When Schools Play the “Undesirables” Shuffle

Posted: October 23, 2012 in From Student to Teacher
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Douglasville, Georgia sits on the outskirts of Atlanta.  It’s a drive of about 15 minutes to reach the city limits.

Douglasville is a typical American suburb, where life revolves around The Mall, parents trudge to Home Depot early Saturday morning to make sure they outfit their manicured lawns with the proper upgrades to outdo their neighbors.  Lovely little girls clad in shorts so skimpy that their ribs are visible, furiously flatiron their long and highlighted blond tresses.  It’s an American oasis.

Well, a few years ago, the Atlanta Housing Authority decided to shut down some of their housing projects.  So, they subsidized Section 8 housing in Douglasville, resulting in an influx of minorities to cushy Douglasville.

Suddenly, teachers started to sweat and administrators had to scramble.  The schools became infested with transient kids from broken homes.  Mini-mansions throughout the town were vandalized, crime increased.  Racial tensions increased as well.

The “lifers” (a.k.a. teachers working until retirement) grumbled about how things “used to be” before ‘they” came to town and they cursed the Section 8 program to the depths of Hell.  The largest subdivision at the time, called Anneewakee, once a winding area of lovely homes, where blond-haired angels frolicked, became overrun by teenagers with pants that revealed boxers, and white tees that were ten sizes too big.

Well, one can only imagine how the school administrators approached the new “problem” of undesirables entering their idyllic pastures.

Something had to be done.  A new and improved athletic program was great, and the booster club revenue a delight, but these “undesirables” must be controlled.  The reputation of the schools could not be jeopardized.

courtesy of marlonandsyreets.com

Naturally, the course of action was heavy-handed in-school suspensions, out of school suspensions, expulsions, and even arrests.  I recall being called to the office to translate for a parent who didn’t speak English, who was in the office crying because her son, who was in ISS AGAIN, had been arrested.  She could not comprehend why her son had been arrested.  After speaking with the police officer, it turns out he was arrested for gang-related paraphernalia and marking gang-related graffiti on school property.  Apparently, while sequestered in the isolation cubicles of ISS, he was bored and began to doodle on the partition.

Although mom insisted he was not involved in a gang, the school continued with the charge and the boy spent two days in the town jail.  The mother’s terror was palpable, but she wilted in fear because she thought if she went to the courthouse on her son’s behalf she would be deported.

The loss of accreditation for nearby Clayton County Schools led to an additional burden on Douglas County, as families migrated to a school that had a great reputation and accreditation.

Although most white people will deny it, there is a deeply rooted, instinctive distrust and sometimes subtle frustration they feel toward Black people, as well as other minorities.  It’s the reason for exclusivity in country clubs and subdivisions, which America has a longgggggg history of attempting, quite successfully I might add.  It’s why some people say, “Once the Washingtons moved in, folks started packing up and moving out.”

Yes, this is a topic that makes people extremely uncomfortable, but it plays such a huge role in how schools function, how teachers deal with student, etc. that it can’t be ignored.

People who lack color look at those who have color and immediately attach a negative attitude toward them.  So let’s return to the schools…

When  teachers receive their rosters at the start of a semester, or school year, they scan the names of students.  For the non-educators, many class rosters have a column which indicates the race of the student.  My last employer’s rosters noted the race as either “Hispanic” or “not Hispanic,” which I couldn’t understand.  I can recall attending a workshop about bias in education and this SCREAMS bias to me.  Long names with hyphens that ended in vowels immediately made teachers pause, their brows to gather, and they did some quick mathematical calculations to see just how many of those “Latinos” would be in their classes.

Then it was on to the Black folk.  Typically, teachers would put a question mark next to the name of a person who might be Black, but they were not entirely sure.  Then they would quietly and subtly ask previous teachers to see who taught the suspect, and more mental mathematical calculations were made.

And so on and so on…

The truly aggressive teachers, who held on to their Honors and AP classes like a junkie to his crack, reviewed their rosters and did everything they could to discourage and ultimately remove the minorities from those classes, because everyone knows minorities can’t cut it in an advanced class.  They don’t even like to read.  There’s just no way.

In fact, a former colleague of mine, who is a minority, told me that his daughter (who was a talented and brilliant gem), who took Calculus the year before, had been told the reason she was struggling in the class was because of her minority status.  Is it possible that some teachers actually verbalize their ignorance?

When it came to testing, Douglas County had to administer a series of graduation tests in the core subjects.  The writing portion was in the fall, and the other five took place in the spring of the junior year of high school.  When this test was compared nationally, its rigor was at a 7th grade level.  Yet students in Georgia could take it up to five times before the state gave up on them.

Interestingly enough, the level of students expelled from the school, or transferred to other schools increased significantly right before the graduation tests were administered.  Schools played the undesirable shuffle and kids were bounced from school to school, usually landing at the worst school in the district, which consequently had the lowest scores.

So, if we add up all the horror stories, the sad statistics, and the madness, it all comes down to this:

The education system doesn’t believe that minorities (except Asians, of course) have what it takes to compete with their white classmates in this country.  They are economically lacking, socially lacking, and culturally lacking.

Minorities are reminded of this regularly, as the government, both local, state, and federal, offers programs designed to help them.  In Chapel Hill, the superintendent and other brown-nosing lackeys go out to the low-income neighborhoods armed with books for the poor children and they read to them for an hour or two, hoping to inculcate in them the love of reading.  The kids grab the books in their hands and run off with the novelty items for a remarkably short amount of time before tossing them aside in favor of other forms of entertainment.

Skewed budgets, corrupt officials, power-hungry administration, and unfair biases towards minorities has taken the concept of public education providing educational opportunities for all students and shredded it.  I  believe each person is responsible for his or her own success or failure.  However, if a person is consistently treated as undesirable and unworthy and unacceptable into a community, he may eventually perform according to expectations.

I can’t honestly offer a solution.  Bias is inherent to human beings.  The question though, is how can we put aside our innate prejudices towards everyone and still treat each other with respect?

Growing up in New York City, I rarely felt discriminated against.  New York has the reputation it has for a reason.  It’s tough to make it in that city.  You have to be strong, and quick, and ready.  Thus, I felt that it was a city that expected you to prove yourself and people didn’t look at color when they saw you.  If you could make it work, you were in.  The weak didn’t make it very far in NYC.

I have never lived anywhere else where I felt so accepted as I did in New York City.  The framers of the constitution had no idea, or intention, of creating a new country that was so diverse, but it has indeed evolved as such.  When will we evolve with it?

This post was inspired by the StudentsLast blog, as I read this satirical piece this morning:






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