They're just as likely to take flight as whitey is.
In his cover story this week,
Scene’s Jeff Woods makes a rather damning argument against Nashville’s return to neighborhood school zoning – or as opponents like to call it, the resegregation plan. Writes Woods:
“Forty years of studies, beginning with the famous Coleman Report in 1966, have shown that sending a lot of poor kids to school in the same place is a really bad idea. It's a central issue in education—how to teach poor urban children—and in all the research there's no more consistent conclusion than this: In schools where poverty is concentrated, students learn less. All the problems these children face—poor health, hunger, drugs, gangs and violence, and a culture that scorns education—it's all just too overwhelming for schools.”
But that’s exactly what our district is planning to do.
School board members have yet to come up with a sound rationale. Their financial explanation – we’ll save money on busing, but we’ll kick an extra $6 mil a year to black schools, even though we don’t actually have that loot – comes straight from the Enron accounting department. And they don’t seem to have an academic argument for the plan.
In a way, the emptiness of their rhetoric is striking. Perhaps because their real thoughts can’t be spoken out loud.
After all, Woods is right: For 40 years we’ve been trying to integrate poor kids into middle-income class rooms. And for 40 years it’s been killing urban school districts.
It’s not a topic for polite conversation, especially when the race card gets tossed about. But there’s a very simple reason why this hasn’t worked: It wholly defies human nature.
Ask any mom or dad what they want from life, and they’ll inevitably arrive at the same words: Safe, good neighborhoods to raise their families. So they bust their ass to provide, making that inch-by-inch grind up the economic ladder. This is the prize for a lifetime of work.
But then the government comes along, tells them their kids will be used for a little social engineering. Suddenly that nice, safe place they achieved will be integrated with kids from that crumbling, unsafe place they were trying to escape. And the new kids, weirdly enough, occasionally bring their not-nice, unsafe ways with them.
More often than not, those hardworking parents aren’t inclined to respond by saying, “Jeepers, sign my kid up for social engineering!” No, the wealthy and religious flee to private schools. The rest with the grip to climb move someplace else.
At this point in the argument, we must hear from the gallery. “These people are racist!” they will say. That’s the timeless rejoinder, and surely it contains a nugget of truth. But the other truth is that such flights defy race.
Larger cities with more substantial black populations have already seen the future, and it goes like this: As the school district declines, the middle class bails. Not just whitey, mind you. Go to pretty much any city, and you’ll see a proportional bolt among the black middle class. The quest to better one’s family state is age old, and it’s never been based on pigmentation.
This trend has already made itself clear in Nashville. Writes Woods: “Alarmingly, the percentage of children poor enough to qualify for subsidized lunches has jumped from 47 percent seven years ago to 71 percent today.”
Which leaves the school board with more pressing problems than the usual race talk. It must decide what it can do to keep the middle class. Because if it stays on its current path, the entire district will be one big concentration of poverty, and all talk of race will be moot.