Thursday, May 20, 2010

Who’s right: Arne or Michelle [Alexander]?

Arne Duncan: “I believe education is THE civil rights issue of our generation, the only sure pathway out of poverty, and the only way to achieve a more equal and just society.” (Facebook, Info page on May 20, 2010)

Michelle Alexander: “I believe that the mass incarceration of people of color in the United States is the most pressing racial justice issue of our time. And that it is a tragedy of as great proportions as Jim Crow was in its time.” (Bill Moyers Journal interview, April 2, 2010) [SEE THE CHART BELOW!]

Arne Duncan (b. 1964) earned a bachelors degree in sociology from Harvard then played professional basketball in Australia for four years. He returned to the U.S. where investment manager John Rogers employed Duncan to run Rogers' new non-profit education foundation (Ariel Education Initiative). Duncan eventually also sat on a number of non-profit boards and was also “on a team that later started a new public [charter] elementary school.” John Rogers and Duncan had attended the same private school in Chicago and were longtime basketball buddies. Duncan started working for Chicago Public Schools in 1999 – first as Deputy Chief of Staff for CEO Paul Vallas, then as its CEO. He became U.S. Secretary of Education in 2009. Duncan credits his childhood experience of spending afternoons in his mother's inner-city tutoring program “with shaping his understanding of the challenges of urban education.”

Michelle Alexander (b. 1968 approx.) is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University. Following law school, she clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the United States Supreme Court, and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She was a member of the Stanford Law School faculty, where she served as Director of the Civil Rights Clinic. She joined the Ohio State University faculty in 2005 and now holds a joint appointment with the Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Her recently released book is “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

Which mind has processed the issues more, Arne's or Michelle's? For my money, I’m going with Michelle Alexander, whose message is absolutely chilling, and totally correct. Arne Duncan is an intellectual lightweight who has embraced repetition of the favored mantras of the ed deform crowd.

Consider the following facts:

1. Since 1957, the proportion of the African American population with a high school degree has increased by 300% (18.4% to 79.2%) and the proportion of the African American population with a 4-year college degree increased by almost 500% (2.9% to 17.2%). Data is from the April 2004 Kirwan Institute PowerPoint report “Social/Economic Indicators by Race: Disparity 1954 and Today.”

2. Even with the significant increase in educational attainment mentioned above, African American unemployment has consistently been about twice as high as white unemployment, at least since the 1950s. What gives with that!? [See the chart below]

3. What's worse is that the number of incarcerated African Americans has increased 800% since the 1950s! Despite only small fluctuations in the violent crime rate in the past 35 years, we’ve gone from 300,000 people in jails and prisons in 1972 -- to 2.3 million today, with an additional 5 million on probation and parole. A grossly disproportionate number of the incarcerated have been people of color. Families and communities have been devastated.

4. We are the worldwide incarceration champions. The U.S. is #1 in the number of prisoners per capita at 715 people per 100,000. To put this in perspective, Russia is #2 at 584, Canada is #73 at 116, and Japan is #126 at 54.

So that's what Michelle Alexander is talking about.

What is problematic for the United States of America is not our public schools and school teachers. THE problem is that our national character has some major flaws.

And now that the men are in jail and/or unemployed and families are in continual chaos, and now that neighborhood schools have been utterly neglected for years, are popularly called "failures," and are being 'innovatively disrupted' by the ed deformers, the state is going after the mothers and grandmothers: 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The state of California would hold parents responsible if their children are chronically truant under a bill the state Senate approved Thursday.

The bill would let prosecutors charge parents with misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine if their kids miss too much school. Judges could delay the punishment to parents as an incentive to get their children to class.

It applies only to parents or guardians of children age 6 or older in kindergarten through eighth grade. Prosecutors would have to prove the parents failed to reasonably supervise and encourage the student to attend school...

This tough love idea will be sure to affect low-income African American women disproportionately, but given our compulsion to incarcerate people of color, it makes perfect sense.

These are other things to consider:
  • People in this country chose to disinvest in urban public education long ago.
  • They/we chose to tolerate high and chronic unemployment in urban minority communities.
  • They/we chose to corner inner-city residents into needing to resort to an underground economy.
  • They/we chose to adopt policies that would incarcerate huge numbers of African American men.
  • They/we chose to turn the other way when the tradition of marriages and two-parent families in these communities started heading to extinction.

So any failures of the schools are BECAUSE of the consequences of these other things. Our domestic problems were never caused by the schools, and our schools never be able to fix them.

*If they can lock up the moms for this offense, shouldn't they also be locking up some of the crooks from Goldman Sachs?


When looking at the "Prison Admissions by Race" graph below, please note that the figures indicate in numbers, not percentages. And be aware that the African American population in 1930 was about one tenth (1/10) the size of the White population. In 1997 it was about one sixth (1/6).


Anonymous said...

Who's right: Perimeter Primate.

Anonymous said...

This comment is about your other website, charter school scandals: the front page attribution to Hannah Bell that starts out "Two main ideas inform the charter school movement" should actually be to this guy:

Deregulation and Charter School Swindles

by Gary K. Clabaugh Ed. D.
Professor of Education, La Salle University

There's a link to it at the page you linked on your homepage.