Why do we do what we do here at the DSW blog?
Because in DeKalb county, we all pay a lot of money in taxes that are specifically earmarked to educate nearly 100,000 children in our county and too much of that money is being wasted, squandered and/or spent on legal fees to defend the bad decisions made by a majority vote of our current and former administrators and board. Our school leadership has focused for far too long on providing jobs and inflated paychecks to administrators and non-teaching staff, while cutting teachers and their support in the schoolhouse year after year.
This chart posted on Nancy Jester’s blog proves the point:
A virtual freefall in student achievement for many of our students, a net loss of our best and brightest teachers and staff in the schoolhouses and no end to the lawsuits that continue to bleed us dry of tax dollars. It’s been the biggest transfer of wealth–to administrators, to contractors and to attorneys–along with the biggest decline in student achievement(1) in the history of DeKalb County Schools.
And we are shocked that leaders like Gene Walker who claim to ‘see color’* do not see the harm to children of color on this issue or refuse to see the damage they themselves are doing. When we fail to properly educate students, we risk committing them to a life of poverty or prison. We admittedly have no data on this, but you can rest assured that if you checked the IDs of all of the inmates in the five vast buildings holding over 3,500 prisoners in the DeKalb County Jail (another enormous jobs program) you will find a large number of DeKalb County Schools dropouts, most of whom are African-American.
“Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today — perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850,” writes the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik in a must-read piece. “In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system — in prison, on probation, or on parole — than were in slavery then.”
As Gopnik notes, the six million people under “correctional supervision” in America are more than there were in the height of the Gulag system under Stalin. Since 1980, the percentage of Americans behind bars has more than tripled. “No other country even approaches that,” writes Gopnik. “In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education.”
He concludes that “the scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life.”
Gene Walker and other black leaders today often subscribe to the principals of W.E.B Du Bois, who rightly and bravely pushed for full civil rights and increased political representation, which he believed would be brought about by the African-American intellectual elite (the ‘talented tenth’). “In contrast to Booker T. Washington’s call for industrial education topics such as agricultural and mechanical skills, Du Bois felt that black schools should offer a liberal arts curriculum (including the classics, arts, and humanities), because liberal arts were required to develop a leadership elite.”(2) In essence, both men were right, because in truth, African-Americans are no different than anyone else; some will do well in higher education and some will do well in the trades. African-Americans are not a large mass of group-think, they are individuals with unique talents and skills that should be nurtured and developed. When you only focus on the top tenth, you leave quite a lot of people in the lurch. Especially when that privileged tenth does not heed the call to ‘pay it forward’.
Walker and others like him have twisted Du Bois’ mandate, and their actions* have played out not as a way to lift up an entire race, but as a giveaway designed to lift up friends and family. They may well be ensuring some African-Americans a nice paycheck, or a college scholarship, but when they do, they also condemn many others to a dead-end life because they do not address the needs of those not in the coveted ‘top tenth’. This is true, you see, because the American pursuit of wealth and power is not simply about racism – it’s also about classism within races. And the African-American pursuit of wealth and power is no different from anyone else’s pursuit of wealth and power. There are always people at the bottom who will pay the price, and be forced to play the necessary role that allows others to rise to the top, collecting power and an inflated paycheck while blindly standing on the backs of those they’ve trampled.
To Cheryl Atkinson, Gene Walker and the DeKalb Board of Education: Wake UP! Without denying DeKalb’s horrific history of racism in education, you are now the leaders contributing to the demise of so many young people — mostly African-American — when you worry first and foremost about protecting the high paying jobs of the African-American administrators you seek to protect and elevate. Your actions show you to be interested in securing a quality education and pathway to wealth only for selected children — the children of these African-American leaders lucky enough to be deemed the “talented tenth” of DeKalb. You have allowed far too many young people to fall through the very large cracks that have opened in this school system over the last decade. You have been given the power to improve the futures of so many, yet you have let down thousands of young people in your decision to run a top-down, adult-focused school system rather than one that focuses on the students, teachers and classroom needs first and foremost.
As elected public servants charged with educating nearly 100,000 students, the board has a responsibility to demand that ALL children are uniquely prepared for the world of work or college or trade school and given the necessary tools to earn a living, take care of their own families and pursue happiness. ALL children. Not just those that you deem worthy of becoming part of the De Bois 10% for whom you provide specialty/theme/choice programs at a greater cost per pupil than traditional programs**. There is only one pathway to improvement for DeKalb: We must become a child-focused school system balanced in per pupil funding, rather than the adult-focused jobs program we have become.
*Gene Walker’s public statement at an October, 2009 board meeting when fighting to keep the African-American owned Alexander law firm as partial in-house counsel calling the initiative to consolidate services with one large firm discrimination:
“I am a very race-conscious person. I know discrimination. I will not lead you to believe that I am race neutral. I see color. I love color. I do see in black and white, but judge me by my actions.”
** Click here to read download 2009-2010 per pupil funding chart showing the vast discrepancies among schools and programs. (We have never been able to get this data updated by school officials.)
(2) Test scores:
Click here for 2009 CRCT test scores.
Click here for 2011 CRCT test scores.