Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Case of Trent--in real life

Case studies are used in social work practice to help students learn to assess and plan interventions.  One of the ones I use is called "The Case of Trent."  Trent is a 5 year old African American boy who is in the first two weeks of kindergarten when he encounters a social work student intern.  Trent is in the hall, screaming as an aide tries to hold him in a chair for "time out."  Within the first two weeks of school, his teacher has labeled this small 5 year old as "slow" and wants him removed to Behavioral Education classes.  As his social work intern knows that nationwide, African American boys are at risk, she intervenes.  Trent is found to be developmentally on track, and a subsequent home visit reveals he has recently been sent to live with his father and step-mother in a new community.  He has lost his relationship with his mother and grandmother, with whom he had lived for the first 5 years of his life.  The rest of the case is how to intervene to help Trent.

Remarkably, this story plays out in real life daily.  Nationwide, teachers are far more likely to channel young African American boys into alternative education tracks at very early points in their school experience.

After class last Friday, as I was packing up my bags, one of the students in the class went over to talk to another student.  They are both African American young women.  I could not hear what the first student said, but the second one responded "They will do that in ________.  You can't let them get away with it.  You have to go to the school and talk to them.  They will do that [whatever the 'that' was] the very first time."  I surmised they were discussing an incident with a child at one of the schools in the area in which they live.  Because we had just discussed the case of Trent, and the at-risk status of African American boys for no reason other than being born an African American male, I stepped over to them.

"It sounds like you have your own real life case of Trent."

"Yes, ma'am, I do.  I have two boys, (she named their young ages) and every day I tell them they are starting out with one strike against them and they have to prove everyone wrong."  She went on to tell me about her first encounter with the school system and how hard she works to keep her children out of the pipeline.  I had informed the class about what is called "The Cradle to Prison Pipeline" where children as young as 5 or 6 are channeled into juvenile detention and the justice system rather than provided intervention into the very real problems they face in their communities.  You can read the report here.

As I was driving home from work later that day, I felt incredibly sad thinking about that incident.  I could not imagine a mother having to tell her child that every day--imagine as a young boy how that might affect you as you were growing up?  Why should she have to tell her boys that every day as a reminder of the grim future they yet may face?

The Children's Defense Fund has an active campaign to dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline.  One of the problems is our spending more money on imprisonment than on education.  Although study after study has shown that incarceration of juveniles is ineffective in correcting behavior, we continue to do it over prevention and intervention programs that have been shown effective.  From the Defense Fund's report:

Although the majority of fourth graders cannot read at grade level, states spend about three times as much money per prisoner as per public school pupil.

One mechanism was addressing this was the Youth PROMISE Act, HR 1064, introduced in 2009.  From Rep. Scott (VA), who introduced the bill:

There is overwhelming evidence to show that it is entirely feasible to move children from a cradle to prison pipeline to a cradle to college, or jobs, pipeline. All the credible research shows that a continuum of evidenced-based prevention programs for youth identified as being at risk of involvement in delinquent behavior, and intervention for those already involved, will greatly reduce crime and save much more than they cost when compared to the avoided law enforcement and social welfare expenditures.  And the research reveals that these programs are most effective when provided in the context of a coordinated, collaborative local strategy involving law enforcement and other local public and private entities working with children identified as at risk of involvement in the criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, even with hundreds of sponsors and support from many cities, states, and children's organizations, this bill stalled in committee and has never been referred to the House for a discussion and vote, even though the committee recommended it go before the full House.

As a social worker, and one who has long been involved at the community level, I know that early intervention and prevention efforts could save the lives of many of our children.  Children whose lives are like Trent's: in upheaval from environmental effects that we could address.  Poverty is the single largest common denominator affecting the children who get into trouble early in schools.

In Mississippi, 1 in 2 (almost 48%) of black children is poor.  In Mississippi, a baby is born poor every 37 minutes.  In Mississippi, 69% of white 4th graders cannot read at grade level, and 92% of black children cannot read at grade level.

Education is the single most important factor in preventing a life of poverty, and in increasing life opportunities.  There are crucial points in the development of children from pre-natal to adulthood that can significantly affect the likelihood a child will complete school.  There are crucial points where we can do prevention and early intervention that will change the trajectory of our children from headed to prison to headed to college.  If we take away education by funneling our children into inadequate alternative settings rather than addressing the contributing factors, then we have failed ourselves as well as our children.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Segregation in the South: The Public and Private School Continuum

I've been reading a post about the demolition of the Central Delta Academy--formerly the Inverness High School--over in the Delta, along with a lot of interesting comments from the community and Mississippi Preservationists.  It triggered my interest and I began to do some searching about the history of the development of private schools in Mississippi, as a response to integration of public schools.

