Fifty-five years after Brown vs. Board of Ed
I'm working my last night police shift at The Sun tonight. Despite having done shifts like this at various newspapers for more than a decade, my grandmother still asks every time if I'll be safe. Every time, I can assure her that I will be.
Why? On weekends late at night, we're only looking to report on major crimes, most notably murders. But as long as the killings happen in certain neighborhoods, fitting the city's typical pattern where a 20-something-year-old black male is shot in a high-drug area, we only give them a few sentences. I sit listening to the police scanner and call the public information officer on duty at the police department. Almost invariably, I never have to leave the office. (Now, if mayhem breaks out at the Preakness tonight, I'll have to eat my words, but I'm speaking generally about my experience over time, and the same is true across newspapers.) I feel guilty every time I do it, reduce someone's life to a paragraph or two. And yet, I don't see a way around it. Newsworthiness is determined in large part by rarity, and shootings happen in Baltimore's impoverished, majority-black neighborhoods all the time. Of the 234 homicides in the city last year, 214 of the victims were African-American. Eighty-three percent of them had a criminal record, and 70 percent of them had prior drug arrests.
Wait, isn't this an education blog? Well...
As many of you know, tomorrow is the 55th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision. Fifty-five years later, with some notable exceptions (City Neighbors Charter comes immediately to mind), many of our schools in Baltimore and urban centers around the nation are still separate and unequal. Jonathan Kozol used the word "apartheid" when he came to Baltimore not long ago. This is no longer because of legal segregation, but because of the housing choices that we make -- choices that evolved partly to avoid the Brown mandate. We the middle class are largely able to shield ourselves from "the other Baltimore" if we want to. We can be apathetic to the violence that plagues our cities and the plight of our schools.
What's impressed me most about Dr. Alonso in the nearly two years I've been following him is his complete rejection of this apathy, of any excuse that certain neighborhoods can't have great schools. But what would it take to spread that conviction throughout the system and throughout our society?
We know from organizations such as KIPP that successful segregated schools are possible with a ton of work, but that's far from an ideal solution. We also know that racially and economically integrated schools benefit everyone who attends them, yet we have an aversion to cross-neighborhood busing. I wonder where we'll be in another 55 years. Can charter schools and the school choice movement (or some other force) ever make integrated schools the reality on a large-scale basis?