Unequal Education

It is hard to believe but unequal education still exists in some parts of the United States. In the “Unequal education” documentary by Bill Moyers in 1992, it shows a lot of differences in educational opportunity of two New York junior highs in two different parts of the city, Riverdale and South Fordham. According to the video, there are multiple issues that affect the ability to teach and to learn in both of these schools. One of them being the lack of classroom equipment, the quality of the teachers, the lack of school facilities, and last but not least, the lack of advanced placement classes. At South Fordham, Lonnie learns and gets used to music by playing on the electric keyboard; on the other hand, James at Riverdale could have learned music by playing in a real band. Additionally, the lack of school facilities that makes students at South Fordham to play soccer, volleyball, and basketball indoor rather than outdoor as seen by those students at Riverdale. These two points prove that funding is way different in both of these schools. Without resources or money to operate, the school has to make the choice that would ensure its existence rather than the quality of education for these students. As a result, teachers are not receiving the right training for their jobs. Lonnie’s science teacher doesn’t even know how to teach health class. A well-trained dance teacher now has to take up a role of a health teacher just because the school is way underfunding and cannot afford to hire another teacher to do the job. So, the teachers at South Fordham have to teach multiple classes during a school year! Now this might seem okay from the administration of the school or the people that are running the school, but it greatly affects the students because low quality teachers result in low quality of students, which Lonnie at one point in the video said he wasn’t sure if he was well prepared for high school at all. These differences create bigger social problems because they create a generation of children who are not prepared for higher education and for that reason, they might end up being impoverished.

A State Divided

Based on the documentary, it seems like the students from South Fordham are aware of the fact that they are mistreated and don’t have a good opportunity and support as the students from Riverdale. At the very beginning of the video, Lonnie stated that “the Riverdale school got more opportunity because they live in a—their environment is better than ours. They say that we live in a ghetto, that’s why we ain’t going to be nobody and we ain’t gonna make no money or nothing” and “this ain’t right!” And this is solely from the students. The teachers will also feel the same way. If they are well-trained and have qualifications, would they teach at a school like South Fordham or would they go for Riverdale? According to Kozol in “The Shame of the Nation,” “in 1997, the median salary for teachers in Alliyah’s neighborhood (Bronx) was $43,000, as compared to $74,000 in suburban Rye, $77,000 in Manhasset, and $81,000 in the town of Scarsdale, which is only about 11 miles from Alliyah’s school. (Kozol, p.5, para.4). Now the teachers from Riverdale are aware that they are really lucky and fortunate. Riverdale teachers get to teach in a school that fits their specialty and they also get a good work experience to put on their resume too and because “…good things happen to good schools and people have been fighting for many years to become a member of the staff…” at Riverdale. The parents of South Fordham students know for a fact that they have to try to “get up and out of poverty” and Lonnie knows he has to go to school, if he doesn’t go to school then what is he “going to do, sit home and be a bum, be on the street.” Realistically, it’s not that easy for a fact that they live in a poor neighborhood with “all sorts of problems.” This makes it even harder for these people because of the frustrations that they have with the school and with the quality of education that their children receive.

With all of that being said, it is not to say that it’s all Riverdale students’ and teachers’ faults. It’s no one’s fault. It’s how the government and the communities make them that way. The fact there aren’t enough of after school activities that students can do in the South Fordham school area when compared to Riverdale is a big problem. As also pointed out in the video, Lonnie can only go to places like a pizzeria restaurant or play basketball in the schoolyard down the street, whereas James can spend his after school in the community center which is located right within Riverdale. These activities are helping the students in a sense that not only their school is good for academic purpose, it is also good for social activity and building up their interaction and perception with the world so that they can grow as much as they want. The result of this is they show a greater respect and good attitudes towards their teachers. When asked what they’re going to be in the future, these kids want to become veterinary, in the case of James, architect, doctor, lawyer, or just go and be a professional basketball player for any Ivy League colleges such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. These students from Riverdale truly believe in the American Dream. They believe that you can “do whatever you want and if you work hard, you can get what you want.” On the opposite hand, Lonnie wants to become a basketball player, which he had changed from being a lawyer, and he isn’t quite sure why he changes his mind, but we can all agree on why he does that. It’s because of the environment and the society that he grows up with is not good. This in fact is the other half of the American Dream that most white Americans are unaware. The fact that if you’re not white and are of other minority groups, you are likely to experience a different side of the American Dream. Nowadays, the American Dream as depicted by Hochschild in “Facing Up to the American Dream” that how one American experiences with the dream is determined by their race, gender, age, and social class. The reason is not because of the lack of their ability but rather because of unequal opportunity that is a byproduct of racial discrimination of society and having more or less privileges, and in this case, unequal education.

