Racism & Classism & Bussing

John Lamb over at Hispanic Nashville has a post today that brought me up short. He quotes an article from the Tennessean that says

Districtwide, African-American students make up 48 percent of the student enrollment, white students 34 percent and Hispanic students 14 percent of the district’s 74,600 students.

For comparision, according to the Feds, 64.4% of Nashvillians are white, 28.6% are black, and 7.3% are Hispanic of any race.

I have a lot of thoughts on this, and I don’t think it’s a problem that’s easily resolved. I do believe that, at the least, if your kid is in a shitty public school (or just a school that sucks for him), you should be able to yank him out and send him to another public school.

On the other hand, as long as I’ve lived in Nashville, I still can’t always tell when a person tells me about a “bad” neighborhood, if they mean a neighborhood where there is a lot of crime or a neighborhood that is predominately black and/or poor. So, it’s hard, from the outside to always know if a school is bad because it really is bad or if it’s bad because it’s predominately black and we, for a lot of reasons, associate predominately black schools with bad schools.

On the third hand, it seems ridiculous to me to bus students out of their neighborhoods to school if there are schools in their neighborhoods. If I had a teenager, living where I live and working where I work, it’d be easy enough for me to get to Overton or the high school on Hillsboro whose name escapes me right now, but incredibly difficult for me to get to other schools.

And I have a flexible job and a car. How are parents without those things supposed to be a part of their kids’ school life if their kids go to school across town?

On the fourth hand, I’m all for using bussing as a way to ensure that all schools get funded equally well. Public schools in poor communities in our district should not be at a disadvantage just because the communities they sit in are poor. Bussing kids all over town does tend to make it seem reasonable to spread money to schools all over town.

On the fifth hand, I get that bussing is a necessary tool to combat segregation and increase diversity, but look, our schools are already resegregated because white people have pulled out of the Metro public school system, either by sending their kids to private schools or moving to surrounding counties where the minority populations aren’t as big.

On the sixth hand, then, you have to ask, if the money in our community sits in the pockets of people who are white and, if we want our community to fund AND closely monitor our public school system (which is key. We need to throw money at public education, but we can’t just throw money at education. We need to demand accountibility and improvement and get rid of folks who can’t bring it.), wouldn’t it be pragmatic to return to neighborhood schools, let the public schools in predomiately white neighborhoods become predominately white and thus engage the folks with the money in the well-being of Metro schools?

It’s both incredibly difficult and very simple.

The very simple answer is that, if Metro’s school system were uniformly great, this wouldn’t be a problem. The population of the public schools would closely mirror the population of Nashville and, like Nashville itself–which has a handful of neighborhoods which are predominately one race or ethnicity–we’d end up with a handful of schools which were overwhelmingly one race or ethncity, but we’d also end up with a lot of schools with a lot of diversity.

The difficulty is that the schools are not all uniformly great and it’s hard to ask parents and students to continue to give them time to get that way. A city might have a five-year plan (say) for improving schools. But five years gets most kids from junior high to graduation. If their educational opportunities don’t improve more quickly than that, that individual kid’s educational opportunities, for all practical purposes, have not improved.

Plus it means that we white people have to decide that sending our kids to schools in which they are not a clear and overwhelming majority is a part of the educational process. That’s difficult enough, but nearly impossible if we’re asking people who can afford to give their children great educations to settle for giving them mediocre ones.

I don’t know. Clearly, I have no answers. I’m not even sure I have the problems fully fleshed out.

But it really sticks with me that, by and large, Metro is educating poor people’s children and all this talk about the importance of racial diversity does nothing to address the issue of rich flight (which, because this is America, is pretty synonymous with white flight).

Edited to Add:  I just read this and am completely grossed out beyond words. I feel like I should warn you that, if you are a person with disabilities or a parent or just a human being in general, this is a tough article to get through.