A reader writes:
Your reader commented:
The school systems in black neighborhoods are underfunded and undeniably worse on average than those in white neighborhoods. The quality of the school, its teachers and leadership has a direct influence on graduation rates.
As an inner city teacher, I am sick and tired of being the nation’s scapegoat for all of the problems in the inner city. There are cultural and socio-economic patterns that have been set in motion by racism that have taken on a life of their own in the inner city. As the teacher there, I inherit these patterns and have to somehow deal with them. For example, when my students enter our school in 9th grade, they come in with low reading and writing scores, on average 3 to 4 years behind. The parents are apathetic, and do not seem overly concerned about this. On report-card pickup night, the teachers in my school see on average about 10-20 parents from the 150 students on their roster. During the school year I cannot get in touch with many of the parents by phone because they are many times disconnected. They move and change their phone numbers so often, so it is very difficult to keep in contact. I also have many homeless students. Studies show that parent involvement is key to student success, and as you can see, this is a challenge for the inner city teacher.
My students are also entering full-blown puberty and exploring their sexuality. Getting pregnant and having a child in high school is perfectly acceptable in the black and Hispanic inner city community. I see it all around me on a regular basis and it seems like an epidemic. Most of my students are themselves children of teenage mothers, and when they have their own baby, their mothers are home raising them while they come to school. If they don’t have someone helping them, they drop out. They are putting themselves on track for a life of poverty, and as their teacher, I am powerless to reverse this trend.
Violence among students is another daily occurrence and is such a serious safety issue that the police have their own office set up in the school I work at.
It isn’t only gang members. Violence is the only way my students seem to be able to resolve conflicts with each other, because in the inner city culture, you can never EVER let someone “dis” you publicly. If a student ignores it, they are viewed as weak. It’s a matter of survival to fight back. I have witnessed pregnant teenage girls in fist-fights with each other on more than one occasion. I have students getting shot on the street on a regular basis. This is all very “normal” to my students. As their teacher, I try to teach them alternative ways of dealing with conflict, but here again I am powerless to reverse this cultural pattern.
I am tired of being a public punching bag by the media for all that is wrong in the inner city. The problem is that too many people who know nothing have strong opinions about inner city education. I live it everyday, and I am sorry but much of the problem is coming from within the inner city community itself. That doesn’t mean we "blame” people and ignore the problem. It does mean that everyone - be it the government, the middle-class taxpayer, or the inner city community - must ALL take responsibility and make some changes. It is not and cannot be in the hands of the schools and teachers alone.
DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee takes a different tack.