The Dallas Morning News' Bridging Dallas' North/South Gap, provides great statistical insight into issues of disparity between areas of the city characterized by relative affluence (the north) and large areas of poverty (the south). I also give my friends on the editorial board credit for their efforts to both champion the progress being made and challenging all of Dallas to understand why southern sector growth is in the interest of the entire city.
There are times, however, when a little context must be given to the whole of the problem. Tod Robberson's Sunday column, for instance, speaks to the importance of parental engagement when it comes to public education. Lack of parental involvement doesn't just contribute to, it exacerbates the failure of schools in low income neighborhoods. But - and I'm not accusing Robberson of doing this - an 'eat your spinach' message isn't going to turn things around.
Tod for instance is spot on when he says, "Here's a vastly oversimplified explanation of why the health and well being of southern Dallas children affect that balance: When our children on the southern side don't get a good breakfast before school or their homework done at night because something at home is distracting them, their grades tend to suffer."
"When kids grow up in single-parent households, they face much stiffer challenges. A single parent has to work longer hours to make sure there's enough money for food and housing. That affects how much time that parent can devote to his or her children. When children don't get proper guidance and attention at home, the first indicators of that imbalance emerge at school, usually through falling grades and attendance."
"If you have high concentrations of students coming from overstressed households, entire schools start showing signs of failure. Look at the levels of poverty and single-parent households in southern Dallas, then compare the numbers of struggling schools in southern Dallas to those in the north, and you'll see where a major part of the problem lies."
But he goes on to point out, "When I think of all the things that have gone wrong in southern Dallas over a long succession of decades, I find myself constantly fighting off a sense of hopelessness. I'm angered by the cynicism I hear from northerners. I'm frustrated by the defeatism among many southern Dallas residents. I know I'm not alone."
"Securing the billions of dollars in expenditures and investments that southern Dallas needs is a long-term endeavor. But of all the things that can be done, finding strategies to increase parental involvement is an entirely realistic goal. What we're seeking really amounts to a change in the entire city's mind-set. It won't cost much, if anything, but imagine the dramatic difference it could make."
Tod's not pointing out an either or situation, he's saying that we shouldn't wait on the 'ultimate' solution at the expense of 'immediate' strategies and remedies we know work. He's correct. But let no one make the mistake: unless we take seriously the need to address 'the ultimate', the 'immediate' strategies will not yield the long term impact necessary to stem the tide of poverty that brings with it frustration, hopelessness, crime and violence.
Incredible and startling statistics regarding sections of the city in which the numbers of adults under the age of 25 don't have high school diplomas (in one area of South Dallas, as high as 59% and in West Dallas as high as 63%), suggest that an overwhelming segment of the population may be incapable of placing the type of value on education necessary to inspire the next generation.
The number of unwed births to mothers without high school diplomas (as high as 38% in South Dallas and 64% in the Pleasant Grove section of the city), suggests families threatened to be locked in cycles of economic despair and dependency of some form for decades. Even if schools and churches in these areas 'reinvent' themselves to their fullest capacity, there is still a situation to be turned around which cannot be addressed by these institutions alone.
There has to be public investment in job training and adult education. There has to be a greater investment in after school programs, day care and early childhood education centers. There has to be economic development in these areas which bring jobs closer to the neighborhoods so that parents have the time to spend with their families, so that work enhances the family infrastructure and doesn't detract from it with long hours and long commutes. There must be a dispersal of liquor related commerce, replaced with businesses that give evidence of opportunity for a future.
Young people who drop out of school, are, by and large, young people who don't have hope. That absence of hope comes, at times from living in an unstable household with irresponsible adults. And it often includes parents with jobs that don't have a future, living in neighborhoods where nothing new has been seen for decades and where, when something new is seen, there are not so subtle messages that its for someone else. They often come from environments where mediocrity is tolerated and success goes uncelebrated, unless its on the gridiron or the hardwood.
We must see immediate strategies, incorporating all the institutions in the communities that encourage and inspire as triage efforts. We must vigorously insist, agitate and organize for the revitalization necessary to turn the surrounding neighborhoods around be pursued with all deliberate speed. Otherwise, city hall and other entities responsible for reversing their decades of neglect are simply being told to eat their spinach.
That doesn't work any better with public and elected officials than it does with the rest of us.