How to build better schools

Randal Jelks pointed to an interesting article from the New York Times on New York’s elite schools, highlighting the terribly small admission of African Americans. 14. The number is shocking. As he notes, the problem is not simply there on Manhattan, but also here on the banks of the Grand. Do our magnet schools, specifically City, suffer from the same disease? Or more accurately, do they function as a distraction from the point. As he notes:

(The magnet schools have) never been about the intellectual development of Black and Brown children who now make over 69% of the school district. Now mind you need middle class parents of all stripes in the GRPS, but not at the expense of majority the population. Too much excuse making in my opinion and reinforcement of race and class segregation with white folk being the power brokers

Perhaps. This does seem to  to pit the middle class against the needs by race. This may miss the issues of class. As Jelks alludes to, numerous studies not that it is poverty, not race which correlates with achievement. Moreover, achievement for low income students rises when they have the chance to be economically integrated; middle class engagement by parents and stakeholders is critical for the overall health of the schools.

Add to these observations the conditions at hand in our city. Of the total school age population in the city, Grand Rapids Public Schools gets slightly more than half. The rest are found in charters, schools of choice transfers, and to a limited extent the parochial. Of the share of the students 72% qualify for student lunch. Note GRPS is ~ 31% white, the census school age population is roughly 35% white. So the question of uplift is less racial than economic in nature; a broader economic base gives more possibility for lifting up more students. Again, integration

And finally, there are graduation statistics released yesterday. GRPS has made decided gains in the past five years, particularly among its black and latino populations, and especially with the men. Further, the graduation rates for  Innovation Central High School and Grand Rapids University Prep are both in the 90+% range, and both have more than 80% minority enrollment. These schools succeed because of stakeholder engagement, and there is simply no question that we need more of that. In short, this is not the district of 10 years ago, or even five.

Is “free enterprise capitalism” the only way?

That’s the question roughly posed at The Banner.

Is it true that the Bible endorses free enterprise capitalism? I read that this is because it assumes private property and rewards a good work ethic.

Editor Shiao Chong defers in his answer, pointing to a “perfect economic system” as a sort of goal. All rather Platonic, when you think about it.

The correct answer is that God does not “endorse” any human social arrangement, let alone envision some “perfect economic system.” Instead, what God asks for is that these arrangements in their particularlity be just. In large measure we do not get to choose the sort of system we live under, be it a parliamentary democracy, a republic or for that matter a kingdom. God can and has worked through all of these. In the same manner, the economic arrangement in society can have a wide variation.

On the specific question, “free enterprise capitalism” is a rather flexible term, meaning different things in say the sociology, the political science, and economics department. What we do know is that however defined, the result of the system must still safeguard the poor and the weak from the all too easy actions of the wealthy and powerful. This caution is spelled out over and over again in the Psalms and Prophets.

We do not pursue a perfect system, or even a perfected system, but rather a perfect, a complete obedience on our side. That at least seems more doable.

 

Walking Away (but keeping the memory)

 

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Matthew Loftus links to Peter Beinart’s article, “Breaking Faith” and asks

What if being secular makes you more tolerant towards things like gay marriage or pot legalization, but makes you more intolerant towards other groups? If you thought the Religious Right was bad, wait ’til you see the Post-Religious Right:

For decades, liberals have called the Christian right intolerant. When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims. In 2008, the University of Iowa’s Benjamin Knoll noted that among Catholics, mainline Protestants, and born-again Protestants, the less you attended church, the more anti-immigration you were.”

One is tempted to reference those who “have the form of religion…” This cultural faith, of course, is always there. And when it’s connected with one party, then the other side is likely to reject the entire apparatus — good riddance! 

