Monday, January 15, 2007
KIPP, Segregation, and Sinking Ships
Over at Edspresso, there's a commentary on my piece, "What if KIPP worked?" You can find the commentary here.
The blogger who wrote the piece complains,
So because school choice might harm others in some nebulous way, it should be withdrawn? . . . Is this writer suggesting that said students are faking it, or that their academic achievements are somehow counterfeit?
I've made it clear in my recent posts -- here and here -- that KIPP's "success" is, at best, open to some skepticism. I wish only to foreground the possibility that KIPP is not successful in ways that we might assume they are. It all depends on what we mean by "success."And over at another blog, there is this gem:
It's very hard to shake the feeling that there are some who truly wish for equality... equality of failure. I have used the argument in the past, but I will use it again. These are the sort of people who would let everyone drown on a sinking ship, because they couldn't save everybody. To them it's not about excellence, it's about equivalence. They have already given up on success, and now they just want to drag everyone down to the lowest level.
The sinking ship analogy is a good one. It would seem that this is precicsely what I am supporting, i.e., it's best that everyone on the ship drown rather than saving a few.
But this is, of course, absurd. And argument by analogy is the lowest form of logic.
But I'll offer my own argument by analogy.
Imagine we are in early 20th century America. There are no child labor laws. It is a common sight to see 10-year-olds working in factories for next to nothing. Along comes a reform movement that provides comfortable shoes for the children. They can now stand at their assembly line positions for 8 hours at a stretch and feel considerably less pain. Many people are relieved by this intervention. At last, they say, we have done something to help these poor children.
Providing comfortable shoes doesn't undo the injustice of children working in these conditions. Providing questionable schooling for an infinitesimally small population of poor black and Hispanic children doesn't undo the injustice of segregation.
Why not? Because these schools are not, as some would have us believe, segregated "naturally." Do you think the people want to live together under these conditions? That this is a choice? If segregation just meant that children had different skin color, it might be different. But the segregation of these children creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for most of them. It is a cycle of desperation that gets repeated with astonishing regularity.
We can't make "improving segregated schools" our goal. If we do this, we accept as a fait accompli that segregation is an immutable reality. The Brown decision said it is NOT an immutable reality. We must work to honor the legacy of that decision.
Does this mean that all schools have to be integrated? No. It may very well be that urban schools that are TRULY on the level of their suburban counterparts (as far as educational quality goes) can accept their segregated status. But, as I said in the "What if KIPP Worked?" post, I fear the consequences of this level of acceptance, of this kind of abdication of a vision. We will accept our separation from each other. We will very seldom encounter each other.
Of course, we see each other on television – in movies and in sit-coms and on the news. And, based on my experience of others on television, I know that most Asians are very quiet and work in laundries, that women on crime shows have large breasts and wear short skirts and tend to over-react when under pressure, that young black men are very angry and sing a lot about bitches and hos, that Muslims wear scarves over their heads and carry Kalashnikov machine guns, and that white men are smart and usually in charge.
The only place where people can go and share common space inside non-commercial venues is a public school. (Channel 1 tried to change that, but – fortunately – it recently reported financial problems and looks like it’s going to be gone forever. Good riddance.) In our society today, public schools are the only place where we have a chance to see and talk to people who are not exactly like us, maybe even get to know them a bit. For those of us who have already graduated from public high schools, it’s too late. There is really no other place to go.
Look, I know. It’s not like there was a time when this did happen, back in the good old days when people of different racial, ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds got together and held hands and inter-related. Rich people have always stayed around rich people, whites have pretty much always stuck to whites, blacks to blacks, etc., etc. And, of course, this is the case today. And it was certainly not the case with public schools either, certainly not before Brown v. Board, and certainly not today. A large number of suburban and rural schools are virtually devoid of any kind of diversity, whether economic, racial, ethnic, or religious.
In acknowledging this, we should not conclude that since most public schools are devoid of diversity, we should give up on the vision that diversity entails. Rather, it’s a reminder that we have to fight for what little diversity there is, where people of different backgrounds can share common space. It’s also a reminder that we have our work cut out for us to extend the democratic commons, to find new ways for diversity to be nurtured or, at the very least, to be experienced on a more substantive basis beyond merely passing each other at the food court.
One more problem with the sinking ship analogy. Nothing can be done to save a sinking ship. The only thing that can be done is to try and save as many people as possible from drowning.
Social justice is not a sinking ship. There is a lot we can do to bring it about. To call it a sinking ship is more than just inaccurate. It is immoral. It means we are abdicating. It means we are giving up.
Saving a handful of kids is to accept this inaccurate and immoral analogy. Saving a handful is to give up.