by David Safier
[Note: I wrote this awhile before New Years and it got lost in the end-of-the-year shuffle, so it may sound a bit dated. But I've been reading a whole lot about the problems with mass incarceration, mandatory sentencing and the school-to-prison pipeline and plan to write more about the topics this year. So consider this an introduction, with more posts to follow.]
I missed this when it happened a few weeks back. In the wake of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, U.S. Ed Sec Arne Duncan went to St. Louis to talk with students about problems related to race, police relations and educational inequality. His takeaway:
“The division between young people and the police is huge,” Duncan said. “The division along race in this community is huge. The division along educational opportunity being based on where you live, your zip code, is huge. The inequities are huge.”
According to Duncan, the students want more interaction with police — positive interaction.
“I just can't overstate how large the appetite is among young people to be part of the solution, to build bridges to the police,” Duncan said. “To have the police see them for who they are, and for the police to see them for who they are. And look beyond skin color, look beyond uniforms, look beyond badges, look beyond stereotypes and get to know each other as humans.”
Nice words. It's good to see Duncan diving into these issues, especially the problems between the youth and police which isn't strictly an education issue. But how would he go about improving the situation? Is the conservative "education reform" movement, much of which he and Obama have embraced, his answer? If so, if supporting charters over school districts, sidling toward an acceptance of vouchers and blaming "bad teachers" and teachers unions for our "failing schools" are the ways he wants to lower educational inequity and improve educational opportunity, he's siding with educational privatizers and profiteers who are more interested in a bigger slice of the education pie than in what's best for our children.
And if he doesn't acknowledge the destructiveness of what's often called the "school to prison pipeline" which brings too many students — especially minority students — into contact with the criminal justice system, if he doesn't see how much damage that does to young people before they even have a chance to try and get their footing as adults, having young people and police make nice to one another will make little difference.
For anyone who wants to look deeper into the issue of school segregation in the St. Louis area, here's a terrific analysis. The schools in the Ferguson area which Michael Brown attended are in one of the poorest, most racially segregated and lowest achieving districts in the entire state of Missouri.