm optimistic about Kozol's perspective gained through first hand research in schools around the country.

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