Is separation always bad?

Is the localized school model inferior and inherently unequal?

Update 5/7/2007:
Interview with Nebraska State Senator, Ernie Chambers (listen/download)

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Original Post 8/8/2006:
The Nebraska State Paper ran a very interesting story recently on a guy named Ben Gray who is in opposition to the Omaha, Nebraska law recently passed (to go into effect in 2008) that would divide the school district up into 3 seperate learning communties to give more control to local neighborhoods in determining how their schools are ran and how their kids are educated. Now, unlike how the media has made it, Mr. Gray has some good points. He really offers good critique on how to improve the plan and on what was left out. What I don't understand it why he wouldn't rather work out those details than just flat out opposse the plan, which is what he is doing with the NAACP.

Here's the link to the actual actual bill.

(We've also been discussing this topic quite a bit on the Liberator boards. Take closer look: LINK to: "Integration. Separation. Segregation. Does Any of it Matter?")

Isn't local control of schools a good thing? Smaller communities? A strong degree of soverignty (with basic universal standards in things like literacy, math and science) is a good thing, no? Doesn't it allow communities to ensure that their kids' educations are relevant to their realities? Doesn't it allow schools to instill senses of communal pride and a sense of responsibility to the local communtiy and the people in it?

Mr. Chambers' plan is to create learning communities in 3 regions of the city. These regions are and have been seperated along race lines -- Black, White, Latino -- not legally but it just so happens to be that way. But really that only speaks to two things... desegregating populations is not something that can be forced and folks (leaning more towards rich + white on the spectrum) will continue to run from "darker," and "poorer" (on the spectrum) neighborhoods. So isn't the solution to say okay, legally we can't dictate where you run to in order to live, but we can dictate that no matter where you run you're gonna have to give some of your tax money to help ensure that all schools are equal. I thought THAT was a huge aim of the "freedom movement" (civil rights movement). All this pshycological garbage about inferiority being remedied by proximity to other races and whatnot is a bunch of baloney. NO ONE on the Brown v. Board team actually believed that, they just knew that it was the best LEGAL STRATEGY to get what they wanted. Which is another reason why THE WAY is often more important than THE THING/GOAL, cause using improper means often bites you in the butt later on as we have seen.

Mr. Gray has taken his stance against Mr. Chambers. And that is okay. They should dialogue and I would hope open that dialogue up to the larger community and actually take into consideration regular people's perceptions of their environment and their desires.

You will find however, in one of the quotes from Mr. Gray in the story that he has accepted a more revisionist approach, such as his battle with a local TV station where he agreed not to file a lawsuit against the company for its poor hiring practices and sabotage of black + women's shows by putting them on at 5am.

Mr. Gray accepted a few "historical" hirers... and in exchange agreed to drop the suit.

WHEN WILL WE LEARN!? A few crumbs now is not worth giving up the momentum and faith of the people that real fundamental change can be had. They could have enacted a whole new vision for that station, but were impatient it seems.

Again, concrete goals and the desire to "see somethign tangible" (i.e. the first black woman news anchor) are tempting but it's like Jesus temptation to just fly around and heal the world just to shut everyone up about questioning about who he is... He realized that people want proof, they are impatient and skeptical. But that cannot change the fact that the real battles are timeless ones. Truth cannot be reveiled in miracles or in meeting "tangible goals". It's deeper than that.

Fundamental change takes more time, it takes people actually changing and adopting common vision. Jesus was tryna save eternal souls! Not just complete specific tasks like heal ing people's bodies or ending global warming... or win immediate battles just to make himself content that he'd "done somethin" or make others believe in him. The danger in that is once people are healed and once global warming has been deaded, what now? Just like this new generation is asking after getting all those THINGS, but no VISION for a WAY of doing things... WHAT NOW!? And we remain lost and unable to answer that question.

What I do like about Mr. Gray is his belief (which I share) in a person's word and in agreeance. And in discipline, honor and honesty. These are sacred things that we need to search for harder. We need to find it, then we need to commit to it, then we need to hold eachother accountable and be willing to sacrifice ourselves and (our how we may or may not feel today) for the greater good.

And now... some excerpts from the story...

Some basic background info:
Gray is secure with his denouncement of the Omaha Public Schools makeover plan as bad policy and, as a lawsuit contends, unconstitutional legislation that sanctions segregation.

However, he's uneasy that his stance casts him as an adversary to a man he admires above all others — State Sen. Ernie Chambers. The venerable senator crafted the key amendment to restructure OPS, a district Gray's adamant about preserving.


