Friday, August 14, 2015

The Problem We All Live With


My daughter has gently dragged me a little further into into the 21st century, introducing me to podcasts. I finished listening to her first recommendation,. "The Problem We Live With, from This American Life, the long running (left leaning to be sure) series produced by its acclaimed creator, Ira Glass. Without giving too much away, the podcast examines, in its signature narrative fashion, the story of a failing minority school district, the solution that was successfully employed to improve that district, and the (inevitable?) abandonment of that solution. I'll bet you can guess what the solution was.

The cast left me disturbed and more than a little ashamed. I find the idea that black or brown children are somehow innately deficient deeply pernicious. And yet, for years I asserted that switching the student bodies of the prosperous, integrated town where my children were raised with the desperately poor, overwhelming minority school district next door would make no difference; the (mostly) white, middle class kids would perform just as well in the crummy inner city schools, and the black and brown kids would continue to fail in the fancy schools. Where did I come up with that?

The podcast's praise of integration not withstanding, consistent data on its effects are not easy to find. It does not appear to affect white student's performance; assessments of its overall effects on minority students performance appear to be more uneven. What is clear is that we are largely back where we were 60 years ago.


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