In his 1991 book, “Savage Inequalities”, Kozol observes that:
But what is now encompassed by the one word 'school' are two very different kinds of institutions that in function, finance, and intention, serve entirely different roles. Both are needed for our nation's governance. But children in one set of schools are educated to be governors; children in the other set are trained for being governed. The former are given the imaginative range to mobilize ideas for economic growth; the latter are provided with the discipline to do the narrow tasks the first group will prescribe."
This statement is both true and false at the same time. It is true because schools are so segregated and as pointed out in the “Unequal Education” documentary, Lonnie said he wasn’t sure if what he learned from the school would prepare him for colleges. In “The Shame of the Nation” by Kozol, he pointed out a letter written by Elizabeth that says, “it is not fair that other kids have a garden and new things. But we don’t have that.” These examples show that there is a huge difference between schools in America, especially between rich and poor neighborhood. I agree that in one type of school, the students are treated better than the other, or if I may, a LOT better than the other. The lack of school facilities and classroom equipment do contribute to the success of these kids. Without a proper education, these kids won’t be able to survive in colleges or high schools at all. However, to say that the schools are designed so that these students will grow up into “servants” and not “master” is a little too quick to conclude. There should be more concrete examples and evidence to support that claim. Realistically, when it comes to children, all parents do want the best for their children so they would become better than the parents. The only thing to notice in “The Shame of the Nation” is that the rich spend so much money on their kids, as pointed out by the chapter from the book, the most that the rich parents spend on their children is $30,000 per year on one kid’s education. That only proves that if the parents have more money, they will spend more money on their kid’s education. It is also ignorant when some rich parents or even teachers would dare to say “Well, that’s how it is…. Life isn’t fair…. We do the best we can, in other ways…” (Kozol, p.14, para.2). Kozol also references from President George W. Bush in “An equal society” that “simply increasing federal assistance to the public schools, however, had not been effective, he told his audience. It was, he said, like “pumping gas into a flooded engine,” by which he seemed to mean that inner city “engines” (schools) had too much gas (too many dollars) flooding them already” (Kozol, p.14, para. 4). This is the most stupid statement that I’ve heard. Even with a business mindset, you would know that if you don’t invest or take risk in anything, you would get nothing back in return and by saying this, it invalidates the fact that the rich parents are willing to spend $30,000+ on their kids. Aren’t they “flooding” their engines now?

A Social Problem

Unequal education is a social problem because it affects a massive number of children, especially those who were born in poor area and it creates a long-lasting generation of these kids over and over again. These kids grow up and become parents to their kids whom will go through the same experience as do their parents. School segregation have become a big problem in the United States, especially in New York state. As pointed out by John Oliver in “School Segregation,” “according to the UCLA Civil Rights Project, the South is the least segregated region for black students and in fact New York State is now the most segregated system in America in large part, due to New York City.” The two most common causes that lead to this school segregation issue is the fact that schools in poor area are so underfunded, understaffed, and way underqualified and the second cause is the area where these schools are located is usually haunted with crimes and poverty. In order to resolve these communities, or social if I may, issues, there should be more funding for these schools so that the schools can use the money to pay for facilities, staffs, to get quality training for teachers, and to pay teachers a comparable salary. Another resolution for this would be decreasing crimes and poverty in these areas. Mass incarceration also contributes to this issue as well, as we know that the problems that mass incarceration has caused for these families is that it disrupts families, relationship with the children, and creates more connections with other crime members. As the article also pointed out, if money would not bring back any return on investment on these kids, how is it possible that the rich families are willing to spend $30,000 on their child? If one is to say that, one must be contradicting themselves. And this is why it is so hard to fix this problem! The rich families don’t think if they invest in these poor kids’ future, they would get a big return on investment. These kids live at the bottom of society, where crimes and drugs are happening everywhere every second.

It is also coincidental that this only happens in black neighborhood. Perhaps, the real problem here is still racial segregation? If we take a step back and look at all of this problem and try to make sense of the situation, we can see, first it starts off with mass incarceration of blacks in these neighborhoods and when all of the black males are locked up in their cells, their children receive the worst of the worst education because these schools are somehow underfunded and the rich people, or the rich white folks, don’t trust that they would get a big return on investment if they put money into these areas. They even claim that it doesn’t work because it’s like “flooding” the system. It’s like a whole rigged system to it almost impossible for the poor, or particularly blacks, to pull themselves up and become successful. Maybe, Kozol was right to assume that these people “are trained for being governed” and the others “are educated to be governors.” I think if Americans in particular can think past the racial issues that they have, they can accomplish more things together and everyone would be equal, but until then, there is still a lot more work to do.


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