On both sides, the secularists think that religious faith is primarily a matter of culture, and so a matter of politics. Yet the practice of the religious community points in another direction (as does its own moderation). Faith always lies askew of the culture, and so the church provides an alternate affirmative good of community. the shape of this community is not built on the internal values of that community (what it does in gathering), but on its appeal to the transcendent. This “otherness”, this faith gives us permission to walk away from ourselves, our natural “tribe.” Otherness gives a breadth, a counter-cultural narrative, that is not only theological, but experiential. This aching need for connectives is all around us. Old guys long for it and often die for lack of it. Likewise there was a terrific article a couple weeks ago on the Epidemic of Gay Loneliness on the Huffington Post — read subtly, there was still this longing to connect (the folks at Spiritual Friendship have it right). We thirst.

Partisanship, this divide, feeds off of a lack of inner life. When all we are left with is our externals, than it is easy to appeal to the stuff of the tribe.

Lenten words

Courtesy of David Letterman.

Were there ever instances where you thought, Maybe I was too hard on that person?
Oh, yeah. I always felt like, We got 500 people in the audience and it’s my responsibility to get a laugh. Many times, the laugh would come at the expense of the guest. I regret that now, but at the time you think, I’ve got to do anything to keep my head above water.

 

Privet

This does so many things well.

PRIVET
Simon Armitage

Because I’d done wrong I was sent to hell,
down black steps to the airless tombs
of mothballed contraptions and broken tools.
Piled on a shelf every daffodil bulb
was an animal skull or shrunken head,
every drawer a seed-tray of mildew and rust.
In its alcove shrine a bottle of meths
stood corked and purple like a pickled saint.
I inched ahead, pushed the door of the furthest crypt
where starlight broke in through shuttered vents
and there were the shears, balanced on two nails,
hanging cruciform on the white-washed wall.

And because I’d done wrong I was sent
to the end of the garden to cut the hedge,
that dividing line between moor and lawn
gone haywire that summer, all stem and stalk
where there should have been contour and form.
The shears were a crude beast, lumpen, pre-war,
rolling-pin handles on iron-age swords,
an oiled rivet that rolled like a slow eye,
jaws that opened to the tips of its wings
then closed with an executioner’s lisp.
I snipped and prodded at first, pecked at strands,
then cropped and hacked watching spiders scuttle
for tunnels and bolt-holes of woven silk,
and found further in an abandoned nest
like a begging bowl or a pauper’s wreath,
till two hours on the hedge stood scalped
and fleeced, raw-looking, stripped of its green,
my hands blistered, my feet in a litter
of broken arrows and arrowhead leaves.

He came from the house to inspect the work,
didn’t speak, ran his eye over the levelled crown
and the shorn flanks. Then for no reason except
for the sense that comes from doing a thing
for its own sake, he lifted me up in his arms
and laid me down on the top of the hedge,
just lowered me onto that bed of twigs,
and I floated there, cushioned and buoyed
by a million matchwood fingertips,
held by nothing but needling spokes and spikes,
released to the universe, buried in sky.

HT: Micah Mattix

David Geltner

Conor Friedersdorf has a fascinating interchange with Geltner in the Atlantic. The ideas are rich and wide ranging. In an era of STEM, the computer scientist has other things on his mind, not least, how we nurture our soul.

 As important as scholarship and science are, arts and religion are more important. … Arts and religion define, in a sense, a single spectrum rather than two topics. And this spectrum is where you find mankind’s deepest attempts to figure out what’s going on in the universe. A student who doesn’t know the slow movement of Schubert’s B-flat major op post sonata, or the story of David and Absalom, needs to go back to school and learn better.

HT: Micah Mattix, Prufrock

Behind the scenes

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David Maraniss points to one of the critical components of Motown in the the early 60s. Not only was there a vibrant jazz and blues community, not only were the sounds available on the radio, not only did the performers live in close proximity (a key component of growth, our urban theorists will tell us), there were the schools.

“But connecting these was the least appreciated and perhaps most important factor of all: the music teachers and programs in Detroit public schools.”

p. 100, Once in a Great City.

Our schools build our tomorrows.