Monday, June 1, 2009

Welcome to the United States of Amnesia, and the State of Denial

The United States of Amnesia, is not original with me. It comes from Professor Michael Eric Dyson, who says (and I paraphrase), that the same people who want us to remember and retell, the glories of American struggles , but we are exhorted to forget those inglorious and shameful parts of American history (and even their victories), when it is too painful or inconvenient.

Dallas Independent School Board trustees voted to cut funding for learning centers and magnet schools last week. I think I've been pretty clear that I've been totally against the move. But the school board's action could only be taken forgetful and dismissiveness disregard of the original intent of those schools and a convenient denial of the conditions associated with their origins which continue to exist.

Learning Centers were brought about to address inequities in public education that were the result of racism and segregation. Dallas spent 30 years under federal court supervision because it took this school district 20 years to discover that Brown vs the Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that 'separate but equal' practices in public education and virtually every other area of social and public life, actually included them.

The incredible odyssey, which brought the school board to a 5-4 (in a very curious breakdown along racial lines - 3 white board members joined by two Hispanic board members for the cuts; three African-American board members, joined by one Hispanic board member against) decision to make these cuts, was a journey through murky, wavy and polluted waters of political clumsiness and disingenuousness.

There are serious questions as to whether or not this action was necessary, or even legal. DISD's 30 years of federal court supervision ended, in part, because of a commitment by the district to continue these schools and in turn, the higher per pupil allocation was exempt from being counted by the districts general per pupil allocation when making application for Title 1 funds.

These words from Judge Barefoot Sanders, the judge who oversaw desegregation during the period when the district sought to correct decades of injustice wrote this, as DISD was seeking release from this jurisdiction:

Memorandum Opinion and Order (June 5, 2003)

"The Learning Centers are a valuable tool in the District's efforts to increase minority achievement, and their programs appear to be particularly effective. Dr Moses [Mike Moses, previous DISD Superintendent, prior to Dr. Michael Hinojosa] testified that the Learning Centers "are outstanding programs" that are "certainly worthy of replication." The Covenants also refer to the replication of successful Learning Center programs at other schools throughout the District."
"The Court commends the District, both on its compliance with the Court's Orders in this area and on its commitment to maintain and replicate the Learning Center programs. The Court relies on this commitment."
"The Court relies on the DISD's continued commitment to desegregation programs as evidenced by the Board-adopted Covenants. The Court would regard any material deviation from those Covenants as a breach of faith."

Board member Edwin Flores at last week's meeting, according to one report, "...told the board that the late Judge Barefoot Sanders didn't really believe in the special learning center schools he helped set up as part of the resolution of the Tasby lawsuit."

It may be just me, but the words above don't read like they quote someone who 'doesn't believe' in the learning center concept.

Welcome to the United States of Amnesia!

In that same report another account is particularly chilling, "Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, a DISD product himself, told board member Carla Ranger he didn't really know the purpose of the learning centers because he wasn't here during their creation."

Oh, please...!

Make yourself at home in the State of Denial!

These ahistorical attitudes regarding something so significant (the uproar should have been a dead giveaway), is appalling. This struggle to make public education responsive to the needs of, initially black, but by extension students of every race and color, is one of the reasons by Dr. Michael Hinojosa has his job and one of the reasons Edwin Flores is able to serve as a school board trustee.

It is an antiseptic and amnesiac approach to public policy, which makes it convenient to be dismissive of the valiant and valuable contributions of those who risked while others were too afraid, or too absorbed in their personal existences, which make it easy to lose such gains. Eventually those loses will come at the expense of those who forget.

As to the issue of 'fairness'...'fairness by whose measure? While it seems plausible, if not laudable to argue for the 'equitable' distribution of funding throughout the district (to be honest, the idea that there is a 'requirement' by the federal government to make funding 'equitable' is really falling apart), 'unfairness' is what these cuts actually achieve.

The original intent of the learning centers/magnest schools vis-a-vis a much belated effort to comply with the now 55 year old Brown Supreme Court decision, was to provide some redress for segregation and Jim Crow in public education. But poverty is now the new 'race', and that demographic is black, brown, white and 'other', in color and ethnicity.

How often do we have to read statistics and listen to reports that tell us that children who live in concentrated poverty essentially suffer the same psychological, emotional, social and intellectual pathologies that the Brown decision sought to address? Issues such as hunger/food insecurity, lack of health care, geographic and social isolation, lack of enrichment, crime, neighborhood blight and generational poverty all impact a child's capacity to learn. Where is the 'fairness' and 'equity' associated with cutting the funding of schools with programs designed to address these issues?

Where else in the world, would not fighting to keep every dime of funding AND go after every other dime of available funding possible, be a sign 'progress'?

Where else in the world, would 'mission accomplished' be declared, after making poor and minority children more vulnerable?

Where else would poor children, in poor neighborhoods, be declared to have an unfair advantage over the children from middle class homes?

Where else in the world, would someone declare an expiration date on justice?

Only in the United States of Amnesia! Only in the State of Denial!


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