But first, current history.  In searching this topic, I was surprised, though I am not sure why, to find three recent news articles on this very issue.  I present them first, knowing people often say, "but that's all in the past and doesn't matter now."

September 7, 2010, Eugene Robinson discussed Haley Barbour's 'Civil Rights Fairy Tale' in the Washington Post.  Robinson reported on Barbour's claim that it was Barbour's generation (he is 62) who "led the switch" because they went to integrated schools and that Barbour himself went to integrated college and "never thought twice about it."  Robinson pointed out that Barbour did not attend integrated schools, because Mississippi refused to integrate its public schools, until finally in 1970 after court ordered immediate compliance.  Barbour had already graduated from non-integrated school and gone on to attend the University of Mississippi in the mid 60s.  Yes, Ole Miss was "integrated" then, by court order and the assistance of federal marshalls, with a black student.  A more recent essay in the Daily Mississippian included an interview with one of the 2 black students who were present during Barbour's time at Ole Miss.  She reported that she did not even remember him, nor had she ever spoken with him, and that it was not a pleasant time at Ole Miss for her or the other black student.  Robinson asserts that it was not a different generation from those who fought integration that made the switch from Democrat to Republican, but that integration was the reason Mississippi voted for a Republican president for the first time.

In Nettleton, Mississippi, the middle school ended a policy in August that dictated class officers by race, apparently rotating between black and white.  It appears that for 30 years, no one complained until a mother with mixed-race children learned that her children, or other children who might be Asian, Hispanic, etc., were ineligible to run.  Derrick Johnson of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP indicated the policies were the "result of many school officials and administrators trying to prevent full integration" in the public schools after the 1970 court ordered integration--16 years after it was first ordered by the Supreme Court.

Back in April, US District Judge Tom Lee ordered the Walthall County School District to stop a program allowing students to transfer to schools outside their residential area.  The policy effectively resulted in segregation by race.  Walthall County was court ordered to desegregate in the 70s, along with the rest of Mississippi.  During the 80s and 90s, the school became "significantly more segregated" and the Department of Justice filed suit.  The district rejected the government's settlement proposal, resulting in the judicial ruling that requires they cease segregation by race--which apparently was accomplished solely by white student transfers to alternate schools out of the residential area.  The classes were also segregated, into mostly white and mostly black classes.  The judicial order requires the use of computer to randomize class make-up in order to stop the practice of arranging classes by racial composition.

All of that made me curious as to how things evolved to this practice.  I have noted that Mississippi has an abundance of private academies, that are 100% or 98-99% white.  It is easy enough to look up the school's demographic data online.  Michael Fuquay has an award-winning historical research piece entitled "Civil Rights and the Private School Movement in Mississippi, 1964-1971.  It is a well-researched and documented scholarly article about the founding of private white academies and the transfer of public assets to those private schools.  The following presents some of the findings of his research:

  • "private school system was built using public funds, both legally and illegally" 
  • "a semantic subterfuge, designed to evade the requirements of federal law without sacrificing the benefits of public support"
  • 1964 state legislation to appropriate $185 per child in vouchers for private school tuition and free use of state textbooks; in 1968, it was increased to $240 per child; though eventually ruled unconstitutional, it still enabled private schools public financial support in establishing the private system to avoid integration
  • The Delta founded more private academies quicker than any other part of the state, and had the largest student enrollment
  • The Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education mandated the immediate full integration in all Mississippi school districts (in 1970), which led to an "explosion of private schools and white enrollment in public schools significantly declined"
  • Canton's white academy declared it would accept all white students whether they could pay tuition or not; all but 6 white students left the public school
  • Canton school district sold a bus to the private academy for $250 that had been purchased for some $8000
  • Seniors were promised public school diplomas due to fears the academy would be unable to secure accreditation in time for graduation
  • One elementary teacher transferred to the academy, taking all the public school books, desks, and supplies
  • This occurred throughout Mississippi where academies received books, equipment, facilities and funds directly from the public school district
  • In Tunica and Clay counties, private teachers remained on public payroll
  • In Forrest County, private students were transported on public school buses; "surplus" supplies were auctioned to the academies, and desks were sold for 50 cents
  • In Tchula, public school funds and supplies were diverted to academies for over 10 years after courts ruled it illegal
As recently as 2006, Eckes published the results of two academic studies in a Delta county where students were divided into black public schools and all white private academies.  The private academy did not offer greater educational opportunity than the public school, although the stated reason parents gave for sending their children was the superior academic program.  Students graduating from the private academy had no different ACT scores than students graduating from the public school.  A third option of new charter school was introduced into the community, with superior academic programming, intensively teacher training and a rigorous program to ensure student conduct.  White parents still declined to enroll their children, as the charter school was integrated, unlike the private academy.

