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Habilitation, Education and Structural Racism

September 11th, 2010 Comments off
Over the years, the plight of African Americans and Latinos living in the inner-city continues in an endless cycle of poverty, failed education and prison making the problem seem intractable and inevitable, but such thinking disregards how the racist structure, put in place decades ago, still detrimentally affects those areas today. Over the years, numerous attempts to upgrade the public educational system failed, but not because they were the wrong ideas, but rather that the ideas did not comprehend the scope of the problem.


Under the separate but equal doctrine of the former racist structure, African Americans and Latinos fared better in school, had stronger families and stayed out of jail, a direct result of qualified teachers being there to teach and families that stayed together out of necessity. These were families that policed their own communities, were involved in education and pushed civic pride as a community requirement.

When integration came, the resulting brain drain killed the schools as only the least qualified stayed because the best opportunities were not open to them. Along with the brain power went economic power as more families moved out and away from the inner city. Most devastating was the loss of community spirit, leaving only the old racist structure where suddenly not only were things separate, the were unequal to the point where the comparison rivaled night and day.

Starting with the public educational system in today’s inner city, it cannot be fixed for it is beyond repair. Creating magnet schools or target schools are temporary patches that will fail because they exist in the same racist structures created decades ago. To make education worthy in the inner city, it must be destroyed–not fixed. The best today’s inner city public schools do is produced fodder for the prison system. Why?

The plain facts are unqualified and barely qualified teachers, outdated curriculum, underfunded activities, unsafe buildings and crime. In addition, teachers fight an uphill battle against children who see what public education brought to older siblings and friends–low paying jobs, unemployment and jail sentences. It is difficult to overcome what students see every day.

Inner city schools have the highest dropout rate of any schools in the country with rates 50% and higher not uncommon. With that kind of record it is easy to see that most of these schools produce graduates unable to get into college, barely literate and unemployable. With little or no skills, the next stop is prison.

That African Americans and Latinos make up the majority of those in prison is no mistake. Part is due to systematic racism and unequal sentencing laws, but the largest part comes from failure to be habilitated in the first place. Rehabilitation means to restore a person to their former state of well being and therein lays the problem. It is the former state of being that is the issue. Living in the inner city is not habilitation.

Living where there is high crime, poverty, disease, illegitimacy, limited opportunities, a high number of single mother families and poor health care is not a life for which one seeks rehabilitation, it is a community from which one seeks escape. Blow it up, tear it down and start out all over again, are the words from Tobacco Road, but they are appropriate.

Brand new fancy schools are little more than pigs in a party dress. The system must be destroyed and a new carefully planned ones built in their place. Expensive? Damn right, but considering the average rate of keeping an inmate in prison is more than $40,000 a year, the cost of an Ivy League education, it would seem the dollars and cents thing to do.

Understanding that prisons are now big business, correcting the problem steps on plenty of toes, including congress, their contributors and others making money off the skins of African American and Latino prisoners, which includes Latino and African American contractors. As it stands now, inner cities provide and endless stream of revenue to prisons that long ago lost any claim to “rehabilitation.”

The prisons are there to provide revenue streams and punishment. Repeat offenders are their bread and butter and an interruption of that circle unbalances the books, meaning that if changes take place in the inner city that allow people to live meaningful lives, achieve real education and have real opportunities means the prison revenue stream dries up as does the supple of prisoners. That said, reconconsrtuctionist must remember that it is not a single job, but a project. This project will require government money, as well as state and local contributions. Private money and African American and Latino community involvement at all levels is a must. No one can be rehabilitated if they’ve never been habilitated.

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