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Category Archives: Politics

America Is Getting Dumber…I Blame De-Segregation

The Glaring Issue

On yesterday, a relatively controversy piece made its way to CBS News (watch the video here). In a piece titled, “Study: Celebrity trumps news for women,” reporter Taryn Winter-Bill took to the streets to engage young college-aged woman and found them to be more knowledgeable about celebrity gossip than current events. After, CBS News legal analyst Lisa Bloom spoke to Erica Hill about the study.

Before I go any further, I’ll mention that this “study” was done after daring claims were made in Lisa Blooms’ new book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World. She found:

  • Women could not name the three branches of government, wars we are currently involved in, and one major international news headline
  • More wanted to be famous over winning the Nobel Peace Prize
  • More wanted to be hit by a bus than to be fat
  • Many believed we’ve made significant advances in women’s rights YET few knew that we are one a few “Western” nations that has never had a female head of state

What’s sad is that NONE of this surprises me. While an undergraduate and graduate TA in very different university settings, I found students in BOTH places to be relatively unaware of what was going on around them. Largely, their interest was only ground in events they could directly relate from. Sure, they knew all about a crisis overseas BUT it was only to advance a personal agenda.

And that’s fine. That’s what the United States of America has come to stand for. If it’s international and doesn’t relate directly to me, then I’m just going to watch the latest reality show until I find something (read: the news highlights something) that does.

Who Suffers The Most?

But the question is now: WHO SUFFERS FROM THIS? Well folks…it isn’t the poor Black people in urban centers that everyone wants to save.

It’s young, White women.

That’s right folks. It’s those young white women that have the most to lose from this. Let’s look at a few facts shall we.

  • In 2007, White college enrollment constituted 64% of total college enrollment. Source
  • Approximately 60% of Whites graduated with a bachelor’s degree or it’s equivalent within 6 years (the only group to outperform Whites in this area was Asians/Pacific Islanders). Source
  • In both public and private not-for-profit 4-year institutions, the 6-year graduation rates for females were higher than the rates for males. Source
    • In public institutions, approximately 58% of females graduated within 6 years versus 52% of males.
    • The percentage of females graduating within 6 years at private not-for-profit institutions was 67% versus 61% of males.
  • While examining race and sex, the NCES found that in 2007-08, 62% of Associate’s, 56% of Bachelor’s, 62% of Master’s, & 55% of Doctoral degrees were awarded to white women. Source

But Why Blame De-Segregation?

Well, folks, it’s simple. That’s when our education system as a whole went to hell.

Of course, the legislation brought about in Brown v. Board of Education (and other similar cases) were to ensure that people of color finally had the chance to receive an equal opportunity at a well-rounded education. No longer would racial and ethnic minorities be relegated to attending struggling and dilapidated schools on the outskirts of town where books were outdated and the building was falling apart. No! They would have the chance to attend the schools that had come to represent the beacon of beaming light upon a hill.

Except…over time, White people left. And with them, money.

Now with my background in education, I was also surprised to learn the other part of desegregation — the moving of teachers of color into white schools and vice versa. But with the money and the apathetic attitudes, white parents moved their white children to white suburbs where they could ensure that white teachers would teach in white schools. They built up schoolhouses whose “Keep Out If You Aren’t Like Us” rule has trickled down to even today. These schools, while better than urban schools aren’t all that great. It’s true, they look awesome when compared to urban schools where less than 50% of any given freshman class makes it to graduation and successfully matriculates into college. HOWEVER, these schools look like the runt of a puppy litter when compared to our global competition. Those AP courses your child takes as a Senior, I’m pretty sure a Chinese kid whose about 12 could pass…or at least carry their weight.

What ultimately has happened is that America has NOT stayed a force in education. We continue to fall in the educational ranks of developed nations and our students as a whole continue to struggle on standardized tests. Gone are the days of challenging curriculum and parents siding with the teacher. No, we’ve hurriedly ushered in an era where children are doted on and our challenging curriculum isn’t all that challenging. Our standards are low and our children are apathetic, spoiled brats…

All because someone in your family a while back didn’t want their child to be a kindergarten desk buddy with a Black kid and our government did nothing about it.

