Savage Inequalities




It is stunning the hubris that often accompanies wealth. A classic example is the outgoing mayor of New York, a man who apparently knows more about education than those who have dedicated their lives to this holy work.

If Canadians realized the absolutely appalling state of American education they would be physically sick.The  seemingly incredible toleration of run down facilities where the young are supposed to be inspired to learn boggles the mind.

Then there is the  physical abandonment of the poor (read black and Hispanic) by Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emmanuel. 25% of these kids he maintains are  are uneducable. Imagine thrown in the trash can before puberty. What kind of a man is this, never mind that he is the mayor of a city like Chicago.

In possibly the poorest area of my city Toronto, Regent Park’s school Nelson Mandela has just undergone a million dollar facelift. In the States it would become in Chris Hedges words “a sacrifice  zone”, a stark place of abandonment. It is to weep and fight against the marketization of education.

The great American educator Jonathan Kozol wrote about this shocking problem in his book Savage Inequalities . Written in 1991, it still reflects the incredible situation. A couple of snippets

Clark Junior High School – East St. Louis

Shalika is small and looks quite young for junior high. In each ear she wears a small enameled pin of Mickey Mouse. “To some degree I do believe,” she says, “that this is caused by press reports. You see a lot about the crimes committed here in East St. Louis when you turn on the TV. Do they show the crimes committed by the government that puts black people here? Why are all the dirty businesses like chemicals and waste disposal here? This is a big country. Couldn’t they find another place to put their poison?”

“Shalika,” the teacher tells me afterward, ” will go to college.”

“Why is it this way?” ask Shalika in a softer voice again. But she doesn’t ask the question as if she is waiting for an answer.

“Is it ‘separate but equal’ then?” I ask. “Have we gone back a hundred years?”

“It is separate. That’s for sure,” the teacher says. She is a short and stocky middle-aged black woman. “Would you want to tell the children it is equal?”

Christopher approaches me at the end of class. The room is too hot. His skin looks warm and his black hair is damp. “Write this down. You asked a question about Martin Luther King. I’m going to say something. All that stuff about ‘the dream’ means nothing to the kids I know in East St. Louis. So far as they’re concerned, he died in vain. He was famous and he lived and gave his speeches and he died and now he’s gone. But we’re still here. Don’t tell students in this school about ‘the dream.’ Go and look into the toilet here if you would like to know what life is like for students in this city.”

Before I leave, I do as Christopher asked and enter a boy’s bathroom. Four of the six toilets do not work. The toilet stalls, which are eaten away by red and brown corrosion, have no doors. The toilets have no seats. One has a rotted wooden stump. There are no paper towels and no soap. Near the door there is a loop of wire with an empty toilet-paper roll.

“This,” says Sister Julia, “is the best school that we have in East St. Louis.

The Savage Inequalities of Public Education in New York – Kozol visits Public School 261, which is inside an old roller skating rink. Once again, he finds children that are forced to learn in a facility that isn’t fit to be inhabited, much less a school. He then visits P.S. 79, which is extremely overcrowded. After viewing these two decrepit schools, he visits Riverdale, P.S. 24. Because of the property value in the houses around Riverdale, the school gets a lot more money than either P.S. 261 or P.S. 79. This chapter than focuses on how money is divvied up to the schools. It appears that the value of the houses in the district for a school determine the amount of money that is put into that school. So, if the houses around P.S. 261 are pretty much worthless, they may only receive around $6,000 per student, or much less. But if the school, like Riverdale, is surrounded by rather expensive houses, the school may receive around $11,000 per student, or more. This disproportion causes a great disparity in the condition of the buildings that the students have to go to. But because some public schools do not receive very much money, most of the urban. black children in New York find themselves going to school in pitiful, run-down buildings, which in turn affects the way they are taught and learn.

1 Comment »

  1. 1
    Molly Sutkaitis Says:

    I was on a five day Paulist Fathers Retreat in the foothills of the Adriondaks last week. I was shocked when I joined in on a conversation on Catholic Schools in the United States. The fees at the one school under discussion were $8,000 per year! Molly

    Molly Sutkaitis177 Stephen Dr #110Toronto, ON M8Y 3N5416 239 1345 Date: Sun, 25 Aug 2013 18:13:48 +0000 To:

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