One commenter’s basic idea: Last month, The Atlantic featured “Segregation Now...,” the 10,000-word cover report about Tuscaloosa’s schools.
This month, The Atlantic topped itself. It featured Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 16,000-word cover report, “The Case for Reparations.”
In our general view, Coates’ piece combines superb modern history with a puzzling sense of what is possible in our politics and our national discourse. We may limn the piece in future weeks.
In the meantime, Coates’ piece has produced a lot of discussion. This includes a comment by one reader which struck us as highly instructive concerning the way many people perceive low-income schools.
When David Frum challenged Coates’ piece, a reader named Wendy offered the comment shown below. She seems to answer a basic, very important question:
What makes a good school good?
In our view, this reader’s comment paints a common picture of what is “wrong” with “low-performing,” low-income schools. We’re posting the bulk of the comment:
COMMENT TO FRUM POST (6/3/14): The damage done by red-lining shows itself in neighborhoods. "Reparations" (or reparative spending) could address that.That comment sketches a view which seems to be common, especially on the left. In our view, Nikole Hannah-Jones paints a similar portrait at times in “Segregation Now...”
Put highly-resourced top-notch public schools in the crappiest, poorest, highest crime neighborhoods. Small class sizes, well-equipped science labs, new textbooks and enough computers and an excellent library, honors and AP classes, arts and athletics and breakfast and lunch and field trips and tutoring and robotics and Shakespeare and music production and the kitchen sink. All the things the most expensive/most selective private schools charge top-dollar for.
Guaranteed admission to any kid who lives within 5 blocks and shows willing. The rest of the slots—half go to a good-odds lottery for kids within 10 blocks, the other half to a less-good odds lottery for the rest of the city...
It's not cheap. But it gives those kids what their parents would have been able to give them if their grandparents hadn't been screwed.
Wendy seems to think these things about low-income urban schools:
Low-performing urban schools are basically under-resourced. They don’t offer enough AP courses. Their science labs aren’t well-equipped. Class sizes are too large. The textbooks are old.
The libraries in these schools are no good. They don’t have enough computers. They need more field trips and more Shakespeare—and more money for the various things the best private schools have.
To us, this is a portrait of urban schools straight outta 1965. We think this picture may tend to keep liberals from understanding the nature of our educational challenges.
Don’t get us wrong! Presumably, plenty of low-income schools are under-resourced in some of the ways Wendy mentions. But we aren’t inclined to think that Wendy understands the principal challenges faced by these “low-performing” schools.
In the next few days, we’ll look at the way Hannah-Jones seems to reinforce this portrait at times in “Segregation Now...” We’ll tell you why we think this portrait misses the most basic point.
Today, we’ll offer another post, concerning a recent cable presentation which reinforced Wendy’s picture of urban schools. This presentation was made on Monday night’s Chris Hayes program.
Yesterday, we discussed this Monday night show, but we forgot to mention this particular presentation by one public school parent. On a journalistic basis, we thought Hayes did very poor work in enabling this presentation.
What makes a good school good? We think the most basic part of the answer is fairly obvious. That said, the liberal world seems to be full of people who don’t seem to know what it is.
On Monday, Hayes reinforced Wendy's view of low-income urban schools. On a journalistic basis, we don’t think he should have done so.
Please see our next post.