At The Nation via MSN there is a jeremiad by Jonathan Kozol about the schools in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Here’s a snippet:
There is an elementary school in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood that bears the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s an old and tired-looking structure, built in 1937 and originally named for a former school official. In 1965, Dr. King stood on the front steps of the building and spoke through a megaphone to a crowd of parents and religious figures who were leading the charge in the integration struggle. Three years later, after his assassination in April 1968, the school was renamed in his honor.
But ironies abound. In a building that held about 500 students, as the principal told me when I visited the school in 2019, “I think I may have 12 white children.” In academic terms, the school was rated in the bottom 10 percent among public elementary and secondary schools in Massachusetts.
The building had long been in a state of disrepair. There was an ugly water hole in the ceiling of the first of several classrooms that I visited and peeling paint in the gloomy metal stairways. I sat in on an eighth-grade science class (the school included seventh and eighth grades at the time), which took place in an ancient-looking lab that had no lab equipment on the tables. It was a long and narrow room in which the rows of science tables took up so much space that the students in a back row, beside whom I was sitting, could barely hear the teacher and couldn’t see what he was writing on the whiteboard. One of the students, a tall Black girl who was toying with her cell phone, turned to me with a friendly but sardonic smile. She shrugged her shoulders, with her hands spread out, as if to say, “This is what we’re used to.”
For the life of me I can’t quite tell what he’s complaining about. Is it racism? Is it the poor upkeep of Boston schools?
The author implies without actually stating it that the federal government should take action:
In a column for The Washington Post in 2018, the journalist Rachel Cohen noted that public schools in the United States were, on average, 45 years old—and in former industrial cities, usually much older. “The last time Congress debated school infrastructure spending was in 2009,” Cohen wrote, when school construction funds were initially included in President Obama’s “stimulus deal.” But the line item was subtracted from the deal when the president found himself unable to win even minimal Republican support. Over a decade later, the infrastructure bill passed by Congress in November 2021 still did not include funding for schools. And President Biden’s ill-fated Build Back Better bill, although it did originally include funding to build new schools and modernize old ones, was taken off the table when congressional conservatives rejected it. By the fall of 2022, the average age of a public school had risen to nearly 50 years.
The piece concludes with a plaint over shaming students for the condition of the schools:
Shaming or otherwise penalizing children for the damage we have done to them is, sad to say, not a new phenomenon. During the civil rights campaigns in Boston in the late 1960s, one of my mentors, the psychologist William Ryan, coined the term “blaming the victim” to describe the way that people of color were held to account for their social disadvantages and suffering. He later used the phrase as the title of the enduringly important book he published in 1971. Putting a child in a shaming zone in order to control the behavioral consequences of the toxic setting in which we’ve placed that child is a telling example of blaming the victim for the sins of our society.
When state and city leaders tell parents in poor neighborhoods that they empathize with their concerns about the presence of lead and other toxins as well as other dangers in their children’s schools, but say they cannot act on those concerns for now, they typically claim that their hands are tied because of fiscal shortages. And sometimes, this is obviously true. When the local economy goes into a sudden steep decline, cities are forced to put off renovations for a period of time and also cut back on routine funding for their schools. When the economy recovers, parents are told, the needed funds will be restored.
Here in Chicago lead paint and asbestos are issues that have been remedied for at least the last ten years. As new issues are discovered they are addressed quickly. The State of Illinois mandates it.
Mr. Kozol never quite makes an argument that the schools of Boston or Philadelphia are a federal responsibility. He seems to assume it. I would contend rather that the states of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have been remiss and should take action.
What appears to be the case is that the Democratic mayors of Boston (Democrats for the last century), Philadelphia (Democrats since 1952), and Washington, DC (Democrats since home rule began in 1975 have had priorities other than the schools which took precedence. My conclusion is that they need better Democrats.