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Racism and Schools (page 4)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

“Will these children ever get what white kids in the suburbs take for granted? I don’t think so,” says the principal. “If you ask me why, I’d have to speak of race and social class. I don’t think that the powers that be in New York City understand, or want to understand, that if they do not give these children a sufficient education to lead healthy, productive lives, we will be their victims later on. We’ll pay the price someday—in violence, in economic costs.” (p. 89)

Several years later he visited a number of schools for his book The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (2005). He describes some schools in New York:

I had also made a number of visits to a high school where a stream of water flowed down the main stairwells on a rainy afternoon and where green fungus molds were growing in the office where the students went to counseling. A large blue barrel was positioned to collect the rain-water coming through the ceiling. In one make-shift elementary school housed in a former skating rink next to a funeral parlor in another nearly all-black-and-Hispanic section of the Bronx, class size rose to 34 and more; four kindergarten classes and a sixth grade class were packed into a single room that had no windows. Airlessness was stifling in many rooms; and recess was impossible because there was no outdoor playground and no indoor gym, so the children had no place to play.... A friend of mine who was a first year teacher in a Harlem high school told me she had 40 students in her class but only 30 chairs, so some of her students had to sit on windowsills or lean against the walls. (p. 41)

Conditions like those described by Kozol and in the California report can be found in urban and low-income schools across the nation. These are examples of systematic, structural racism. Children in some areas are getting a significantly unequal education—and it has continued for at least the last 40 years.

In 2007, the U.S. government spent over $656 billion for the military, plus over $43 billion for spying and covert operations. How is it that we do not have enough money to fix the broken windows, repair the buildings, and hire teachers for our inner-city schools? And who makes this decision in a democracy?

Our country’s history of race relations has been mired in tragedy, including the enslavement of Africans, the murder of Native Americans, and the seizure of one-third of the arable land claimed by Mexico, in addition to all of Puerto Rico and Hawaii, making these people domestic, conquered, subjugated minority groups. We must recognize that, despite decades of resistance and struggle, only limited progress has been made toward ending racial stratification and oppression. Martin Luther King, Jr., a major campaigner for human rights and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, commented on the centrality of the struggle against racism in his famous “Beyond Vietnam” speech: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, then the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered” (1986, p. 629).

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