Monday, March 21, 2016

This American Life: The Problem We All Live With by: Ira Glass & Separate and Unequal by: Bob Herbert

      Brown vs. Board of Education united five separate cases, each from a different state, concerning the issue of segregation in public schools. On December 8, 1953 the following court cases were heard
The Brown Family
at the Supreme Court level: Brown vs. Board of Education Topeka (Kansas), Briggs vs. Elliot (South Carolina), Davis vs. Board of Education of Prince Edward County (Virginia), Boiling vs. Sharpe (Washington D.C), and Gebhart vs. Ethel (Delaware) (, 1) (, 1). The Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren, looked into the constitutionality of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and investigated if black and white schools were “substantially” equal to one another by reviewing psychological studies (, 1). On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court ruled on the court case Brown vs. Board of Education in Brown’s favor. Chief Justice Warren delivered the court’s opinion, stating “we conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal…” (, 1). The Supreme Court found the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to imply that “no state has the right to deny anyone within jurisdiction equal protection of the law” (, 1). The Supreme Court also found that African American girls in segregated schools had low racial self-esteem, causing the court to conclude that separating children based on race creates dangerous inferiority complexes that may adversely affect African American children’s ability to learn

(, 1). About a year later, May 31, 1955, The Supreme Court ruled in a case referred to as Brown II to have states integrate their schools “with all deliberate speed” (, 1). 

        After reading along with the public radio recording of This American Life: The Problem We All Live With narrated by Ira Glass and following it up with Bob Herbert's article, entitled Separate and Unequal, I was utterly shocked, disgusted, and somewhat embarrassed to find out that the issue of "separate but equal" still remained an issue in many areas across our nation approximately 61 years later after our Supreme Court concluded it to be "unconstitutional." Once I finished reading, I immediately connected many points from both articles to previous authors Johnson and Kristof. Johnson's concept of "say the words" appeared multiple times in both readings, along with Kristof's idea that "America is considered to be the land of opportunity for only certain individuals."

        Johnson begins his piece, Privilege, Power, and Difference, by arguing that the American people do not seem to have a universal perception that ‘we’ as a human race are both individually and collectively paralyzed or stuck in a way that continues the trouble and human consequences we are all in. In order for America to so call “dig themselves out” of this trouble, he states that “ you can’t deal with a problem if you don’t name it; once you name it, you can think, talk, and write about it. You can make sense of it by seeing how it is connected to things that explain it and point towards solutions.” In other words, Americans must say the words rather than what Johnson describes as, “discredit the words or twist their meaning or turn them into a phobia or make them invisible.” Ira Glass from This American Life: The Problem We All Live With first interviews Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter for The New York Times who uncovered the behind-the-scenes information around America’s educational system. Hannah-Jones would travel from school district to school district and report on how these districts were trying to improve the so called “bad schools.” What she discovered was that these schools always had the same ideas; ideas that they thought would work. Hannah-Jones realized that she needed to look more into this issue questing “all these different ways that we say [are] going to address this issue aren’t working, so what actually works? I find that there’s one thing that really worked, that cut the achievement gap between black and white students by half.” This one concept that Hannah-Jones found to really work was integration, but yet many people do not think to look to this concept as a way to improve our schools. Hannah-Jones commented on this by stating that “ I think I am so obsessed with this because we have this thing that we know works, that the data shows works, that we know is best for our kids, and we will not talk about it. And it’s not even on the table.” During the second half of This American Life: The Problem We All Live With, Glass introduces the Obama Administration’s education reformation program called Race to the Top. Hannah-Jones and another investigative reporter Chana Joffe-Walt discover from interviewing John Brittain, a civil rights lawyer who changed education in the state of Connecticut, that the Race to the Top federal register does not include anything on school diversity. When the two reporters sat down with Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, and asked why school diversity was not included in the programs federal register, he stated that “I think it would have been very difficult to get that through Congress at that point. Congress had to approve this. And there were other tools to try and get at this.” Hannah-Jones quoted a part of Duncan’s response to this question as stating “he said that they didn’t include it because it’s too toxic.” This then brings me to introduce Herbert’s article, Separate and Unequal, whom I felt summarized these two Johnson examples and Johnson’s argument perfectly by stating that “What [he] thinks is a shame is that we have to do all this humiliating dancing around the perennially uncomfortable issue of race. We pretend that no one’s a racist anymore, but it’s easier to talk about pornography in polite company than racial integration.”

