August 28, 2008

Racial education politics

I just read an article on BBC about Roma/Sinti kids in Czech schools; I felt a strong echo of a lot of the rhetoric and practice surrounding US schools wrt black kids (actually, Latino kids too). While we don't quite make them sign forms admitting to being retarded (!), most of the rest of it could have been here, right down to the quote from the Roma rapper:

"Czech people are racist and xenophobic. But many Gypsies are worse. They don't send their kids to school because they don't want them to be white. It's a big mistake. We can talk about racism. But we live in a democratic country and everyone can make choices."

Here in the US, we have a disgraceful education gap between children of different races, chalked up to a variety of problems from lack of money to lack of parental involvement to lack of accountability. But informal school segregation is alive and, unfortunately, well. A recent lawsuit against Illinois' U-46 district (Elgin) just got upgraded to class action:

The lawsuit, first filed in February 2005, claims U-46 violated the rights of black and Latino students by placing them in older, more crowded schools; forcing them to ride buses longer and more often than their white peers; and providing them with inferior educational opportunities.

I had been aware of the disadvantaged position and the racial discrimination that Roma face in central and eastern Europe, but until I read the BBC article it had never occurred to me just how strong the parallel could be. I can't decide whether to be encouraged, in that this is not a unique problem and maybe we can put our heads together to solve it, or worried that maybe this sort of thing is universal and inevitable.

"Gah, if TPTB want to shut down all airline travel, it'd be way easier to just come out and say it. ALL AIRPORTS CLOSED! Better than this long drawn-out charade where we all have to hate airplanes first." --Eva Sweeney

Posted by blahedo at 10:56am on 28 Aug 2008
In Quincy, Illinois, there is one school district. They don't have the Chicagoland excuse that the funding is based on different tax bases, and yet they still manage to find a way to have crappier schools for neighborhoods rich in ethnic minorities and to try to give many minority students the shaft in the district wide schools as well.

In grade school there, we were taught that racism hurts both sides of the divide. Our teacher told us that the reason that the Junior high school did not have a pool was that the people of the town did not want whites and blacks to swim together and so they changed the design to leave out the pool, so we all missed out today. We were taught to take pride in the town's participation in the underground railroad. Despite that, the system seemed to practice discrimination when I was there.

Elementary schools are in each neighborhood. When I went to a school for half a year that a larger percentage of black students than the percentage of blacks in the town. I was shocked to discover that the library lacked a librarian, when the other Quincy schools I had been to had at least one, and often an assistant. The books were mostly shelved under 'T' for "the". All of the books were old, and the library itself seemed dark and in shambles.

Another difference at this school was that far less was explained to the students, and the schedule seemed almost punitive; we were given 15 minutes to eat lunch as opposed to 30 at other schools. Lunch cost the same as other schools I had been to, but the quality was much poorer. Greenish peanut butter and brown corn.

In Junior High, they had tracks. Smart kids, Rich kids, poor kids, stupid/disabled kids. The tracks were called teams and labeled with letters, but everyone knew what they were for. I don't know who set up the tracking system, but its purpose seemed to be to unlevel the playing field.

Posted by lee at 9:04am on 1 Sep 2008
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