Denying an education for the worth of a parent

June 16, 2014 

I used to be a fairly serious cyclist. Today, my fairly serious bike sits on a trainer in our loft seriously daring me to ride it. And occasionally I do.

A week ago I broke down and went to get on and noticed I had a punctured tire, on an indoor bike. “That’s unusual,” I thought. Then I saw the teeth marks. I could rename our dog that did this, “That’s unusual” because that’s the kind of thing she does, but that’s another story.

So I went to get my tire levers, but it’s been years since I used them so, who knows where they are? They might still be in New York. But I do find my cyclists’ multi-tool that has two tire levers built in. Eureka! But wait, I quickly break both of them rendering my efforts futile.

Half an hour later, I’m at Falcone Schwinn on the Westside. Professionals are utilized, problem is solved. Lessons learned? Probably none.

I gave the dog a bone and went to put my wheel back on. I saw the now-broken multi-tool and realized that without that primary component, the tire levers, the remaining tool was almost worthless.

And then I wrote this column.

Sixty years ago this past May, a unanimous Warren Court handed down Brown v. Board of Education holding that, “separate educational facilities (for different races) are inherently unequal.” Segregation in public schools was outlawed, busing happened, balances were created and thus did all children receive an equal education allowing them the same opportunities to compete, succeed and flourish.

Okay, so wait. I used to work near a school called Blodgett Elementary, which was in the half-vacant hood of a discarded city. There were five kids per book at the school, and who even knows when the books were written, or if the children could read them.

A wealthy nearby community used to take field trips down to our corners to show their kids what life is like when you have five kids per book. It looks like crackheads and crack-dealers, sounds like fights with occasional gunfire, and reeks of garbage, urine and more dead animals than one would anticipate.

Our neighborhood kids were flourishing as exhibits at the new urban zoo.

We talk about housing, food security, health care access, safety, financial stability, parenting skills and workforce-readiness as our social safety net. Yet, we never hear much about education. Part of the reason for this is that in 1973 – 19 years after Brown – the Supreme Court, under a very different type of Chief Justice, issued a 5-4 split decision in San Antonio v. Rodriguez.

The question in Rodriguez was not whether black or brown children deserved the same education as white children, which had been decided by Brown, but whether poor children deserved the same public education as wealthy children. And the answer from the Rehnquist Court was no.

The result was that schools would continue to be funded by locally assessed property taxes. Affluent areas would continue to benefit from a wealth concentration that could pay for a wide array of educational resources. And, the poor areas would continue to get encouragement.

When we look at our safety net (conveniently listed above), isn’t the knowledge of all these components also part of a basic education? Put another way, how much of our safety net is in existence and in use, due to a lack of basic quality education?

Back in the hood there was a guy named Notorious. I never saw him on the street – only in jail, usually bounced in from prison for a local hearing. He came from the West Side where Blodgett is. He probably went to school there. He had a son who he named after himself, but he spelled the name wrong. Now his son, Notorous is also in jail, for a shooting on the Westside near where Blodgett is.

Unless you’re named LeBron, Angelina or there’s a library named after an ancestor, the effective use of a quality education is going to be the primary component of your future success. It seems such a damned and senseless shame that we so frequently deny this gift, for the worth of the parents, from our fellow citizens when they are but children.

Curt Andino is the executive director of South Puget Sound Habitat for Humanity, serves on Thurston Thrives and is a member of The Olympian’s 2014 Board of Contributors. He can be reached at curt.andino@spshabitat.org.

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