Racism, White Privilege, Charter Schools, Equity, Economic Inequality: Is There a Pathway Out of Generational Poverty?

After centuries of brutal race-based slavery, a civil war, 600,000 fatalities the ‘13th Amendment ended slavery (“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, … shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”), the 14th Amendment granted equal rights to all Americans (“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, … are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. … nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”) .and 15th Amendment gave former slaves the right to vote (“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”).

Sadly, with the abandonment of Reconstruction, the imposition of Jim Crow laws and Supreme Court decisions the rights and freedoms that were guaranteed by the new amendments to the constitution were stripped away, peonage replaced slavery.

Incredibly a hundred years passed before the nation began to implement the dreams of the civil war constitutional amendments.

The Lyndon Johnson “Great Society” War On Poverty included a Voting Rights Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Social Security Acts, which created Medicare and Medicaid, the Food Stamp Act and the Public Accommodation Act; the nation was righting wrongs that had sidetracked the constitutional amendments passed a century earlier.

The Great Society, in spite of high expectations, failed to end poverty, and failed to end centuries of racism.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in his 1965 The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, commonly called the Moynihan Report acknowledged the impact of racism; however, points to the black family structure,

The Moynihan Report generated considerable controversy and has had long-lasting and important influence. Writing to Lyndon Johnson, Moynihan argued that without access to jobs and the means to contribute meaningful support to a family, black men would become systematically alienated from their roles as husbands and fathers, which would cause rates of divorce, child abandonment and out-of-wedlock births to skyrocket in the black community (a trend that had already begun by the mid-1960s), leading to vast increases in the numbers of households headed by females and the higher rates of poverty, lower educational outcomes, and inflated rates of child abuse that are allegedly associated with these factors

 Moynihan was excoriated by many, especially in the progressive and Afro-American communities and praised by those on the right.

William Julius Wilson, the Afro-American sociologist, in the Declining Significance of Race  ,(1978) argued that economic factors drove the failure of Afro-Americans to break away from the cycle of poverty.

… the original argument, as outlined in The Declining Significance of Race, was not that race is no longer significant or that racial barriers between blacks and whites have been eliminated. Rather, in comparing the contemporary situation of African Americans to their situation in the past, the diverging experiences of blacks along class lines indicate that race is no longer the primary determinant of life chances for blacks (in the way it had been historically).

Moynihan and Wilson were rejected by a new generation of scholars who saw racism, often times masked by implicit bias and white privilege; and, the new research collectively is referred to as Critical Race Theory,

CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color. CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy. Legal discourse says that the law is neutral and colorblind, however, CRT challenges this legal “truth” by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a vehicle for self-interest, power, and privilege.  CRT also recognizes that liberalism and meritocracy are often stories heard from those with wealth, power, and privilege. These stories paint a false picture of meritocracy; everyone who works hard can attain wealth, power, and privilege while ignoring the systemic inequalities that institutional racism provides.

 The current deBlasio/Carranza equity for all agenda is heavily influenced by Critical Race Theory as well as the state adoption of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,

The most impactful changes in education and anti-poverty initiatives came from the richest Americans, Bill Gates, the Waltons, Eli Broad, and others who backed up their ideas with many millions and political clout. Nick Hanuaer, in the July, Atlantic penned an amazing article,

 I was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America …

For Hanauer the answers were simple,

 I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored …

Hanuer had an apotheosis,

To be clear: We should do everything we can to improve our public schools. But our education system can’t compensate for the ways our economic system is failing Americans. Even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned school-reform program can’t improve educational outcomes if it ignores the single greatest driver of student achievement: household income …

 All of which suggests that income inequality has exploded not because of our country’s educational failings but despite its educational progress. Make no mistake: Education is an unalloyed good. We should advocate for more of it, so long as it’s of high quality. But the longer we pretend that education is the answer to economic inequality, the harder it will be to escape our new Gilded Age …

In fact, the most direct way to address rising economic inequality is to simply pay ordinary workers more, …  by restoring bargaining power for labor; and by instating higher taxes—much higher taxes—on rich people like me and on our estates.

We have confused a symptom—educational inequality—with the underlying disease: economic inequality. Schooling may boost the prospects of individual workers, but it doesn’t change the core problem, which is that the bottom 90 percent is divvying up a shrinking share of the national wealth. Fixing that problem will require wealthy people to not merely give more, but take less.

The democratic candidates, especially Elizabeth Warren point to economic inequality as a root cause of generational poverty and the remainder of the candidates, to one degree or another, agree.

Booker and O’Rourke have charter school roots, Bernie criticized charters and Biden has always been close to teacher unions.

Some of us hoped that with the election of Obama we were entering a post racial era, as the election of Trump has shown us we are far, far away from a post racial world.

Anti-poverty programs had high expectations, unfulfilled expectations.

The gap between the 1% and the 99% has widened and continues to widen.

There are no magic bullets, charter schools, vouchers: the agenda of super rich, attacking public schools and treating schools as competitive units in a capitalistic world is a failure.

Critical Race Theory is hotly debated in academia, and, in the laboratory of the New York City school system is greeted with suspicion.

Pockets of generational poverty in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and New York City persist over generations.

I was talking with teachers in a high poverty school plagued by generations of poverty.

One of the teachers opined, “We love our kids,” another laughed and added, “Well, most of them.”

“Kids come late, are absent, parents seem unconcerned, use kids to baby-sit other kids, to do the laundry, allow them to stay home and watch TV all day and the parents bicker among themselves.”

“They don’t trust ‘the system,’ they’re been living off some type of social service for a lifetime; for far too many kids dysfunction is the standard,”

“We need social workers, guidance counselors, a nurse, a health clinic, job training, we have none of it.”

“The rules are different, if a kids hits you, hit them back, the rules of the street, we’re part of the community and try and teach the kids another set of rules.”

“This is where I belong, kids do ‘get out,’ we promise them a better life; we can’t promise them a job,”

Examples of white privilege? Implicit bias? All the teachers were Afro-American.

Teachers save lives, teachers are heroes and teachers cannot thwart centuries of racism: at the end of the pathway kids need jobs and schools alone cannot substitute for economic deprivation.

Listen to Rhiannon Giddens


One response to “Racism, White Privilege, Charter Schools, Equity, Economic Inequality: Is There a Pathway Out of Generational Poverty?

  1. Carole Landau Silverstein

    The year you met Joan was when we were both elected BRONX DR’s. My first convention was at Wash DC. Joan and I hung out together. We even roomed together until u got married. I remember when Bernie and I helped you move to the Hamptons. Your Mother in law babysat for my kids and Drew at every convention. Eleanor lived with you so Drew could attend the local Public School. She was devoted to him. Ironically after Joan passed from Cancer she had moved into my neighborhood.i saw her several times before and after! She was known by all in her apt building. We had good times. Remember when Joan ordered shirts for our basketball team. Vito was the head!


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