Race, Charter Schools and JP Morgan

In the same week we learned that JP Morgan lost $2 billion through risky trades, the New York Times published a story about a charter school called Explore Charter School in Brooklyn, New York, where the vast majority of the students are African American, the majority of the teachers are white and almost all of the children come from families living in poverty.

These two stories highlight two sides of what I believe to be one of the most destructive aspects of our modern culture – namely, the growth of income inequality. The fact that there is even any discussion about whether or not to require more regulation of the banking industry is unfathomable. It is clear that, while banks are capable of doing great things to support people in achieving their dreams, something is broken in this system.

As bankers make millions while taking huge risks with our money, income inequality continues to rise. There are so many implications for this complex problem. But what this means for the education of future generations is highly concerning. The way that schools are financed in our country appears to set some children up to fall behind from the start.

One response to the need to improve education has been the establishment of charter schools. No one can argue with the results of many of the charter schools in this country, but charter schools seem to be a band-aid approach, rather than a meaningful fix to the significant problems facing our public schools, which are primarily financed by income taxes.

Wouldn’t it be better to make investments in our public schools, to enable all children to have access to a high quality, affordable education that could set them up for success?

The article in the New York Times examined the pros and cons for children of being educated in a school with mostly black students. Some of the parents expressed belief that this is a strength of the program, and talked about their focus on the quality of the education alone. Other parents expressed concern about the low number of black teachers at the school and about whether this environment sets kids up with an unrealistic expectation of what they will face after school. I have heard similar debates about the benefits of all-girls or all-boys schools. But race is a much more complex issue in our country.

I am always struck when I hear kids talk about race – the responses seem to come from a much more innocent place than when you hear adults, who have been steeped in the complexities of this issue for so long talk about the same issue. It is refreshing to hear children say that discussions would be more interesting if you had more people from different backgrounds in the classroom. This is such a true, honest statement that is so clear – but adults, in many workplaces and in general society seem to forget this simple fact.

Racism is such a raw subject in our culture, surrounded by strong emotions, ranging from anger, to sadness, to guilt. What concerns me most is the general fear to talk about the issue. How do we move beyond something that people are afraid to talk about and that some even fail to acknowledge exists?

The Trayvon Martin case is one in a long line of incidents that have brought this issue squarely back into the public eye. While I cannot say with certainty whether Trayvon was murdered solely because he was black, this tragedy brought up a lot of emotions. Had the justice system responded as it should, by arresting George Zimmerman and letting the case work itself out through the courts, the outcry may have been significantly reduced, but that is not what transpired. The reaction from around the country was electric.

I was glad to see people finally talking about race and the criminal justice system. It became clear that most people, of all races, want to believe in a criminal justice system that is not racially biased and that most people will not accept a system that is perceived to be corrupt.

The President’s statement in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples this week was historic, courageous and widely applauded by people around the country. There are still some who disagree with the President’s position, as evidenced by the disappointing vote in North Carolina this week, but the country seems to be slowly moving forward on this issue.

I like to believe that my generation is more willing to examine the assumptions and biases of my grandparents and that my kids and grandkids will point out my blind spots – be they related to race or sexual orientation – or even to political party. We must stop being afraid to talk about the complex issues that make true progress in our country so difficult.

What do you think? Why can’t we see people as people, with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences that make each person unique, but still as people, just like ourselves? Why can’t we acknowledge that these conversations might be uncomfortable, but that we can’t move forward without them? Why does it feel so vulnerable to share our thoughts and beliefs on these core issues? Do you think that the next generation will be more willing to confront these issues? Do you think that some of these issues will lose their sting naturally with time? Or do you think that the biases and prejudices of prior generations will cloud their childrens’ judgment and make progress slower? How do you feel about all-girls schools or schools with kids of all the same race? Why do schools with all white kids rarely ask why there aren’t more kids of color in their classes?

Sorry this post was so long. It is a complex issue and I guess I have a lot of thoughts about it! I hope you do too. Thanks for reading!

3 Comments

Filed under Education, equality, Income inequality, Parenting, Poverty, Stereotypes, Women, Youth Leadership

3 responses to “Race, Charter Schools and JP Morgan

  1. I think that we, in the US at least, have a tendency to sweep this issue under the rug. Talking about race makes many of us feel uncomfortable, and the emphasis on political correctness can sometimes keep this issue from being discussed, because we’re afraid of saying the “wrong thing” but we don’t know what the “proper” way to say something is. I think many of us may have the like to think that race is no longer an issue because of the relative success of the civil rights movement. People growing up in an area where there are few people of different races is worrisome, too, because I think this might lead to a tendency to think that there are no problems, simply because they aren’t as visible.

    • I completely agree. And in some ways, the racism is more insidious now because it is more hidden and less overt. But anyone who says racism does not exist anymore is fooling themselves. I just think that this should be discussed more. We will never get past the fear of saying the wrong thing if we say nothing. Thanks for your comment! BTW, I enjoyed your post today too. What an important issue!

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