The law mandates a new learning community and the severing of OPS into three districts, which critics say will be drawn along racially identifiable lines. As co-chair of the community-based African American Achievement Council, Gray is a plaintiff in the NAACP-led civil rights lawsuit that challenges the action.

Gray is a veteran KETV Channel 7 photojournalist and host/producer of Kaleidoscope the longest continuously aired public-affairs program in Omaha television history...

No issue has drawn him so far into the line of fire over such an extended time as the current OPS debate.

The national media has focused on the controversy as the poster case for the larger “re-segregation” debate concerning American public schools


His characterization in the New York Times of the law that will break up the Omaha Public Schools as “a disaster” has been oft repeated.


Gray is comfortable with his choice to be an advocacy journalist.


Good quote:
“You have a choice of one of two things when you're a professional journalist,” he said, “move up the ladder or do what others before me have done, and that is sacrifice for the greater good, for the greatest number. And that's what's driven my decisions.”

He invites trouble by bucking the powers that be in pursuit of doing what he thinks is right. His relationship with general managers at KETV, where he has worked since 1973 after an Air Force stint brought him to Offutt, often has been strained; never more than in 1976 when he and others filed a complaint against Channel 7 with the Federal Communications Commission. Dubbed by media as “the black coalition,” Gray said the group's fight went beyond color to gender and equity issues.


“What we were complaining about,” he said, “was that at the time Kaleidoscope and some other public-affairs shows on Channel 7 were only on very early in the morning or very late at night; and there were no African-Americans on the air in prime time … and there had never been a woman main anchor in Omaha.” The group filed against the station's license, which employees very seldom do.


Gray and his fellow complainants lost the battle but won the war.

“The FCC finally dismissed our complaint [in 1977], but with this caveat: They said they found merit in our argument about public-affairs programming and so they issued a ruling, that comes from us, that no public-affairs programming can only be contiguous with early morning or late-night hours. Channel 7 changed the times of several of the programs” to reflect the ruling,” he said.


Questionable compromise, if you ask me. Isn't this just another example of the structure giving some concessions in order to get the threat off of its back?
Dissatisfied with what it saw as a window-dressing remedy, the group contemplated a federal lawsuit when, Gray said, “I got a call from a very high-up person in Pulitzer Broadcasting who said, 'Before you do anything like file a legal action, give us a month, and if you don't like what you see … go ahead and file your suit.' Well, Channel 7 soon hired the first female anchor in prime time in Omaha, with Marcia Ladendorf, and then a whole slew of minorities followed after that. Carol Schrader and Michael Scott were two of the beneficiaries. The fact of the matter is we kicked in the door and it happened, and we're proud of that.”

By opting to defy his longtime hero, Gray put himself on the hot seat.

“I've chosen a course that's not necessarily comfortable, in opposing Sen. Chambers, but it's right,” he said. “When you have the kind of respect I have for him, it's difficult to do, but at the same time when I think you're wrong I have to call you on it … I don't think anybody should be above being questioned. And if that puts me on the opposite side of people who are friends, or great associates, or whatever the case may be, then that's what it will have to be.”


Gray is doing what he admires in Chambers — raising a dissident voice for the marginalized. It's not hard to imagine why Gray looks to Chambers, the lone wolf black legislator who champions the underdog, as someone to emulate. Gray measures himself as a strong, outspoken, incisive African-American community activist in the context of the firebrand figure his mentor cuts.


Can the chuch say AMEN!? Why are folks seem so afraid of committment and followthrough even on the days that you don't "feel" like it?
“We don't have enough men in our community who are willing to stand up and be men and take on issues in spite of the obstacles, in spite of the odds, in spite of who's for you and who's against you,” Gray said. “We don't have enough men who … lay everything on the table, and keep their ethics and their integrity and their honesty intact. When you see that kind of nobleness in an individual you want to gravitate to that.”

Despite everything Thompson and Chambers mean to him, Gray said if they take stands he disagrees with, he calls them on it: “People aren't right all the time. Nobody is.” Gray, who said he's carefully read the 172-page law, cites many things not accounted for in the bill's language, including such basics as funding and hiring mechanisms, classroom assignments, grant stipulations, program operations and oversight responsibilities. He fears too many details have been ignored, too many consequences unaddressed, leaving in limbo and perhaps in jeopardy educators' jobs and district programs hinging on grants or contracts.

