Stuart Blog 2: Roland Fryer at the City Club on November 2

Friday, October 28, 2005

Roland Fryer at the City Club on November 2

Courtesy of Brewed Fresh Daily comes news of an interesting event at the Cleveland City Club. From
Roland Fryer, a 27-year-old assistant professor of economics at Harvard University, will speak about the racial student achievement gap and what to do about it.
I'm dusting off my neglected membership to attend. Here are the details. And more.

Before you go, you should read two things. The first is "Still Seperate, Still Unequal: America's Educational Apartheid" by Jonathan Kozel. It's in the September issue of Harper's.
A teacher at P.S. 65 in the South Bronx once pointed out to me one of the two white children I had ever seen there. His presence in her class was something of a wonderment to the teacher and to the other pupils. I asked how many white kids she had taught in the South Bronx in her career. "I've been at this school for eighteen years," she said. "This is the first white student I have ever taught."
The author travels across the country visiting schools whose demagraphics mirror this anecdote. His visits illuminate an America fundamentally indistinguishable from America at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson .
I had made repeated visits to a high school where a stream of water flowed down one of the main stairwells on a rainy afternoon and where green fungus molds were growing in the office where the students went for counseling. A large blue barrel was positioned to collect rain-water coming through the ceiling. In one makeshift elementary school housed in a former skating rink next to a funeral establishment in yet another nearly all-black-and-Hispanic section of the Bronx, class size rose to thirty-four and more; four kindergarten classes and a sixth-grade class were packed into a single room that had no windows. The air was stifling in many rooms, and the children had no place for recess because there was no outdoor playground and no indoor gym.

In another elementary school, which had been built to hold 1,000 children but was packed to bursting with some 1,500, the principal poured out his feelings to me in a room in which a plastic garbage hag had been attached somehow to cover part of the collapsing ceiling. "This," he told me, pointing to the garbage bag, then gesturing around him at the other indications of decay and disrepair one sees in ghetto schools much like it elsewhere, "would not happen to white children." Libraries, once one of the glories of the New York City school system, were either nonexistent or, at best, vestigial in large numbers of the elementary schools. Art and music programs had also for the most part disappeared. "When I began to teach in 1969," the principal of an elementary school in the South Bronx reported to me, "every school had a full-time licensed art and music teacher and librarian."
These stories expose as truly shameful the arguments of those who speak of "personal responsibility" as the solution the urban achievement gap. (The article gets worse by the way. Even more enraging and more depressing. You should find it.)

The second thing you should read is the profile of Fryer in the New York Times.
He [Fryer] entered graduate school at Penn State University, and it was there, early on, that he realized the power of economics to study race. ''We learned all these powerful math tools that were very deep, very insightful, and were being used to solve -- you know, silly problems, frankly,'' he says. ''At the same time, you'd look on TV and see people literally yelling at each other about affirmative action, bringing up anecdotal stories of one white guy who lost his house and his wife and his kids. The whole debate could be turned by bringing in some horrible travesty. And I thought, here's the exact way that these tools should be used.''
This is the one thing that I wish I could imprint on the mind of every person in this country. Our society has lost respect for facts. Facts have been replaced with perspectives. Everyone believes that economics, biology and sociology are all in the realm of opinion. "Blacks underachieve because of their environment" and "Blacks underachieve because of their nature" are no longer hypothesis to be analyzed and investigated. They're opinions so yours is as valid as mine is as valid as the professor's. And it's no wonder that no one bothers to go to the library to educate themselves before they decide on the validity of the various hypotheses.

There's a mountain of material in the library but I think that any "personaly responsibility" peddler should make their first fact finding expedition to the schools that are profiled in Kozol's article. He did mention one in Cleveland. It was a school named in honor of Martin Luther King and it was mentioned alongside schools named after Rosa Parks and Langston Hughes. *wretch* If you have faith in your neighbors you'll decide that this is the result of ignorance. And if you're more cynical you'll call this ignorance willful. Whichever, are there facts which can be marshalled in reponse? Is there an intellectually rigorous case that this country hasn't shamefully abandonded its responsibility to generations of children?

Kozol's article suggests strongly that a new and more earnest round of enforced integration is necessary. I'm not sure what Fryer's opinion is on this specific subject. The connection, as I see it, is more general. The Kozol article is just the most dramatic description of the problem that Fryer studies that I've read in a long time.

I've only touched on the Dubner article in the Times. It discusses both Fryer's work and his life both of which are more than interesting enough to make the article a must-read.

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