Educational Equality: The New Civil Rights Challenge

America is still a very segregated country. While people of color must interact with the European descended majority (66%), whites have very little impetus to interact with people of color. Many whites hold very ill-informed ideas about African Americans. One of the most damaging beliefs held by some whites is that blacks do not value education.

Everyone agrees that children are precious, but some children are worth more than others. In Illinois $23,000 is spent each year on wealthy white K-12 students while poor black pupils receive only $6,000 per year. Last month a case against the State of Illinois was brought by the Chicago Urban League to address this despicable deficit.The fight for educational equality did not end with 1954’s Brown v Board of Education decision. Most know about the children and young adults who braved southern racists to attend all white schools, but forget the violent northern riots in Boston when busing was introduced to Boston. As schools became populated with African Americans and Hispanics, whites fled the school system in droves even if they did not move out of urban areas. The conservative view on the decay of public education is articulated by pundit John McWhorter who took discredited psychological data packaged it as gospel truth. In his book, Loosing the Race, he states that blacks have developed and anti-education culture. I wonder what Ms. McWhorter, now fellow at the Manhattan Institute, one of wealthiest conservative think tanks in America, would think about the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The Harlem Children’s Zone is a 97-square-block network of schools, social services and teen outreach programs in New York City. The program is now supporting 9,000 children. The children in this area receive the same type of pre-natal education available to most whites. The first children that have gone through the program are now in 4th grade and test off the charts on standardized tests. Two thirds of the funding comes from private sources and the rest is public funds. Far right Republicans would scoff at spending public money on our children when our culture is “dysfunctional.” The founder of the program, Geoffrey Canada, is a very practical, he states you can pay for education when these children are young or pay even more when they are non-tax paying residents of the prison system. The Harlem Children’s Zone model is being studied and implemented in Liberty City, Florida, San Francisco and Israel. Last week Prince Harry visited the zone with the intention of starting a program in Africa. Candidate Obama promised that he would fund 10 of these programs in urban areas. I deeply hope that one of these programs is in Chicago.

How many scientists, doctors, lawyers, architects, artists, preachers and presidents have we left behind because a large portion of African American children who did not get kind of education afforded to the few at the Harlem Childrens Zone? The idea of lazy, criminal dysfunctional black people would be a thing of a past. Those who uttered those kinds of ideas would be few and far between instead of pulling down phat paychecks like Mr. McWhorter. If President Obama fulfils his campaign promise this future may be closer than we think.


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