So to all of my White Ladies, Women, Chicks, Feminist Friends (whatever), you’re getting dumber….and it’s your grandparents (or great-grandparents) fault.

The Best Interest of the Child

Today, I came across an article about a woman who’s homeless and had been arrested for using her son’s babysitter’s address to enroll him into school. She was arrested and she’s out on bond. She’s now awaiting trial (or whatever they are going to do next). For me, this is more than about a woman who is criminalized because she did the best that she could with what she had. Granted, I don’t know the details of the story but from what I can gather, it is a miscarriage of justice. Read the story for yourselves.

I’m upset because this story is about much more than education. For those of you that don’t know, I have a BS in Psychology and a MA in Urban Education Policy, which means when I see stories like this in the media, it never is just about the issue at hand. In this case, people are concerned because they feel a woman (she’s not even a Mother at this point) deserves to be made an example of because she stole education for a child.

Let’s break this down —

The biggest concern of the school (not even the district) is that a woman stole education. Education in this country is guaranteed, which means that in my mind, you technically can’t steal it. To go from this idea that everyone is “guaranteed an adequate education” to the idea that it’s okay to prosecute marginalized constituents because they sought an adequate education for their children is ludicrous. For me, this directly highlights the issue of the “Us” versus “Them” that we desperately struggle with in our country. In this case, the “Us” happens to be those who look like they can afford a $15,000 education, while those who are identified as “Them” happen to be any one person who could mess up that image. At this level, it’s really about stereotyping and presenting an image.

The second thing that truly bothered me was that no one is concerned with the identity and development of the young boy in question. We live in a country that tramples on the rights of the child daily. We read and hear about children who are arrested for simple infractions that become blown out of proportion because of Zero Tolerance Policies. We hear and read about children who are abused daily, yet their parents/caregivers remain free because people operate under the best interest of the adult while promulgating that they are concerned with the rights/best interest of the child. As someone who studied (somewhat seriously) development in youth, a child being suddenly stripped from an environment they may have thrived in, especially if it concerns education, is alarming. No one saw anything wrong with disrupting this young man’s emotional, physical, mental, and educational development? That’s an issue for me.

Finally, the question that no one is asking is what happens to the people who have now become criminalized? Will the Mother have the opportunity to get a job (I’m not sure if she had one in the first place but if she did, I hope she didn’t lose it)? What about the woman who was evicted from her public housing unit for allowing them to use her address? Where is she staying? Is she now a member of the homeless population? For those that don’t know, when you commit a crime or you happen to be an accessory to a crime and you live in public housing, should you become evicted from your space, you’re no longer eligible for said assistance. Then there’s always the question of cyclical poverty AND imprisonment. Let’s operate from the stance that the Mother didn’t have a record. Now she does. Statistics show time and again that children whose parents have been incarcerated are much more likely to become institutionalized/imprisoned than their peers who haven’t? So have we set this young man on a path of destruction now? What about his future? What are the implications there?

The Problem of Public Education

The hot topic of today, without question, has been that of Education. Not just any education but the education of (primarily) urban youth and closing the Achievement Gap. It’s interesting to me to note that many of the people who have been invited to speak on a national stage concerning this issue have what seems to be an undisputed amount of influence, be it fame or financial. There is no doubt that the conversation surrounding the education of the nation’s most vulnerable youth is highly politicized and many people should understand that this forum being used to highlight the issue probably won’t lead to large scale improvement in the area of educating our low-income youth. This is not to say that those who have been invited to speak on the issue are not doing justice to these youth; I simply mean that we must be careful when speaking about these issues because of the emotional tone being lent to them.

Historical Lens

The U.S. at once boasted a world-class system of education. It was the first nation (at least that I know of) where the commoner was educated. This allowed us to train and produce more technical professionals than countries that largely kept their underclass uneducated. This is not to say that our nation produced scientists and mathematicians at all levels of society; but the idea and intent behind “educating every citizen for the good of the nation” was a novel one. From this, we were ranked first as a nation in literacy because nearly all citizens had the opportunity to at least learn to write, read enough to understand who they were voting for, and do basic math. Again, this idea is a novel one because many countries (especially those of European influence) relied heavily on the feudal system and maintaining the wealth of the crown.

