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Quality Education Yes; School Vouchers No

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Message mahdi ibn-ziyad
The Courier Post editorial staff (June 8, 2008) has come out for school vouchers. The newspaper says it wants to see inner- city "children escape poverty by getting a good education" presumably in the suburbs where a good public school education is part of the American standard. What the editors fail to note is that urban children won't actually live in the very suburbs where the vouchers send them to school. Question: how does one escape immediate poverty by going to school in a suburban area and then returning home to impoverishment? The C-P stance does not make sense.

After berating the many good teachers and educational support personnel of the New Jersey Educational Association for being "incredibly misguided", the C-P joins in lockstep with those, including the ultra right-wing and schools for profit-seeking proponents of E3, who want to destroy urban public schools without any notice of and consequent effort to end massive poverty, racial and cultural isolation, unemployment, crime, lack of institutional supports and other assorted ills of urban existence.

The C-P does not seem to realize that it's dismal urban existence itself in places like Camden and Newark that's the cause of poor schooling in urban areas. If the urban scene were entirely revamped with new quality of life incentives, like good paying jobs, the urban public schools would be transformed themselves.

We here in South Jersey need to have a serious dialogue about school vouchers and the fallacies of school voucher advocates. Then we need to take some serious action to stop those who would close down our public schools without any sustained and massive effort to improve them or ----better yet --- the impoverished urban communities they are forced, via de facto segregation, to be institutions in some 54 years after Brown v. the Board of Education vaunted "all due deliberate speed" Supreme Court dictum in support of societal equality in educational opportunities.

A major fallacy of the voucher supporters is that they lack any real understanding of very recent history as regards the two-tiered question of quality schooling in impoverished urban areas vs. the receptiveness of suburban white districts to recruiting and actually being able to educate students of different racial and class backgrounds.

One glaring example of this fallacy comes immediately to mind.

Remember the nationwide, court ordered busing mandates that began in the 70's? The aim was to desegregate the schools and in the process offer inner-city students a chance to attend quality public schools in the inner to outer suburban districts that were majority white and mostly middle class.

The faulty premise was that racial integration meant better education. Had we forgotten so soon how well most of the under-funded black schools in the South, prior to Brown decision, had educated generations of black youth and made many of them, fine, decent and respectful but second class citizens in a legally racist America? The results of this massive experiment were that the policy was resented by both black and whites and failed to achieve its goals. Why? Because of the racism and classism that's rooted in the American psyche and fabric.

Black students being bussed out of their neighborhoods were not welcomed with any amount of openness required for such an experiment to succeed. When they were welcomed only grudgingly they were discriminated against (often viciously) by the "welcoming" school administrators, teachers, white parents and white students, tracked into inferior slots reserved for them, stripped of their dignity and made to pay a heavy social and cultural price for court mandated integration.

Did massive busing achieve quality education for inner-city students? No way and in no way could it have.

The fallacy of busing also had to do with the notion that somehow inner city young people are not supposed to reflect the realities of the impoverished, racially segregated neighborhoods their lives are situated in. The young people extracted from the jaws of impoverishment for 8 or more hours per day and bussed (round trip) to some way out suburb were supposed to gain a (sic) "spiritually" transformational experience in being in a white middle class suburban schooling environment. As if being around whites who resented their presence was somehow the equivalent of being in heaven on earth.Yet, many had to come back home to a veritable hell in the evening; to the real world they struggled to survive in. A real world where nothing has changed; where nothing looks like the suburbs they were bussed to in the preceding morning.

What the bussed students lacked was a quality set of life chances (including education) that they were not exposed to in impoverished, crime infested neighborhoods. Schooling alone, no matter its potential quality, will not do the trick because schooling cannot operate in splendid isolation from other social and cultural, often negative, facts of life. How can one study or concentrate on homework if one's mind is constantly concerned about the next meal, about an abusive adult or about whether one's sibling is going to get shot be some street corner drug dealer or whatever? The greater society, not the schools alone, must gear itself for change and when it does the schools themselves will change.

Rather than vouchers what New Jersey and the nation really needs is a full scale Marshall Plan to redevelop and revitalize urban America; create new systems of green technological production with living wage employment for poor people and the armies of unemployed young men and now women who tend to do crime as an alternative to the economic pain of ghettoized living.

We need to scrap No Child Left Behind because -- besides being an unfunded federal mandate -- it's leaving millions behind in its ironbound prescriptions for standards based testing that are culturally elitist, full of class biases and do little to measure varying kinds of intelligences, learning experiences and potentials students really possess.

We need stop the massive spending on wars overseas so that schools and education can get the levels of funding they require. The $530 billion spent on the Iraq War alone since 2003 could have been used to rebuild America's urban areas and the schools in them. How sad. The funds were spent for death, not life.

We need to quality education in safe and secure schools. Quality education can happen and daily does in fact happen in many urban schools across the nation; Camden and Newark are not exceptions. Yet, Camden and Newark remain horribly disfigured cities, gutted by white flight, racial animosities, predictable urban unrest, industrial demise and consequent loss of jobs for average working people and loss of a working to middle class tax base to support public schools. The remain poor, crime ridden cities that New Jersey, on average the most wealthy state, has allowed to linger on in this state of decline for decades while engaging in massive building projects and job producing opportunities in suburban places.

Do urban schools really have a chance? Of course, the greater query is: do urban areas that the urban schools are situated in have a chance?

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Dr. Ibn-Ziyad has demonstrated an abiding concern for racial justice, humanitarian and environmental issues and has been active as a member or leader (1988-present) in the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (Washington, DC), the (more...)
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