May 31, 2009

Savage Inequalities in our schools

When we talk about the structural inequalities that perpetuate white privilege, we're talking about major institutions such as government, business, and the media. One huge area of inequality is our public-school system, which is largely funded by local property taxes. Schools in rich cities get more money per student even though schools in poor cities have greater needs and more "catching up" to do.

Jonathan Kozol spells this out in his seminal book Savage Inequalities. You can read about here:

Savage Inequalities--A Book ReviewIf the degree of segregation is what surprised him the most, however, he is equally outraged by the grown inequality, in public education, between rich and poor. Poor children, and especially poor children of color, he finds, are being increasingly written off as expendable, and any attempts to educate them are being seen as doomed to failure.Black Children Still Victimized by "Savage Inequalities"Racial isolation was the norm in the 30 cities and neighborhoods Kozol visited, an enforced regime of deprivation and near-total societal rejection. Local particularities seem as only minor variations on the America-wide, systemic assault on dark and poor children.This applies to reservation-based schools in spades. For many tribes, the US government was supposed to fully educate their children as a treaty obligation. It was the price Americans paid for all the land they took. But reservation-based schools have rarely if ever been equal to public schools elsewhere.

By the numbers

A few statistics on Indian-school spending give a hint of the disparities:

A Second Century of Dishonor:  Federal Inequities and California Tribes, ch. IIn the 1920s, for example, the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco used Indian Bureau figures to show that annual expenditures were $29.00 per capita for California Indians, and $40.00 or $66.00 (depending on who was included) for all other Indians. In the 1970s, studies by the state of California and reports commissioned by the BIA likewise demonstrated that per capita spending for California Indians was below that in other areas. For example, in 1975, per capita spending for California Indians was $309.97 of the total Bureau allotment, while spending in the Minneapolis Area was $859 per person and spending in Portland averaged $1,576 per person.FY2005 AppropriationsAmong TPA education programs, FY2004 funding for Indian students via Johnson O’Malley scholarships dropped by $143,000 from FY2003 enacted levels, cutting an important program in which funding per student was 65.4% less than during the early 1970s. Tribal leaders recommend a $15 million increase in TPA scholarships for the coming year.

2004 marks the seventh straight year that $3000 will be allocated per student at BIA schools--less than half the amount per student that public schools will spend.
I shouldn't have to explain how poor education hinders a population, but I'll give you a clue. It means fewer doctors, lawyers, business people, and (trained) government officials on the rez. It means fewer role models to inspire the next generation of Indians to achieve things. It means more self-esteem issues and socially unacceptable behavior as Indians see everyone but themselves getting ahead.

That's a structural inequality. It won't necessarily change if Obama or an Indian becomes president or pope. It's a large-scale, long-term problem that requires large-scale, long-term solutions.

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