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How the Education System Failed Black America

January 17, 2006

I waited until the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day to write this, and I actually considered not writing it at all. It is a difficult subject to approach, and it is one that is quite emotional for me. After all, I am an African American who barely survived the public school system, and I am also an educator. I know, all too well, about the inequality that exists in the public school systems today.I feel that, if Dr. King were alive today, he would be most disappointed in the regression and utter failure of desegregation in America. He would not remain silent, and so I too must speak.

First, it is important to clarify the reasoning behind desegregation. It was not done simply to “unite” blacks and whites in love and harmony. This could be accomplished any number of ways and with less risk of violent backlash from the white community. The problem with the “Separate But Equal” law was that “black” schools were not equal to “white” schools. The white students came from privileged homes, with parents who received privileged jobs, who paid privileged taxes, and thus sent their children to privileged schools with amenities that black students only dreamed of having.

The purpose of desegregation (i.e. busing) was to move black students into white schools so that they would have the same privileges as whites. It was also supposed to balance the system. Eventually, those “black” schools would be brought up to par with the “white” schools because whites and blacks would attend schools in both communities.

Fifty years later, desegregation is being reversed. Astonishingly, when the last black student to be bused to the south side of Indianapolis graduates, the south side will essentially return to being nearly all white, and the “northern community” (as it is still called here), will return to being nearly exclusively black. The largest school district in our city is also the most impoverished. Countless other cities around the US are in the same situation. There are literally “all black” schools, even to this day.

These schools lack the funds for basic needs like current textbooks, computers, qualified teachers, and even properly working heating and air conditioning. Most of the whites have moved to the fringes of cities or into suburban towns that surround the major cities. In these schools, students enjoy their own personal laptops, wall-to-wall carpeting, air conditioned buses, and well-paid teachers.

The truth is that desegregation was a patch meant to appease the masses. The whites that ended up going to “black” schools were just as poor as their black classmates. In the end, it isn’t about race anyway. It’s not about black and white. It’s about the haves and the have-nots, and the haves make no intentions of giving up any of their luxuries.

The lasting legacy that belongs to Dr. King is that he tried to bridge the gaps between rich and poor. In the last years of his life, he struggled with the poor people (black and white) to gain rights as workers and as general citizens. How difficult would it be to pool the tax money of all neighborhoods (rich and poor) to have equal opportunity education? Apparently, it’s a little too difficult for the elite few who can make it happen.

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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