Should schools mix rich and poor kids for the greater good? (part 3)
True/Slant writer Michael Salmonowicz and I share a deep interest in issues of race, class, and urban life, so the two of us decided to bring our perspectives together on the issue of income diversity and school segregation. Catch up on the conversation by reading Monday’s and Tuesday’s messages, or jump right in with today’s:
Hey Michael –
You make some great points about busing. As someone who wants to have kids, it would be stressful to put a kid on a bus for 45 minutes, knowing they are going to school in a completely different part of the city. I actually love our neighborhood school, and sometimes think about how my kids could walk to school there, something I never was able to do as a child.
But here’s what I wonder: what if an intensely high-poverty, high-needs school is just an untenable situation? Yes, it can work. We see outstanding examples of schools that make it happen, like the Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy and the KIPP schools. But by and large, high poverty schools are the schools that struggle. If it can be done, it’s extremely difficult. I’d love to have the funding and the intelligent, powerful minds aligned to make these schools happen in every poor neighborhood in every city in this nation, but the realist in me does not see that happening, especially with our current tax structure for funding schools.
So if I can’t make high poverty schools work, and mixed-income would work much better, my only solution then is to make people unsegregate themselves. A friend of mine was actually telling me about just such a proposition in Singapore, where she grew up. The government said that every block had to be racially-mixed with a certain percentage of each group living there. At the time, she said, people thought it was terrible. Now, they are used to it, and the racial tensions that plagued their society have disappeared.
Of course, we live in a country where people are freaking out because we want everyone to be able to go to the doctor when they have the flu. So telling people where they can live and who they have to live next to is pretty much out of the realm of possibility.
But, seriously though—if we can’t mix schools, then we have to find some other way to mix people up because these high poverty, high needs neighborhoods are just too much for any school system, for any police district, for any social service network. If a teacher can’t be expected to teach in a room where more than a quarter of her kids have documented abuse or neglect, then how are we expected to make that neighborhood—where conditions like that abound—a safe, decent place to grow up?
I suppose that my friends on the right would say we don’t need to make that neighborhood a safe, decent place to grow up. That’s the responsibility of the people who live there. But, for me, the history of racism and its ties to the economy mean I am responsible for the way that neighborhood turned out. It’s the reason my neighborhood is so nice.
All of this to say that I understand the impracticalities of mixed-income schools, but still, it seems like the most practical, cost-effective solution to save a school system that’s failing millions of kids each year.