Inspired by my own writing, I’ve been thinking about my last post for a couple days now, and I want to continue that line of thought. First of all, despite my criticisms, I am very proud of the progress my students made. They may not be where they should be, but many of them come such a long way. I’m so critical though because as far as they have come, it’s not nearly enough. The children didn’t create the problems of their communities and schools, but unfortunately it’s up to them to make very mature decisions to break the cycle of poor education and poverty. Although I believe people need to be responsible for themselves, I don’t believe the culture of non-achievement was created by inner-city residents alone. The society outside the city has always played a major role. The problems we fight now are the result of centuries of unequal treatment that persist even until today.
Even though I said the root of the problem is cultural, I think that the more fundamental issue that drives these cultural issues is concentrated poverty. Most of my students, regardless of where they were born, live in areas that are overwhelmingly poor. Behaviors and events that would be extremely exceptional in most communities are commonplace in places like Baltimore, because of concentrated poverty. There’s is pretty obvious connection between poverty, low education, reduced opportunities, crime, and social dysfunction. I believe the real first step to narrowing the achievement gap is to integrate the schools and communities. The problem is, most Americans don’t want their kids exposed to the harsh realities of poverty, so I don’t know if I ever expect aggressive integration to occur. The sad truth is that we all want help poor people, as long as they are “over there”, not actually living in our communities.
So, until people realize that we need a new round of integration, I think the next best strategy is to attack this negative culture that thrives and propagates in poor areas. This is analogous to managing the symptoms of a disease when you can’t cure the root cause. I don’t know if it’s a battle that can be won on a large scale, but it certainly needs to be fought.