Detroit Kids Lose?

Letter to the Editor of The Detroit News

Doing school reform without doing social and economic reform is like washing the air on one side of a screen door.

Detroit's social and economic base has been in free fall since the mid-seventies, due to the loss in Vietnam, and the later gas crises---all hitting the unimaginative and corrupt auto indusry. As a welfare worker, I watched lives and families collapse, and the kids lost.

As a prof at Wayne State, I visited dozens of schools and worked with teachers who had no books, no supplies,  no windows, no heat, who were desperate to make ties with parents, but in an area like Detroit had to search for grandparents. Moreover, teachers were commonly treated with levels of contempt from administrators that would simply not be tolerated in a suburban school, as were parents and kids. My colleague, Michael Peterson, still at WSU, has documented that brilliantly and would be a good source.

Detroit kids lost from the massive welfare cuts, from the cuts to health benefits, from the limitations on head start and similar programs, and from the wreckage of the last center of hope: schools.

That was accomplished well before the school worker strike, and the responsibility for it does not lie with rank and file educators, but with the top leadership of the city's economic and political elites (including the suburbanites who manipulate those elites) and with the leadership of the UAW, and the DFT-AFT, whose interests line up more with elites than with classroom teachers.

Detroit kids lose from racism every day. Racism makes the incredible disparities between Birmingham, and Detroit, possible, and palatable to most people. Racism is a key reason why the leadership of the MEA, the DFT, and the AFL-CIO have not simply shut down the metro area  for a day, and ended this strike with a single stroke.

And, how about a visit to Oak Park High, a system mentioned in your article. It was once touted as one of the finest schools in the US, as was the entire Detroit system, but now it is in a free fall parallel to the one that hit Detroit years ago. Racism, again, makes that tolerable.

Yes, kids lose, but you should take another hard look at the reasons for this continuing tragedy. Moreover, the kids have learned that through solidarity and direct action, and a little wisdom, they can indeed break unjust laws, and that is worth a few weeks of  spurious MEAP prep any day.