If we continue to examine the history of public education in our nation, we’d see that it was wrought with issues from the beginning, particularly between genders and classes (but that is another discussion for another day). Continuing on, we see that Boston has been credited with providing its citizens with the first public school, meaning that taxpayers paid into a system of education that benefitted all of its constituency. We see that people were educated based on their social group identification due to the racial stratification in our country, and that this practice continued on without much interference until the Chicano Movement and their efforts surrounding education (student walkouts at the high school level and lobbying for culturally sensitive educational practices) and the historical Brown v. Board of Education ruling. It was only then that we saw a shift at the political level in what was determined to be “equal education for all.”

What’s Been Discussed?

After reviewing the historical record and taking note of current educational statistics, we still see that our nation has had much trouble in educating those who are largely identified as people of color and those who live below the poverty lines. We are largely concerned with our international ranking in literacy, math, and science (15, 24, and 21 respectively) and many agree that the fastest way to improve our standings would be to educate our poor students better (and there we go blaming those who have the least).

Of course, many people have said that charters are the answer. Geoffrey Canada, Founder of Harlem Children’s Zone which in fact boasts on the best schools in the nation, has been found saying that charters are the only educational tool that you can research and evaluate due to the autonomy that many of them possess. However, as a trained and budding researcher, many of my professors have told us that we must be careful about statements such as these because they can be misleading. In my opinion, charters are NOT the answer. We can point out as many charters that are failing as we can that are succeeding (but no one wants to do that) and even the research is tough to conduct (this would lead into a discussion about true experiments, control groups, and the such). We must remember that charters are still public schools and that many people don’t want to be transparent about their practices within these buildings. So we should take heed with touting this as the antibiotic that would cure the virus of unequal education.

Longer school terms have also suggested. Many people highlight that students in the United States go to school less often that students in the top-ranking countries. I always find this argument interesting because the underlying argument is that “if kids go to school longer, they can learn more; therefore they would become smarter.” It isn’t so much a problem that our kids don’t know enough, it’s that they aren’t given the necessary time to learn, practice, possibly relearn, and implement the lessons that are currently being taught in our schools. As an advocate of After-School Programming, I can’t tell you how important it is that students are given the extra time to learn certain concepts. I also have a problem with this argument because it suggests that all students have the same resources OR that even those who don’t have the necessary resources would be able to learn these concepts because they had more time to process it. As a student, I went to elementary and middle schools that was largely under-resourced. To this day, I remember my surprise at seeing a real Erlenmeyer flask and thinking to myself, “This looks nothing like the 2-D pictures that we practiced with in middle school.” That’s food for thought.

There have definitely been more ideas discussed surrounding this issue; however, many of them still call to mind that people truly believe you can throw money at the problem and fix it. We must certainly move away from this ideal.

Where Should We Go?

I’m of the opinion that we must examine our commitment to our most forgotten brethren in society. I’m also of the opinion that we must have a critical discussion about our biases and why we feel the way we do concerning the education of our most humble (wo)man. The stinging reality is that education will continue to be unequal so long as we believe in the fundamental tenets of this nation – wealth building which in my opinion, comes at the expense of those we can most easily forget: the poor, single parents (largely mothers) with children, the elderly, the homeless, People of Color, etc.

If you want to improve education (especially for those poor kids), then give them an infrastructure that they can thrive in. Give them shelter that is fit for a human. It is sickening to go to some of our most destitute communities and realize that more money is given to the care and facilities concerning animals than that of humans. Build these communities economically. Invest in a workforce that doesn’t continue to replicate a class system in our nation (after all, we believe that we will only succeed as a country if we invest equally in all of our citizens). No more should we think it’s okay that the only commercials concerning “higher” education in Urban communities are those which tout certification programs to be some assistant to a well-paid professional (think DeVry). Sustain these communities with good food. Have you ever gone grocery shopping in a poor community? Juxtapose that to a shopping experience in the “nice” area and there is a stark difference in quality of food (I promise, I can’t make this up). This sounds simple but it must cause a pain for many entrepreneurs because they’ve yet to do it. I mean, I could really go on and on and on about the simple things that cities can do to say, “Hey, we care about you, we really do,” but I won’t. This is long enough and I won’t go on to beat the proverbial Dead Horse.