        Kristof’s ideas in his piece entitled, U.S.A., Land of Limitations?, was the second connection I could make. Kristof opens his article by making the argument that many people like to brag of America being the “land of opportunity,” but according to Kristof this description of America is only true for certain people. Kristof quotes Alan Krueger to support his argument by stating “the chance of a person who was born to a family in the bottom 10% of the income distribution rising to the top 10% as an adult is about the same as the chance that a dad who is 5 feet 6 inches tall having a son who grows up to be over 6 feet 1 inch tall.” After the death of Michael Brown in 2014, investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones was impacted by the statement Brown’s mother, Lesley Mcspadden, made to news reporters right after being informed about her son’s death. Mcspadden stated in front of the T.V. cameras “You took my son away from me. Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many!” This then
prompted Hannah-Jones to look into Brown’s school district, Normandy School district that borders on Ferguson in the state of Missouri. Hannah-Jones discovered from the report of Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that Normandy High School received 10 out of a possible 140 total points when measuring academic achievement, number of students who graduate, and college preparation. Meanwhile, in the school district of Francis Howell (approximately 30 miles away from Normandy) they received a whopping total of 135.5 points out of 140. How is it possible for students in the Normandy School District to achieve acceptance into a quality college and graduate with the hopes of becoming a doctor, nurse, lawyer, teacher, CEO, etc. when children 30 miles over have an increasingly higher opportunity of making these dreams a reality? On the flip side of this problem, some states (such as Connecticut) have been trying to eliminate poorly performing schools by creating “magnet schools” that each specialize on a certain focus, such as astronomy or environmental science. Along with these magnet schools comes the job of Enid Rey, a Connecticut magnet school publicist, to “flip a long American tradition of one way integration” by enticing white students to attend the Greater Hartford CREC Magnet Schools. Enid Rey states that she faces the problem almost every day, even when grocery shopping, of angry Hartford residential families trying to “win” a seat for their children in these magnet schools, which is very hard to do. Rey states that “some of our suburban families come because they get free preschool. I mean, think about it. They could afford to pay. But if you get a magnet seat, you are going to get free preschool. And I think a factor that is also in the back of there is, if it doesn’t work I’ll just go back to my neighbor school. Right? If this whole thing just doesn’t work out for my child, or I don’t feel comfortable, I always have another option right? And they can experiment quite frankly. Not so much the case for Hartford resident families. This is it. This is their shot at quality.” Kristof concludes his article with the quote “more children in America live in poverty now than at the start of the financial crisis in 2008. They grow up not in a ‘land of opportunity,’ but in the kind of socially rigid hierarchies that our ancestors fled, the kind of society in which your outcome is largely determined by your beginning.” If students in poverty stricken communities across our country are not susceptible to the so called “equal” education we are claiming to provide, how are they going to grow up an out way the chances (according to Krueger) that “an N.B.A center is [born] to two short parents” if the opportunities do not exist.

-Questions/Comments/Points to Share:

      I began my post with a paragraph from a primary source analysis paper I had written on Brown vs. Board of Education last semester for my Political Science class and I would also like to share the conclusion I wrote for the paper as well, since the issue of “separate but equal” and concept of “integration” wreaks havoc on the education system in our state of Rhode Island:

       According to a recent article in the Providence Sunday Journal entitled Separate and Unequal, “Rhode Island public schools are among the most segregated in the country resulting in one fifth of the public schools to be more than ninety percent white, while fourteen percent of the public schools are more than ninety percent students of color” (Borg, Anderson, Parker, 1). Segregation continues to persist throughout the state of Rhode Island as the state’s population becomes increasingly diverse. According to the article, it is predicted by the year 2025 that youths of color under the age of eighteen will make up a majority of the state of Rhode Island (Borg, Anderson, Parker, 1). Experts are worried that this segregation will be a cause of failure in students of color, but some states still struggling with this issue are unwilling to discuss the social, psychological, and academic values that integration could bring.





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