Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Problem With Blaming Kids.

It's been 45 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; America has made progress on the racial front: the election of our nations first African American president, African Americans reside in corner offices atop corporate America at a ever growing rate, and the appeal of African American culture has helped to further remove the stigma of blackness, but let's not convince ourselves that we've reached the racial Utopian society that Dr. King dreamed of. 
Our public school system is failing another generation of black and brown children. It's obscene to think that there are schools that don't have art, music, and foreign language programs; some inner city schools don't have libraries on their premises. I'm not pointing to these examples as proof of some grand conspiracy; I'm trying to give an accurate account of the plight of these children. These deficiencies put children at a greater risk for failure down the road. After many of these kids struggle through the failing schools, they're ready for a prison system that permanently marks them as second class citizens, limits their future employment opportunities, and leaves them unable to gain access to most public assistance upon release. 
Before I go to far down this hole I want to clarify some facts: of the 2.4 million people in prison, half are incarcerated for non violent drug offenses. In Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow she cites a study that shows 13% of blacks and 13% of whites use illegal drugs, yet African Americans make up 60% of the prison population for non violent drug crimes. To quote Carl Dix, "The Sentencing Project did a study of the racial breakdown of drug arrests; they found that 60% of the people who are arrested for drug possession are white, they tracked these cases through the criminal justice system and found that 75% of the people who ended up in prison were black or Latino, and less than 25% were white." These kids are in near impossible situations and told to make it on their own merit. As a society we champion the kids who survive this gauntlet and vilify the ones who fall into the trappings of life in impoverished neighborhoods.  Until we come to a place in our hearts were we accept the beauty and promise of children born in the "hood" as much as we admire and appreciate the preciousness of children born in the suburbs we will continue to get these kinds of results. I believe it's our moral obligation to do more than chastise the children who fail at navigating the obstacle course that is placed in front of them. I believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be disappointed that we are still suffering from these types of problems 45 years after his death. Just because President Obama occupies the White house doesn't mean Dr. King’s dream has been actualized. I think the true sign of moving closer to achieving his dream will be the day we are closing more prisons than schools. How can we honestly expect these children to perform at the levels of their wealthy counterparts? I know the default reaction is to blame the breakdown  of the black family on the irresponsibility of the parents who bring these children into the world, but that doesn't deal with the problems these kids face. When we embrace austerity measures that hurt those who need help the most we continue this cycle. Obviously, throwing money at this problem isn't the fix, but massive cuts isn't either. We know what kind of results to expect if we continue with the status quo. What has to happen before we make it a priority to rebuild the American education system?