I had already heard This American Life's "The Problem We All Live With" before this class and remember it getting me really fired up. After hearing it a second time and reading along with the transcript, I'm still just as charged - maybe more so.
Ira Glass speaks to Nikole Hannah, a New York Times reporter talking about the Normandy, Missouri school district and the forced integration that occurred there just a few years ago. The story opens with a brief overview of the state of education in America and Hannah tells Glass that there's something we, as a culture, ignore - integration. The story highlights a young Normandy student, Mah'Ria, who was able to tranfer to another school in a different district because Normandy lost its accreditation. Despite many obstacles like angry parents, finances and bureaucracy, Mah'Ria is able to attend the school of her choice.
Very early on in the story, Hannah said something that really resonated with me:
"It's not that suddenly a switch turns on and they get intelligence, or wanting the desire to learn when they're with white kids. What integration does is it gets black kids in the same facilities as white kids. And therefore, it gets them access to the same things that those kids get-- quality teachers and quality instruction."
Hannah did most of her research in the "heyday of No Child Left Behind," in which under performing schools would receive less money and be expected to improve. I think the above quote taps into that theme. The problem isn't behavior in the classroom, or violence or drugs, as many parent of Francis Howell students suggested. The difference between a school in an urban district and a school in a wealthier, suburban district is the resources the students get from them. There are so many grants and incentives for teachers to teach in low income, urban areas, but it doesn't seem to draw the quality teachers that these students need.
Listening to this story made me think of a book I read last summer and greatly enjoyed. It's called Some of My Best Friends Are Black - The Strange Story of Integration in America by Tanner Colby. Colby, like Johnson, who we read earlier this semester, is a white, upper middle class, heterosexual male and does a very good job of not letting that get in the way of writing this book. That said, I read this before taking this class, so I will likely read it again at the end of the semester to see how my view of it changes. Colby discusses a variety of issues such as education, religion, marketing, affirmative action and the formation of neighborhoods (which I thought was the most interesting part). I have tried to find excerpts of the book online to no avail and I let a friend borrow it and haven't seen it since. I pulled out what I found most interesting about the book as it relates to "The Problem We All Live With"
Colby highlights tracking in schools as a way of dealing with forced integration so that white and black students wouldn't have to see much of each other. The higher level classes (honors, AP) were made up of predominantly white students, while the lower level courses consisted of the black students who were bused in from elsewhere. I thought about this when listening to "The Problem We All Live With" and wondered how Mah'Ria and Rihanna's experiences were so different.