Some very relevant questions here. But do they mean that the Ernie Chambers plan should be disposed of? Or that it is fundamentally flawed? Would some revisions and additions in the detailed areas do the trick?
“I don't know if people realize, for example, the Omaha Public School District has about $30 million in grant programs that somehow have to get reapportioned or reapplied for,” he said. “What's going to happen to these programs? Who writes the grants? Who gets the grants now? There's a teachers’ union contract that runs over into 2008 — what happens to it? Who's going to negotiate a new contract? What happens to those teachers? How do we pick and choose which teachers and principals we keep and don't keep? Who decides? “What's going to happen to the district's Triple-A bond rating? What about levy limits and bond rates? With our low property tax base, what kind of bonds can black and Latino districts float? There's a myriad of things I don't think anybody thought about.”

He's not so pessimistic as to think that a framework could never be found to answers such questions.


“Oh, there's always a possibility,” he said. His point is that a huge education ball was put in motion without due diligence or foresight.


“It should have been worked out before and not after the bill,” he said. “Normally, when there's a merger or an acquisition or a breakup, the answers have all been worked out, and in this instance nothing has been worked out. There's just too many things we don't know.”


In the interim, some things, like a planned south Omaha Educare center, are on hold until there's more clarity. He distrusts and derides the hallmark of Chambers' provision — local control. He sees little assurance of it when the board overseeing the new learning community will be appointees — not elected officials — installed by other appointees. He said suburban districts will have a majority on the board and thus a voting bloc over inner-city districts. He contends creating black/Latino districts will isolate them and make them easy targets for unequal shares of the revenue pie.


As outraged as he is by the damage he fears LB 1024's learning community plan and OPS split would do, he's upset by how these measures were fashioned. He believes lawmakers acted rashly, without proper deliberation and community input from those most invested in the issue and in the process.


Point taken.
“I think when you're going to do something as delicate as this — when you're talking about our children — you go slowly. You don't go real fast. I think that's where the mistakes were made,” he said.

He is dismayed the African American Achievement Council and other advocacy groups were not consulted.


“We did what legislators — the governor and other elected officials — hoped we'd do,” he said. “We engaged in the process. We went to Lincoln. We lobbied. We fought. We cajoled. We testified. We did all this.” He’s upset the council’s work — some “starting to bear serious fruit” — was dismissed.


Gray devotes much of his public/private life to education reform. He reveres educators and hopes his work — which sounds more like lecture than rant — rises to that higher calling. The AAAC he co-chairs with his wife, Freddie J. Gray, works in with OPS on initiatives to bring the performance of minority children in line with that of whites. Under his aegis the council changed to textbooks infused with black history. He helped launch the Greeter program that brings black men into schools as role models. He gives frequent talks to students of color, mentors individuals and assists black-scholarship programs.


Gray helped frame the OPS argument for its “One City, One School District” boundaries effort aimed at swallowing up suburban districts — the proposal that precipitated the new law. Along with OPS superintendent John Mackiel, Gray has made himself a visible, audible point person in support of the proposal at public forums.


Gray forcefully defends Mackiel, whom he feels is unfairly maligned by critics. “I didn't want to be involved in the One City, One School District fight, but … what was happening to him was unfair when I know what he was doing was the right thing,” Gray said.


Gray believes black/Latino inner-city schools suffer in comparison to white suburban schools due to an unfair distribution of resources. He says race, class and white privilege enable the segregated housing and unequal employment patterns that breed segregation.


“We have to address the bedrock that is white privilege,” he said. “First of all we have to name it. Whites are not going to accept it from me. They're going to accept it from somebody who lives in their neighborhood and who looks like they do. That's who's going to drive this discussion: the Jonathan Kozols and other white authors who call the educational system in this country 'apartheid.'”


He feels America has no recourse but to address the issue.


Good quote.
“Joseph Lowery, former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said it best, 'We may have come over here on different ships — we are on the same boat now. We better figure out how to fix this boat.' I have to be optimistic,” Gray said.

While he has “great faith the lawsuit is going to be successful,” he added, “I don't put all my eggs in one basket. You just don't sit back and wait. You do other things on the legislative and social-justice end. There are already rumblings the Legislature next year is going to do some fine-tuning. I'm looking for legislative solutions. I hope we find dialogue somewhere, so that we don't have to go to court.”


“I have to do a better job convincing him, because Ernie has very strong convictions, very strong beliefs and you have to prove yourself to Ernie over and over again. And that's not bad — it keeps you focused and it keeps you strong.”

That’s not a problem for Gray, who shares with Ernie a passion for pumping iron, and carries with him two values from his military days, “discipline and completing the mission,” that ensure the schools plan “will not go unchallenged.”


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