Sunday, July 09, 2006

Learning from H. Brandt Ayers

H. Brandt Ayers of The Anniston Star has long been one of my heroes. As a youngster I devoured his paper and still turn to it often. Today's edition gives us "How liberals failed schools" examing the serious troubles of the Anniston City School System. Hardly a bleeding heart liberal, although perhaps as close to one as many in our area ever have been exposed to, Mr. Ayers writes:

... By the time the Green decision had been fully applied by the lower courts, the Anniston system lost 2,000 students, was 55 percent black and mostly poor. In 2000, the system was more than 95 percent black, 84 percent poor enough to need meal subsidies. A majority of poor, socially and educationally unprepared children flooded systems from Birmingham to Boston, and middle-income parents of both races fled to avoid the deluge.

In a rueful conversation with one of Anniston’s civil rights veterans, the Rev. Nimrod Q. Reynolds, he agreed that parental reaction would have been the same if poor white "redneck" students overwhelmed middle-income black school systems.
Integration became an end in itself, a value greater than education, or so it seemed to the president of the Mississippi NAACP at a 1972 regional education meeting in Jackson. I asked him, "What is more important: education or integration?" He replied without hesitation: integration.

But more and more integration didn’t translate into better and better education for either race. The result was more and more re-segregation.

A Southern statesman, William Winter, who would kick-start school funding in Mississippi as governor in 1982, had this to say about the double anchor of race and poverty: "Discrimination is not limited to race. The line that separates the well educated from the poorly educated is the harshest fault line of all. This is where we must begin. We must get the message out to every household and especially every poor household that the only road out of poverty runs by the schoolhouse."

Tough talk but true I think. Gradualism might have had its own perils yet not likely would it have created endemic poverty such as is true for Anniston. Having taught poor white "redneck" students I will concur on the flight factor. I left my last school after but one year mainly due to the frustrations of working with "rednecks". I would likely not want my child attending that school and I'd choose flight if necessary to avoid. I'll confess "Public policy be damned!" when it comes to our own.

I was pleased that Mr. Ayers mentioned Raleigh as I've read of their successes in trying to make sure no school is "too" poor. If you'll keep it below 40% free and reduced lunch levels it seems to make a difference.

The real reason for this post is simply to celebrate what a tremendous gift Mr. Ayers' talents are to our area. He and The Star have taught me much and they are appreciated. Before I leave this amazing man, the U of A creating a Community Journalism Masters program with the sacrifices of Mr. Ayers must also be recognized. Peace ... or War!