At some level, our nation must begin to be honest with the striking similarities between “post-racial” America and the America that was described as “Separate But Equal.” I am of the opinion that it is futile to simply look at largely European countries and say, “Hey, this is what works there; so let’s just do it here!” Also, we can’t continue to take money and dump it on the problem. Targeted interventions that WORK for that community must be implemented that rectify many of the ills our society still faces. We must call on the Intellectual Capital that all communities possess and move from this idea that “experts” who have nothing to do with these communities we want to save KNOW the answer and can actively tell us how to fix our “problems.” Remember, these children that we are trying to save have lives outside of the schoolhouse that often dictate how they perform in school.

Take care of what has been seen as the “Necessary Evils” in our society, and we will no doubt find ourselves boasting of a world class educational system once again.

The thoughts included in this post are the original thought of the author (as presented), except where cited.

Thoughts On The Label Militant

I’ve never liked that label. If you really know me, then you know why. I remember my first encounter with being called “militant.” I was in the 8th grade and a teacher asked me what influential Black (African) American I looked up to. So, I spouted off a few people and my list included:

Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sonia Sanchez.

*Actually, my list was entirely women but that’s a trivial matter.

This led to a string of questions and I answered them all to the best of my 13-year-old ability and was then called “MILITANT.” Sheesh…I managed to go ONE week without a teacher saying something sideways and three weeks, THREE, before graduation, I’m called a militant by my Social Studies teacher.

I was heartbroken.

I knew that folks got a sour taste in their mouth when they said the world. I knew that militants were looked at as troublemakers. I’d heard that people felt militants didn’t shower and that they just wanted to shoot everything and everyone down in their path (I was 13, highly impressionable, and had cousins who took advantage of that). I knew that folks did not like militant people and I wanted to be liked.

Besides, I didn’t believe in the use of guns (although I feel you SHOULD have the right to protect yourself). I didn’t believe in not showering (if there were ever to be an 11th Commandment, “Thou shall wash thyself daily” would be it). I was an Honor Roll student, not a troublemaker (unless you count the fact that I dropped pencils and knocked stuff off of desks because I was clumsy).

So I couldn’t be militant! There was no way I was a militant.

Well, I went home and I thought about my arguments. I pulled out my encyclopedias (yes…we had these because I begged my Mom to buy them) to look up the platforms that they stood on. I went to the library the next day (on Saturday) and I did more research on the people that I looked up to. I read archived newspaper articles and I even wrote a mock “Press Release” about them.

*My teacher knew I’d do something like this…he told me later. lol

I wrote up my findings. I even made him a nice poster, so he could understand exactly what I was trying to convey. I had a little speech and everything. *I was a trip.

Sidenote: I can actually remember my presentation.

So, on the next Monday, I found him on my lunch hour and asked if he had any time at all because I wanted to talk to him. He waved me into the room and said, “Sure Ms. Lawrence (that was my last name then). I set up my materials and I cleared my throat. (Now, we were required to do weekly presentations on the materials we learned in Social Studies to our class, but I was nervous. It was just this big dude who loved History sitting in this empty classroom. I could even hear the heating system kicking on and off).

I started with, “This country was ‘built’ upon principles of equality and fundamental rights that spoke to our humanity.” <— I should be someone’s speech writer. My teacher sat back in his chair and began to smile.

I continued with, “The historical record shows that only one group has ever benefitted from the system as it was structured — White males. Groups that have been seen as militant were often just arguing for the system to be restructured, so that they too could participate as full citizens and enjoy the liberties that have been set out in our country’s most important documents.”

At this point, I put down my paper. I didn’t care about what else I’d written down. Then I whipped out my poster board. On it, I’d placed major movements, political parties, and people and the things they asked for.

The heading, “What Makes A Militant.”

The byline: “I’m Militant Because…”

This is what my poster actually said:

*I will choose to exercise my right to vote, remain informed as a citizen in this country, and hold my politicians accountable.

*I believe that every child has the right to a healthy start, decent housing, adequate nutrition, and EQUAL AND FREE education.

