This is a long post so please bear with me.
Recently the CEO and founder of the online social network Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg , gave 100 million dollars to the Newark, New Jersey Public Schools. There has been a lot of media hoopla about it from online stories to a big production on this past Friday's Oprah Winfery Show.
So what will 100 million dollars do for Newark Public Schools? Well I suppose they could build a few new schools, fix some old ones, buy text books, hire teachers, buy computers and stuff like that. But will that fix the problems of this inner city/ urban/ mostly Black school system?
Buying a bunch of stuff and building new schools won't fix this or any other troubled schools system. I know this because history tells me so. Money has been thrown at inner city schools for decades now and it has not helped one bit. In fact Newark Public Schools already spends more per student than any other school system in the nation, over 20,000 dollars per student each year.
So what will work?
Well lets go back in time. Back before the so-called integration of public schools in this nation. Back to a time when Black children went to all Black schools. When those schools were short of everything they needed. There were shortages of text books. The facilities were poor and the teachers underpaid.
But something amazing or maybe not so amazing happened at those segregated Black schools. Kids learned. They excelled. Those are the kids that today are of the so-called baby boomer generation that have gone out in the world and done very well for themselves.
So what was the difference that caused kids then do so well and kids today to do so poorly?
Once again we have to look back. We have to look at Black communities before the Civil Rights Movement. Those Black communities were often very prosperous. And even the ones that were not so prosperous were much better off than most inner city communities of today.
In many Black urban communities around the country there were good jobs. Beginning around the time of World War 2 Blacks moved in huge numbers to metropolitan areas around the country. They moved there for well paying jobs in factories that were making all sorts of things for the war effort.
And both African American men and women experienced a great prosperity beginning in this period that extended until the mid 1960's when commercial factories began to move to the suburbs along with Whites during what was called White flight.
As Whites moved to the suburbs and factories with them Blacks were left in the lurch. Unemployment during this period skyrocketed for Blacks. And where there are no jobs crime fills the void. And where there is crime there is violence.
And another little thing was going on as well that kept business out of urban areas. It was called redlining. A practice in which banks would refuse loans to businesses wanting to operate in these urban areas.
So in the 1960's Black kids were no longer living in communities where their parents and neighbors went to work everyday and brought home salaries that could provide for a family. Now they lived in communities where almost no one was working a legitimate job.
These kids now had to deal with homelessness, deal with worrying if the lights would be on or whether there would be heat in winter, deal with worrying about street violence that often entered their homes either through the incarceration of a parent or losing a parent to that violence.
Black kids no longer had the luxury of just focusing on their school work, now they had to focus on very serious issues. Poverty became apart of millions of Black kids lives beginning during this period. And unlike in previous times when Blacks mostly lived in the South being poor in an urban environment was harsh in ways that they had not seen since before World War 2.
In an effort to help inner city Blacks in the 1960's the government expanded what was then known as welfare. This program would offer help in paying rent and buying food. But there was a catch that came along with that help. That catch was that fathers would be pushed out of homes.
One of the stipulations for a family to receive welfare was that there could not be a man present in the home. From the late 1960's until well into the 1980's this would destroy what was left of cohesive Black communities all over the country.
So now the stage was set for inner city Black kids to become the poster children for academic underachievement.
Nothing much has changed in many urban areas of the country. In most of these communities the unemployment rate was high before the current recession and has become astoundingly high since.
So when a Black kid in Newark goes to school can they focus on school like their more affluent mostly White counterparts in the burbs?
We all know the answer to that. No, they can't. Kids in most of these communities are more concerned with making it to and from school in one piece. They are constantly tempted by the drug trade and other illegal enterprises. They have to deal with drug addicted parents. They have to deal with incarcerated parents. Or parents that are just absent.
Many inner city Black kids are already suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder by the time the reach first grade.
So how can we expect kids to learn in environments like this?
We can't and we shouldn't. In order to fix urban public schools we have to look outside of those schools to the communities in which they exist. We have to fix broken parents and families. We have to bring jobs into these communities so that parents can work. We have to get rid of the crime that infests these communities.
If and when we do that then Black kids in inner cities around this country will have a fighting chance to do well in school. But if all we do is talk about firing teachers and throwing more money at schools then we will see Black kids continue to fail in large numbers.
So in my opinion if Mark Zuckerberg really wants to make a difference with his 100 million dollars he could do so by using it to create jobs for the parents of the kids in Newark Public Schools. He could help by using that money for counseling for drug addicted parents and parents with criminal records. He could use that money to get drug dealers off of corners by hiring them too.
If Mr. Zuckerberg and other well meaning billionaires and the government did this then Newark Public Schools would be transformed and so would the lives of the kids who attend them.
But what do I know.