I attended a 68 percent minority public high school school in a college town of about 100,000 people. This county had been rated, in 2005, as the fifth poorest county in the United States. But it didn’t affect me — the poverty, the lack of adequate funding, the decaying building and lack of the resources my friends enjoyed at their private school. None of that affected me.
And that’s because I am privileged, as a white, middle-income person.
That meant I got the benefits of a public school education without its detriments. I received the gifts of dedicated, brilliant teachers, exposure to diverse perspectives, and the ability to self-righteously champion public schools without having ever been harmed by the attack on public education that began decades ago but remains rampant.
I was not unfairly tracked to vocational or lower-level courses, nor was I lost in the crowds of students who needed supported. Nor did I ever have doubt that I would go to a four-year post-secondary institution.
I still love and believe in public schools, but I must first recognize that I had the privileged experience of public school, the ability to come from a family that I knew would support and enable my academic success beyond the abilities of my poorly-funded high school.
Detroit Public Schools is not an anomaly, but people are treating it like it is – and I have to imagine that public school teachers and students and families all over the country are thinking, what about us? DPS has garnered attention, and rightfully so, because the conditions in those schools are reprehensible. But they aren’t the exception — in many cases, they are the rule. And it’s at no fault of the teachers or the faculty.
Capitalism is failing Detroit Public Schools. It is failing public schools in general. As a capitalist society, we are taught that we live in a meritocracy — that if we work hard enough, we can be successful. This is evident on a micro scale as well as a micro one: public education operates under this same guise of a meritocracy which says that all students can earn elite degrees but then systematically denies them equal opportunity on the basis of race, gender, socioeconomic status. And one way this is denied is through funding. Detroit Public Schools is approximately 85 percent African-American with 81.6 percent qualifying for free or reduced lunch in district schools. Birmingham, Michigan, which is 20 miles from Detroit, is approximately 80 percent Caucasian and only 9 percent of students in the district qualify for free and reduced lunch.
But Birmingham public school students still receive more funding. In fact, in 2013-2014, Birmingham schools spent $9,597.04 per pupil compared to $4,526 per pupil in Detroit Public Schools. Despite immense disparities in wealth, which should lend itself to greater funding of Detroit schools, Birmingham students received double the funding of Detroit students. So, I have to ask, what message is this sending? What capitalist undertone here says that Detroit students and Detroit education and opportunity is worth less, market value, than Birmingham students? In part, the majority of Birmingham students are white, and capitalism has always favored white individuals over their black counterparts. Capitalism can partially account for the high prevalence of free and reduced lunch qualifiers, too; structurally disadvantaged African Americans and poor Americans are excluded from funding that would allow these students to have some real opportunity to succeed in a system where the deck is stacked against them.
Fed up? Us, too. Although Detroit is not an exception — and larger, structural redistribution is required so that all students receive fair and quality education — you can do something to help Detroit. Read more here.