*I believe that we all have the right to healthcare.

*I want economic stability in my community and I believe that we should have the opportunity to be business and homeowners, as well as shareholders in corporations.

*I believe in the rights of humans, which includes women, GLBT, children, and communities of color that have been oppressed.

I ended my presentation with: IF this is what makes a militant, I’m fine with that. I just hope that other people realize that what’s being asked is ONLY radical because we’ve been duped into believing that our resources are SO STRAPPED that competition has become a necessary evil in our society. Everyone COULD have the same opportunities to succeed here…if the powers that be wanted us to.

My teacher was proud of me (Sucka knew I’d go home and do that). Said that I needed to remember all that I stood for. A lot of people were going to question, point, laugh, and demean me BUT I had to remember these things.

So I do. I wonder if he’s around still. I hope so, kids today need an influential presence like him.


What If?

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear Sonia Sanchez speak at my university. I would describe the experience as life-altering and most would probably feel as though it were an exaggeration. However, that’s what it was.

I had never gone through some many emotions in one discussion. To hear her poetry, I felt elation. To hear the stories she told of young people (much like myself), I felt extreme sadness. To hear her list the people that she’s acquainted with (either through personal experience or through study), I felt immense pride. To hear her speak of the human experience, I felt connected to every person in that auditorium. She spoke. Her words were living beings. Dancing…singing…painting a picture for all of us to see, feel, love, and experience.

And at one point, I wondered, “What if she lost her words?”

In that moment, I almost cried. I began to think of the people who had come before her. Who dared to speak. What if they had lost their words? I thought of those people who walked and ran to freedom. What if they had lost their will? I thought of the many unnamed faces that marched behind Dr. King. What if they had lost their courage?

What if?

This question is of immense importance. It’s one that must be asked and one that must be remembered. My generation. We don’t remember that those who came before us had to dig within themselves and find some courage to resist (she spoke on this too). They had a right to life, yet they had to resist for it. Resist for the right to vote. Resist for a voice. Resist for the right to be addressed as adults. Resist for the right to equal housing. Resist and make claims for schools that weren’t dilapidated. Resist.

Yet, my generation…we sit back. We don’t use our words except to hurt. We don’t use our limbs except to strike. We don’t use our courage to go against the grain. We don’t use our minds. We don’t use our music to encourage. We don’t depend on one another. We don’t recognize the need for community. We don’t. They did and those that are able continue to do. But. We. Don’t.

You see, I’m not a poet. I’ll probably never travel and paint pictures with my words as Sanchez is able to do. I haven’t been gifted with the ability to compose a melody with my nouns. I probably won’t write a book that many will read and wait for me to sign. But as reminded last night, I have a right to life. We all do. As such, we must all use our gifts. The one I was given allows me to the opportunity to resist and ask, “What if your child had to attend a failing school?”

I’ll take my words. I’ll use them. I’ll craft opportunities for young people. I’ll teach others what I’ve been taught from those who’ve walked before me. I’ll remember and I’ll work to make life better for those around and after me. The most profound (yet simple) thing that she said, “Everyone has a contract to life.” I signed my contract in the field of Educational Policy. I’ll take my contract (since it’s renewed everyday) into my community. I’ll speak words of peace. I’ll live love. I’ll hand out contracts of life to others. I’ll hope they sign. I’ll do this all because I remember those before me and I ask the question, “What if?”

And I hope that you do to.


An Open Letter to the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)

**Here’s is a letter that I submitted to the CBC. Feedback is welcomed.**

FACT: As of November 2009, the unemployment rate for Blacks/African-Americans was 15.6%, while the rest of the nation was at 10.0%. (Source: United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics).

FACT: In 2007, 19.5% of Blacks/African-Americans in comparison to 10.4% of non-Hispanic whites were uninsured; 49% of Blacks/African-Americans used employer-sponsored health insurance; and finally, 23.8% of Blacks/African-Americans relied on public health insurance. (Source: United States Department of Health & Human Services, The Office of Minority Health).