And, as I posted back in the summer, the tech-prep movement in the public schools in Mississippi continues to channel public school students (who are primarily African American) into the vocational prep as opposed to a rigorous preparation for college.

No wonder Mullally calls it "the politics of despair."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lucius Walker: Presente!

The Reverend Lucius Walker has passed. There are many things that can be said of Lucius, his life, his work, and those of us who knew him and loved him, but none of them says it better to me than this: Presente. He was present, always, front and center, a gift to all of us even if we did not always recognize it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Violent Beginnings of Labor Day

I went out this morning under the ever-watchful eyes of Felix and Oscar to feed them. It is a fall morning like I adore, cool, sunshine, and the last of the morning glories blooming.
All dogs fed and things quieted down for a few minutes, I was thinking about it being Labor Day, and wondering about the significance. Like any person my age, I knew it was supposed to be a recognition or "celebration of the American worker" but what was its history?

Labor Day actually began, as did many of the things we take for granted, such as the 8 hour work day and paid holidays for example, out of the labor organization movement. I knew much about labor organizing from my years of teaching social welfare policy and community organizing. For example, Francis Perkins was the first woman--and she was a social worker--to be appointed to a president's cabinet. Ms. Perkins was appointed Secretary of the Department of Labor by President Roosevelt, and her work helped achieve the 8 hour work day and prevention of child labor, among others. However, I learned some new things this morning about the violent beginnings of Labor Day--long before we could "celebrate" a day to recognize working men and women, would be a powerful resistance to the idea of workers' rights.

There is a great video on CNN in which a New York history professor discusses the labor movement, and really discloses how much current workers owe to the courage of the men and women who organized for better and safer work conditions over the years. See the story here. It is a far cry from the sanitized blurb about Labor Day on the Department of Labor's website.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Another week done gone

Meet Oscar. He really is an Oscar--I can confirm he's a boy. J hung a string on the porch with a piece of kudzu attached to it, and Oscar and Felixa (she's a girl, so her name had to change) love to play with it. It is fun to watch them through the living room window. They are less leery, but still keep their distance. They will get closer to J now when he is dangling a kudzu vine and will venture to within a couple of feet to get a treat tossed to them.
I am officially temporarily handicapped for a while, and picked up my tag Thursday for disabled parking. I must admit, it made my day much easier yesterday. I still had to walk across the parking lot and street and up the hill to my classroom, but it was way better than all the way across the campus. On Friday before game day, they close the Circle to set up for the ball game and all the disabled parking for those buildings is not available. It effectively eliminates disabled parking for 13 buildings, most of which are classroom buildings. There is one spot behind my building, but a person without a handicapped tag or plate was parked in it. I'm sure this will open up a whole new perspective for me.

Another week of class has flown by, and I am really enjoying the students, even if my class is bursting at the seams. There is always something so fun about starting out a new semester, getting to know students, and watching them learn new skills. I probably have the greatest job in the world, even with all its stressors.

Yesterday morning, two of my friends were in my office and we laughed until we almost cried. I told one of them her life was like watching a soap opera. It was a fun few minutes that I had missed over the summer with us not seeing each other much. It reminded me again how important it is to have relationships in your life that matter.

During my practice class, I was using an example to illustrate a point, and drew on one of my experiences while on St. Paul Island. I talked a bit about working in St. Paul, and my friend's experience in Unalaska and encouraged them to think about serving in remote locations where social workers are hard to come by. Of course, many of the places in Mississippi are like that as well and likely many of them will end up in rural locations here. One student came up after class and asked me where the "perfect" internship placement was for him. I love seeing the enthusiasm of new social workers as they are almost ready to go practice, and again at the end of placement as they have grown and learned new knowledge and skills.

Rand left Thursday morning for a visit with his dad in Texas, and it has been busy with my having to take over his dog duties and split my time between Libby and Kate--both of whom are quite dependent on their people. Kate has taken (since vacation and getting to do it then) to wanting Rand to go outside with her at night for her final potty, and take the flashlight, or she won't get off the porch and go. So, yes, here I am at 10:00 in the back yard with a flashlight, shining it for her and saying 'go potty.' Thank goodness Libby has a pet door!