Thursday, August 21, 2014

Schools play a big role in the Ferguson story. It's a teachable moment in time.

Fergson teachers would rather be with their students in their classrooms. Instead, they spend the day picking up debris, including tear gas canisters, from local streets. 

SELMA, Alabama -- A sixth grade teacher at a Selma elementary was placed on administrative leave after having students reenact the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown that took place Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. -- 
Ferguson schools remain closed today, 11 days after the killing of a local student and the ensuing protests. Why? It seems that the district leadership has abandoned its students completely to the streets. For many Ferguson students, school is where they get their only hot meal of the day. The Washington Post reports that a teacher in North Carolina has raised more than $80,000 in order to pay for food for kids in shuttered schools.

Ferguson-Florissant is considered a high-poverty school district because many of its students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches — 68% of them last year, though it is likely that the real percentage is higher as some families never filled out the paperwork.

CLASS WARFARE...The police shooting of Michael Brown and the ensuing protest is but one dramatic chapter in a much larger story of the widening black/white, rich/middle-class/poor economic and social divide and conflict.

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writes in this week's TIME Magazine ("The Coming Race Ware Won't Be About Race") that Ferguson is not JUST about systemic racism, but about "class warfare" as well  and how America's poor are systematically held back.  But if there's class warfare in the United States, it's mainly one-sided. Brown's death changed all that in Ferguson.

Kareem cites a 2012 Pew Research Center report showing just half of U.S. households are middle-income, a drop of 11 percent since the 1970s; median middle-class income has dropped by 5 percent in the last ten years, total wealth is down 28 percent. Fewer people (just 23 percent) think they will have enough money to retire. Most damning of all: fewer Americans than ever believe in the American Dream mantra that hard work will get them ahead.

He might well have mentioned the schools in his portrait of growing economic inequality and accompanying racism. A look at Ferguson's two-tier school system would easily make the case. Michael Brown's own high school, for example, along with the district in which it resides, was stripped of its accreditation last year by the state, which then allowed students to transfer elsewhere with tuition and transfer fees paid by the unaccredited district, thus draining it of millions of dollars.

Compare this to Rahm Emanuel's closing of 50 schools, mainly in Chicago's black community. The only difference is that Fergusion's public schools system is suffering death by a thousand cuts rather than one.

EdWeek reports that black students in Ferguson schools are being suspended at much higher rates than white students and they are more likely to be stopped and arrested by white police officers outside of school. EdWeek also points out that these racial disparities in arrests and suspensions don't belong to Ferguson alone, but are repeated nationwide.

Art McCoy
There was some hope for Ferguson schools with the hiring of Ferguson-Florissant School District's first African-American school superintendent, Art McCoy. But the city's all-white elected school board (3/4 of district students are black) found itself at odds with McCoy's approach and soon forced him out. Students, parents and school activists have rallied around McCoy, demanding that the board to bring the superintendent back and even calling on them to resign.

McCoy tells Democracy Now:
As a school official and superintendent, part of my goal was to bring equity to the region by making sure that there was an adequate representation of principals and of teachers that matched the students that we served, and we made some strides in that area. The other initiative was to bring jobs. We were proud and I was proud to be a recipient of Harvard’s Pathway to Prosperity grant, one of three districts in the state to do so, to bring job-training skills, of advanced manufacturing and other skills, so that students can earn the skills, as well as receive jobs while they’re still juniors and seniors.  
More McCoy:
But I think riot is the language of the unheard, and protest is the speech act of a democracy that says, "You are a public servant and here to serve me, too." And I don’t blame those for voicing their opinion, but I do think we need people that are on the ground that represent all people, and not just by words, but by action, by deed, by creed, by ethnicity and intent. And so, I think that’s important.
ACROSS THE RIVER in Edwardsville, IL, teachers have been officially barred from talking to their students about the events in Ferguson. It's not a teachable moment, according to Dist. 7 Supt. Ed Hightower, who signed the memo banning any mention of Michael Brown's death or the ensuing protest. If students bring it up, ordered Hightower, "change the subject."
“Such comments have caused students and parents to lash out which is not healthy in the District 7 community,” says a memo to staff on Tuesday from Dennis Cramsey, principal at Edwardsville High School.
Teaching is not heathy. We get it.

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