FACT: The total number of black students enrolled in higher education in 2007 was 2,383,400. The number of Black men in undergraduate programs in 2007 was 870,000, while the number of Black men incarcerated in federal, state, or local prisons was 837,000. Percentage of all high school students who graduate on time who are black equaled12.1%; while the percentage of all students who drop out of high school in tenth grade who are black equaled 36.7%. Between the 1997-98 and 2007-08 years, college tuition rates rose a total of 30%. (Source: United States Department of Education, Digest of Education Statistics).

Given these dismal numbers, I understand your frustration with our President during this time of economic strife, as you feel he is not taking a special interest in the community which you were elected to represent. However, I feel that you are unfairly placing blame on his shoulders. Keep in mind that President Obama has only formally served in this capacity since January 20, 2009. Since taking his oath, he has accomplished considerable feats. Nine days after taking office, he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which overruled the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and so eased the requirements for filing employment discrimination lawsuits. Five days later, he signed the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover an additional 4 million children currently uninsured. He nominated current Justice Sotomayor in May of 2009 to replace the retiring Justice Souter and she became the first Latina and third woman to serve as a Justice. He also signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act this past October.

I highlight these key acts, a few among many, because the legislation focuses on two key minority groups: women and those most likely to suffer from hate crimes. The importance – the majority of your constituents can be identified as belonging to those groups, so celebrate those acts.

Finally, and this is arguably the most important point that I can make. The most significant piece of legislation that our President signed, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, became a law in February of this year. As you are aware, this was a $787 billion economic stimulus package aimed at helping the economy recover from the deepening worldwide recession.

I’ve drawn your attention to these few things because I want to remind you that now is not the time to be unreasonable in negotiating with our President, as well as the rest of Congress. Change your scope from exclusively focusing on what you feel to be the shortcomings of our President. Help your constituents by pressuring states to remember their stressed communities. History has shown us that even at a President’s urging and support of legislation with an emphasis on minority communities, especially that of the African-American community, the call for equality and humane treatment can fall on deaf ears of the state. Your tactics in playing “hardball” with our President will only further hurt the communities that elected you to representation.

As a constituent who considers herself fairly informed about issues, I would like to offer my suggestions on how you can help our community by highlighting a few key issues:

With the African-American unemployment rate being almost double that of the national unemployment rate, special attention should be paid to economic policies. With regards to these policies: encourage and lobby states to focus on improving urban communities (i.e., paving roads, painting buildings, maintaining street lights, etc).  Remind them that their Black constituents are vital to a thriving economy and convince them that businesses with a large minority employee base should be recruited to serve as contractors in these endeavors. This will in turn create some of the jobs that your constituents need.

With regards to health policies, stand firm and support a public option! One of the fastest ways to accrue debt is to accumulate medical expenses and not be able to pay for them. In the expansion of health care debate, it is critical that you support the BEST option for your constituents, even if this means that a special focus is not placed on them. Remember that 19.5% of the African-American population is without coverage and that another 23% of your constituents rely heavily on government sponsored programs. Additionally, 15.7% of our youth lack necessary health coverage, a statistic relayed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and their KIDS Count Initiative.

With regards to educational policies, push for increasing Pell Grant amounts that are sent to schools and discourage states from freezing or reducing the amount of money set aside for higher education. Instead, persuade states to continue to implement programs that will keep students in school at all levels (from Elementary to College) and remind them of the words of former President Kennedy, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” With the cost of higher education continuing to rise and available financial aid remaining the same, students who do not have the personal economic means to pay for education may face the decision of continuing their education or relinquishing this opportunity with the hopes of “something better”. Remember these students. Remember that they are your constituents.

In closing, I would like to applaud your collective efforts and the things that you have been able to accomplish. Now is NOT the time to present a fractured picture of our Black congressional leaders to our nation. It’s best that you show your support for our President and his goals, and admonish him ONLY when necessary (preferably in private).  Finally, encourage states to take a special and vested interest into their struggling communities and remember that the fate of the Black community is inherently tied to the well-being of our neighbors. This is a fact that you must understand and keep in mind as your continue to fulfill your duties in the D.C.

Once again, thank you for your service and commitment. I hope that these words are met with serious consideration.

Respectfully submitted,

Courtney J. Hardwick
A Concerned Citizen

© December 14, 2009.