Last year, a book by education professor Gerald Grant, Hope and Despair in the American City, got some attention here because it compared the inclusive school system of Raleigh, N.C. with the failings of the Syracuse city and suburban school system. The city of Raleigh is now ending its diversity-fostering district consolidation, and it’s turning ugly already:
Reversing the diversity rules follows a cascade of similar shifts around the South, and particularly in North Carolina, which once was a model of desegregation. Racial tensions have lingered for weeks as the school board moved forward. State NAACP chief William Barber recently accused the new board majority of having “racist attitudes” after the chairman referred to his opponents as “animals out of the cages.”
Our entire society now buzzes around the concept of “getting a proper education” and our imagined future is being increasingly hung on a complicated and expensive higher educational complex. And despite the Great Recession, things seem to be bubbling along “quite well.” Young Americans are clamoring to get into the system as never before, public universities are strained to the breaking point, and the biggest colleges never seem to run out of money for new projects and initiatives.
Yet, I wonder if the most beautiful colors appear on the horizon just before the twilight of an era sets in. The late philosopher Ivan Illich had a lot to say on why poor children don’t get properly served by our school systems, in the 1970 essay Deschooling Society. In his view, the entire system has to be upended, and not just by moving kids physically from one location to another, as the winds of the economy and politics see fit to blow them around.