A reader writes:
Your reader's comments unintentionally capture McWhorter's point exactly. They blame cities, teachers, and anybody else except the culprit. A sample of their silly tropes: Urban schools are "underfunded?" Bull. They actually spend more per pupil than most (check out D.C.'s history on that). Kids in cities can't graduate because the teaching staff is awful? Garbage. Urban districts certainly have a larger percentage of time servers and patronage hires, but the fact remains that the good ones just get burned out because they can't get any traction against the social problems. "Poor access to contraceptives" is the cause of teen pregnancy? In 2010?
This reads like a primal scream from 21-year-old college student who has never been outside the suburbs but is certain that his Intro To Radical Politics professor just can't be wrong. The fact is, lack of interest from students and totally non-existent parental involvement are the biggest reasons for the drop-out rate, which everyone acknowledges when race is not the topic.
I have to disagree with your readers who took umbrage to John McWhorter. I spent five years as a teacher in Compton. (Yeah. That Compton.) I can't tell you how sick I am of people who have never been in a classroom talk about the failures of the “system.” The system works reasonably well in Compton.
Sure, they could use better teachers and more administrators, but the students have all the learning tools they need. In my English classes I gave each student a brand new book each year and let them keep another one at school so they wouldn't have to shlep so much luggage around daily. The classroom were clean, bright and well lit. The back wall was full of nice Macs hooked up to high speed internet. The schools in Scarsdale might be better equipped, but I don't see how.
The schools I worked in were never "underfunded." I'm as tired of that myth as I am hearing the GOP put “job killing” in front of every mention of taxes. Funding is not even close to the problem in Compton. McWhorter is right. It's a cultural issue.
I'm not talking about single parent families, although that's an issue. (You've also got a lot of kids in group homes - that's worse than the single parent issue.) The real problem is that the “system” doesn't run the schools. Gangs do. I can't tell you the number of bright, upwardly mobile freshman who were determined to break the mold and get out of Compton but were waylaid by gangs. By junior year most of them are gone, afraid of being killed if they return to school, usually for some ridiculous breach of gang etiquette like looking the wrong way at a banger. I can see their faces now, lost in the miasma of the inner city. That's the real tragedy.
Until our justice system spends as much effort on suppressing the gang plague as it does on jailing Lindsey Lohan no amount of educational reform is going to fix anything.