On Tuesday, I went to D.C. for a meeting to discuss the state of civil rights in the half-century since the release of the Kerner Commission Report. The nation was rocked by civil disorders and riots in the early 1960: cities like Detroit and Newark experienced devastating clashes between angry black people and police, and many of our cities were in flames. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission to analyze the causes of the riots and report back. The commission acted expeditiously and released a devastating indictment of American society, memorably warning that unless we acted to reverse and remedy the root causes, America would be two societies, separate and unequal.
The root causes of the violence, the commission concluded, were racism, poverty, segregation, and police brutality. President Johnson was not pleased with the report and did not endorse its conclusions, but the report was on target.
The sole survivor of the Commission, Senator Fred Harris, and his ally, Alan Curtis, now president of the Milton Eisenhower Foundation (founded by the public-spirited brother of President Dwight D. Eisenhower), organized a fifty-year retrospective devoted to the Kerner Commission Report. I was invited to write a chapter about what has changed in education over the past 50 years. Others wrote about jobs, the economy, mass incarceration and policing, housing, and the other issues raised by the report. You can read the essays in a book just out called “Healing Our Divided Society.” It is an agenda for a better future.
Senator Harris, by the way, ran for president in 1972 and 1976. His campaign slogan was “The issue is privilege.” He didn’t win, obviously, but the issue is still privilege.
The theme of the meeting Tuesday was, we are all in this together. Whatever our race or religion, we must work together for a better society where everyone—everyone—has a decent standard of living, good housing, good medical care, good education, and just treatment.
Harris and Curtis wrote an article in the New York Times summarizing the findings of the 50-year retrospective. It may be behind a pay wall. I hope not. The graphics tell the story. Progress, then backsliding.
The story in education is well documented: a sharp decline in segregation, then the courts release school districts from court orders to desegregate, followed by a reversion to segregated schools. The problem is national, not limited to the south. When court orders end, segregation resumes. States never under court order have intense segregation. Right now, the most segregated schools in the nation are in California, followed by Texas, New York, Maryland, Nevada, and Connecticut. When you consider that only 13% of the population is black, the concentration of black students in majority black schools is shocking.
Over the past fifty years, inequality has deepened:
“The disheartening percentage of Americans living in extreme poverty — that is, living on less than half the poverty threshold — has increased since the 1970s. The overall poverty rate remains about the same today as it was 50 years ago; the total number of poor people has increased from over 25 million to well over 40 million, more than the population of California.
“Meanwhile, the rich have profited at the expense of most working Americans. Today, the top 1 percent receive 52 percent of all new income. Rich people are healthier and live longer. They get a better education, which produces greater gains in income. And their greater economic power translates into greater political power.”
Mass incarceration of poor black and brown people has become a new normal:
”At the time of the Kerner Commission, there were about 200,000 people behind bars. Today, there are about 1.4 million. “Zero tolerance” policing aimed at African-Americans and Latinos has failed, while our sentencing policies (for example, on crack versus powder cocaine) continue to racially discriminate. Mass incarceration has become a kind of housing policy for the poor.”
What have we learned in fifty years? We know what works, and our government doesn’t do it.
“Policies based on ideology instead of evidence. Privatization and funding cuts instead of expanding effective programs.
“We’re living with the human costs of these failed approaches. The Kerner ethos — “Everyone does better when everyone does better” — has been, for many decades, supplanted by its opposite: “You’re on your own.”
“Today more people oppose the immorality of poverty and rising inequality, including middle-class Americans who realize their interests are much closer to Kerner priorities than to those of the very rich.
“We have the experience and knowledge to scale up what works. Now we need the “new will” that the Kerner Commission concluded was equally important.”
The article then contrasts what doesn’t work with what does work.
In education, what doesn’t work: Racial segregation, vouchers, charters, and school choice.
What does work: Racial integration, investments in public school equity, quality teachers, early childhood education, community schools and other proven models
This report updates an epochal one. The Trump administration won’t read it or act on it. If we want a better future, a better society, a real commitment to equality of opportunity and the realization of the American dream for all, this new report is a great starting point.
from sarah http://ift.tt/2oxUuYy