Tag Archives: Baltimore

Why is there no one in my classes from the city where I teach?

I teach at a public university called Towson University, a mile over the Baltimore city line. My students come from all over the state of Maryland, as well as from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. They are racially and ethnically diverse, but they all hail from suburban and rural communities. Why? Why are none of them from the city down the road from campus?

I wondered this in my class the other day as I began another semester teaching a course on urban education. Students take my classes to understand what “urban schools” are like. They come with all kinds of stereotypes and myths about urban schools as chaotic places where students do not care about learning and teachers do not care much about teaching. In my classes, I work to undo these stereotypes and to get them into urban schools to see the complex daily experience of teachers and students in urban schools.

With some exceptions, of course, graduates of urban high schools, like those in Baltimore, tend not to come to Towson. Students who graduate from Baltimore’s schools, for instance, often do not have the requisite SAT scores, college prep courses, or a guidance counselor to guide them through the application process. The school system is  underfunded, and has historically under-served its majority African-American population.

The price tag for a year at Towson is also another obstacle. Students need to pay over $10,000 each semester if they are an in-state resident. That’s over $20,000 per year, a price tag way too hefty for many Baltimore residents, over a quarter of whom live at or or below the poverty line.

Even if all of those obstacles were not in place, it’s not like Towson’s campus has  exactly had a reputation for being a welcoming place for people of color. Last year, students occupied the president’s office to demand that the administration pay attention to racism on campus and to act against it. Just five years ago, Towson had a white student union, whose leader was named an extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The new president is trying to change the campus climate, but it has a long way to go before we welcome more graduates of Baltimore’s schools to campus.

While ironic, I will probably continue to teach courses on urban education to students who are unfamiliar with urban spaces on the outskirts of the city.

Divided Baltimore: How Did We Get Here, Where Do We Go?

The University of Baltimore is doing a course that is open to students, faculty, and the entire community to understand the issues that Baltimore faces. Called Divided Baltimore, the course addresses issues of race, housing, healthcare, education, and criminal justice. Each week a panel speaks to the class and they engage in an open dialogue about the problems that the city faces. You can read and hear more about it here. I spoke in this class on October 5th, 2015 on desegregation in schools.
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Talking about the fight for schools in West Baltimore

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These are the folks I was with yesterday talking about schools in Baltimore at the Imagining America conference. This year the conference was held in Baltimore, and our panel, featuring Dayvon Love from Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Helen Atkinson from the Teachers Democracy Project, and George Mitchell from the Park Heights neighborhood association and Langston Hughes Elementary School.

Our conversation was about the ways in which decisions were made to keep certain schools open and to close others in Baltimore. Twenty-six schools were slated for closure under something called the 21st century plan which is a plan to renovate some schools in Baltimore. The agreement, which was made with the state legislature, provided funds for school reconstruction if the district agreed to “right size” itself, which meant school closures. Even though school closure has a negative impact on communities, the city agreed– the positives outweighed the negatives for them.

Hearing the story of Langston Hughes Elementary school’s closure, however, sheds light on the plan for closure. As George Mitchell reported, the plan for closure was riddled with problems. The school was small, but served Park Heights, a low income black neighborhood, well. It was higher performing than other schools in the area and had a thriving after school program for children. The school was also in a renovated building which had technology, air-conditioning, and a facility that would rival any school serving a more affluent community. So why close the school? Charter operators had their sights on the location for one of their schools. Mitchell started getting calls two years ago and continues to get calls about turning over the school to private operators. He and others have tried to fight the closing, but once the city announced the list of school closures, parents began to pull their children out of the school, causing it to have declining enrollment and weakening their case to keep the school open. Many people started to see the closing as inevitable and even elected officials withdrew support from the school.

Children who attended Langston Hughes are now going a mile down the road to Pimlico Elementary, a school built in 1910 without the air conditioning, technology, and modern facilities. They have a bus to transport them there, but the research tells us that the children will face other problems integrating into the new school. Anecdotal reports have confirmed that the children are not fitting in at the school and struggling academically. Some parents have pulled their children out of that school  as a result.

What does this mean for Baltimore? For urban schools? The Langston Hughes story is one which tells us that the improvement of urban schools is not always about looking at genuine successes and building upon them, but deal-making. The closure of Langston Hughes was agreed upon by city and state officials long ago. The success of the school and the broad support that it had in the community meant very little to those folks. Their plans were made. However, this does not mean that all is lost in Baltimore or in urban schools, it means that the resistance to these plans needs to be more forceful. Plans to close Dyett High School in Chicago were finally abandoned because of a group of supported that launched a hunger strike for that school. They built a broad coalition, got a lot of media attention, and forced the city to compromise. Those will be the kinds of actions that teachers, parents, students, and community members will need to take in order to resist plans for urban school improvement that are guided by interests outside of low income communities of color.

Where are our priorities: How can we make black lives matter?

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On Tuesday, May 26, 2015, about 40 protesters led by Reverend Jamal Bryant temporarily halted traffic entering the city on I-395 which is a major thoroughfare coming into the city of Baltimore. The demonstration was in opposition to Governor Larry Hogan’s recent decision to allocate $30 million to a new youth prison instead of public schooling. The new prison is meant to provide a separate detention center for youth charged as adults, who are mainly black youth, instead of a shared facility with incarcerated adults.

Proponents of Hogan’s decision say that positive programs and opportunities would be available to youth in the new center. Mark Vernarelli of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services states, “the department is committed to housing juveniles charged as adults in a new building that will include classrooms, program space, and medical and recreation areas. It’s a facility that’s vastly superior to the current location.”

Governor Larry Hogan’s decision only addresses a long standing complaint that youth offenders are sentenced to prison with adults. While that is certainly a problem, putting youth in very dangerous situations, it does not tackle the systemic problems that impact our society. It does not interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline which sends youth of color into the criminal justice system in the first place. This is an example where black lives do not matter in the eyes of the system. They do not matter enough to provide education instead of incarceration.

It would be easy to make Larry Hogan a target, and blame him for these problems, but they are long standing. His decision reflects a legislature and a larger society that does not demand broader solutions to the problem of youth offenders, when the youth are people of color. The protests today bring attention to Hogan’s decision and raise awareness of the misplaced funds. The inconvenience of stopped traffic during rush hour is nothing compared to the problems faced by young people of color whose educational futures get derailed as they enter the criminal justice system.

Simply listening to the demands made today will indicate what youth of color need: education funding, summer jobs, and recreation. If they have to stop traffic get people to wake up to that need, then businesses should be on alert: People will be late to work this summer!

To learn more, please visit the provided links within the text and below, and follow  activists on Twitter like @jamalhbryant.

http://www.wbal.com/article/115243/40/protest-blocks-morning-traffic-on-i-95

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-gridlock-20150526-story.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/15/larry-hogan-maryland-schools_n_7293838.html