Monday, September 15, 2008

54 Years Later, Race Still an Issue

Remarks to the Summit by Juan Williams, Political Contributor for FOX News and News Analyst for National Public Radio

In many communities in America, we are facing a similar crisis to one faced by this nation fifty-four years ago…ensuring that every student, regardless of race, class, or ethnicity, will receive equal opportunities and access to a high-quality education. Far too many minority students are sitting in schools that do not serve them well. They have inexperienced or ill-equipped teachers, are saddled with low expectations, and often arrive each day to dilapidated buildings.

The issue of class, race, and ethnicity should all be important parts of this Summit’s discussion on improving education for all students. The deeper crisis within the educational crisis outlined today is the appalling achievement gap between minority and white students and the incredibly high dropout rate of minority students. It is the civil rights challenge of the 21st century and should be the political issue of the 21st century. There needs to be a roaring voice in this country demanding better schools that are held accountable, better prepared and effective teachers, and higher expectations for all students. Unfortunately, our political leaders will not deal with this unless there is greater consensus from the public at large.

Voices are being raised by from minority parents wanting to improve their children’s education. However, who will add their voice in support of theirs? We're 54 years past Brown vs. Board of Education and yet we are still fighting this fight. We must act now.

Sometime back I visited with Thurgood Marshall. He told me that there were some who felt he should have concentrated his legal efforts on improving the quality of education rather than on improving equal access for all race. They felt that if he had done so, we would be in better shape now. Marshall’s position was that he wasn't trying to create a Norman Rockwell portrait back then - he was dealing with the politics of white school boards of the '50s and said that's how it had to be viewed.

So, 54 years later, minority and low socio-economic status students are still short on access to high-quality schools. Look at high achievement rates of students, primarily white, in the suburbs of Washington, and mostly low achievement rates of schools in DC, primarily minority.

This era’s politicians more often than not bring attention to the failure of the public school system to deliver quality education for all while they run for office. That same fervor for equal opportunity and improvement isn’t always seen once they are in office. Ironic that many of today’s civil rights leaders and black politicians refuse to acknowledge the importance of this issue and how high unemployment, high incarceration, etc., in the minority community can be linked to the lack of high-quality public education in those communities.

There is no excuse for any of us to abandon poor and minority children. We must be a voice for these children who don't have a voice in American society - we must deal with this issue before it divides us beyond repair. We must deal with this issue with a degree of urgency or future generations will say we took our eyes off the prize.

No comments: