It doesn’t take a lifetime of intense research to see the inequalities in the public school systems that stem from socioeconomic circumstances. I took a drive one day and just looked around Santa Fe. First, I drove through the East Side where houses sell for half a million dollars. There, in between all the historic homes with Mercedes Benz and Hummers parked in driveways, is a little school called Wood Gormley Elementary. Then, I drove down to the Southwest Quadrant, the part of Santa Fe where the low-income housing developments prop up side by side with hardly any room for a car to park alongside the curb in front of the houses, much less a garage. Crammed, literally, in between the houses that just barely escape being single story apartments, there is another little school called Cesar Chavez Elementary. I will leave it to the reader to guess which school not only has a higher Spanish-speaking immigrant population, but also has lower test scores and a poorer demographic, overall.
Jonathan Kozol, in Savage Inequalities, wrote, “One would not have thought that children in America would ever have to choose between a teacher or a playground or sufficient toilet paper. like a grain in a time of famine, the immense resources which the nation does possess go not to the child in the greatest need, but to the child of the highest bidder” (Kozol, 1991, 79). What Kozol is expressing is indignation that money plays such an inhibiting role in the education and lives of students who seem destined to be mired in poverty for their entire life. The accident of birth becomes nothing more than a life sentence with no chance for parole. For those children in schools that are improperly funded, the situation is dire. These schools, in my opinion, cannot possibly worry about top notch instruction when a more pressing need, like properly supplied bathrooms, gets more attention.
Not only is the economic situation for these kids dire, but their situation becomes compounded by the difficulties of language barriers. When an immigrant child is expected to take a test in a language that is foreign for them, a high score is not only an unrealistic goal, it is a literally impossible one. Now, when low test scores threaten funding tied to No Child Left Behind, the economic situation becomes completely impossible to address. It is a vicious cycle: poor kids, because of their socioeconomic backgrounds, attend schools that become poor because of the poor kids who have no resources. These kids then, more often than not, become poor adults who have more poor kids who attend poor schools that become…well, I am pretty sure the reader gets the picture.
Unfortunately, the above is not the bad part. Kozol went on to quote O.Z. White, “To a real degree, what is considered…sufficient for the poor in Texas is determined by the rich…it is decided in accord with their opinion of what children of the poor are fitted to become and what their role in society should be” (Kozol, 1991, 216). To me, that is the most insidious group of words I have read in quite a while. They indicate a very hateful reality: the rich will maintain their power through manipulation of the public school system’s financing and student socioeconomic circumstances.
What this means, further, to return to my drive through Santa Fe, is that the immigrant students who attend Cesar Chavez have, in accordance with Kozol’s quote, been sentenced, not by some accident of birth, but by a systematic and purposeful placement of the poor. Who did the placement? The rich and the powerful of Santa Fe. My God, it is definitely no accident that the school is named, Cesar Chavez Elementary!
I agree with Kozol (1991) that most Americans would deny that this dynamic of systematic oppression in this day of professed egalitarianism. However, when one takes a closer look at the underlying value system upon which this apparent horrific system of power maintenance is built, it becomes clear that a capitalistic system requires workers and owners (Webber, 1926) and will create them through its educational systems. Basically, though it is no accident that the poor are destined to become workers, it is the defined undercurrent of the American system. Without this undercurrent, the economy could not sustain itself, in my opinion, and probably collapse. But, is this collapse a bad thing?