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VOL. 10 | NO. 33 | Saturday, August 12, 2017

Editorial: Back-to-School Stability Includes Unresolved Issues

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Another school year is underway in Memphis, and it’s arguably the most stable for the Shelby County Schools system in the last seven years – maybe longer. Yet, there is much about education in our community that remains unresolved.

We say education is important to the future of our city until it becomes a meaningless mantra. Listen to any discussion about education among adults and you’ll begin to see a scoreboard on which past wrongs and past imbalances are tallied. Further back in the stands are those who look at that scoreboard as the guide to risks neither they nor future generations will ever take again – places they won’t go when it comes to education.

For the space of 480 or so words, let’s strip away the events of the last seven years and get to the source of our distrust of each other: the cynicism, the competitiveness that colors even the most basic undertaking in Memphis K-12 education – public, private and in between.

Our schools and what happens in them aren’t just the possession of a community, or of a majority or minority by any definition you choose.

Toward the end of the Obama administration, federal education officials had begun to devote funding toward remedying a racial and socio-economic “isolation” in schools with a large percentage of African-American students living in poverty. That was among the criteria in a 2016 grant SCS applied for toward the transformation of East High School to a T-STEM optional school that began this month.

SCS didn’t get the grant.

But does everyone believe that a school in which 99 or 100 percent of students are black and 93 percent are economically disadvantaged is harmful in and of itself? The short answer is no.

What about a school in which 84 percent of students are white and only 9 percent are economically disadvantaged?

Maybe smaller is better when it comes to school systems. But some – not all, but some – clearly approached this as if it was an educational quarantine of sorts.

The connection between a teacher and a student is stronger than any of that. This connection happens every day of the school year, in the best conditions and the worst, across racial lines and within them, across generations, in the joy of study groups making the same discovery at the same time and one-on-one in an otherwise empty building long after everyone else has gone home.

In so many ways, making that connection possible is the only thing that matters.

There are common hopes among our numerous school systems and the students and parents they serve, no matter how fundamental the disagreements may be about the path to get there. Those hopes are so strong they can make some of us fear what is different. And too often we cling to those differences as tightly as we do to our children.

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