published Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Cook: Educational apartheid in Chattanooga

"There is no plan. If you want to save your children, you're going to have to do it yourself."

— Educator and social activist Geoffrey Canada, speaking in 2011 to a Chattanooga audience

It's like the civil rights movement never happened. It's like Jim Crow never left.

"Certain schools with high concentrations of poverty perpetuate underperformance -- fueling intergenerational poverty and a seemingly permanent underclass,'' reads the newly released report on education by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies.

Those are dangerous words. Permanent underclass? Intergenerational poverty?

• Roughly half of all students at Thrasher, Nolan and Lookout Mountain elementaries were advanced in math, compared to 5 percent of students at Clifton Hills, Barger, Woodmore, East Lake and Orchard Knob.

• Half of all black students at Hixson Middle were suspended in 2012, compared to only 20 percent of the white student population.

• More than 60 percent of Hamilton County residents living in extreme poverty neighborhoods are black.

This "permanent underclass" is black and brown. Our city is divided by color and class, where white ZIP codes are more affluent and thus able to overperform academically while ZIP codes of color are disproportionately poor and prone to educational disadvantage.

The report calls it "racial isolation.''

It's educational apartheid.

"This failure spills into the rest of the community in the form of entrenched poverty, youth violence and community disorder,'' the report states.

Schools, ideally, are the most important place in a society, an equalizer that allows poor people to find a foothold in the American Dream. Schools should be our first and last thought, the place we deposit our best resources, hopes, leaders and brilliant ideas.

Here? It's like we do the exact opposite.

Tennessee is ranked 49th in the nation in per-pupil spending.

And Hamilton County? Our funding is an embarrassment.

Between 2007 and 2012, Hamilton County decreased its funding for schools when considering inflation. Our public school students received more funding five years ago than in 2012.

"Per-pupil spending in Hamilton County decreased by $321,'' the report states.

That is obscene.

The Hamilton County Commission ought to be ashamed. The school board, which recently gave Superintendent Rick Smith a glowing evaluation, ought to turn take-to-the-streets angry.

"Schools are not solely to blame for this failure,'' the report reads.

It would be misleading to interpret this report as condemning of poor schools, their teachers and students. Great, heroic work is being done there, but it is work often done against uphill resistance (ask a teacher at a poorly funded school how many photocopies they're allowed to make each semester).

Plus, schools are the coal mine canary where such societal problems are most visible.

Critics of this column will say that these kids and parents should fix their problems themselves. I agree: Affected communities should be the first to get their own house in order.

But to assume that all this can be swept away if black and brown Chattanoogans all suddenly pulled themselves up and became Citizens of the Year is to patronize and silence the unsung work already being done in those places ... while also allowing us to ignore the widespread, greatly influential network of whiteness in this city.

(Name one powerful system or organization in the county headed by a majority of black people.)

Maybe it's time for a simple question:

Do we value our children of color as much as our white children? Do we love them and want them to inhabit a world full of possibility, meaning and joy?

This report tells us that, at the moment, we don't.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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nucanuck said...

Location and density of public housing in Chattanooga was, for the most part, pre-meditated ghettoization (remember McCallie Homes siting). The nearby schools were foregone failures that grouped the least likely to succeed. We never even really tried to create equal educational opportunities, because white families didn't want significant numbers of black students in with their children. They still don't. Much of the white out-migration to North Georgia is to avoid heavily black schools.

The failure to educate so many among us is condemning America to a downward slope. The evidence is everywhere.

If an answer ever comes to more equal education, it will have to include a geographic housing factor. Imagine whiteys' squeal!

June 2, 2013 at 2:47 a.m.
AndrewLohr said...

Cars and restaurants keep getting better and schools keep getting worse, or at least more expensive. Why? Competition. Make public schools compete on a level playing field with home and private, and schools will improve. Break the monopoly; bring in freedom.

June 2, 2013 at 9:22 a.m.
klifnotes said...

They still don't. Much of the white out-migration to North Georgia is to avoid heavily black schools.

So were many of the primarily white religious schools that began to crop up when too many blacks began to migrate into once traditionally and mostly white communities. One or two, or maybe even five or six, here and there who played sports were acceptable. But anything above twenty and white folks started to get itchy and nervous. Thirty and above white flight. If not from the communities, then from the schools.

I believe the solution is not to keep running to places when people don't want you there. The solution is to take what you have and make it better.

The purposeful dumbing down of black students were going on in '70s. Some referred to it as slowing down. Recently a politician talked about slowing down education even more. Although he didn't specifically mention who or what groups would most likely be affected.

My greatest disappoint with black leadership specifically in the educational process is over the years, decades even, they spent far to much time on disciplining, punishing, suspending and even expelling black children from their schools, and less time on education. The results have being showing for a couple of generations now. The difference is, someone(s) are just now realizing it.

The other greatest disappointment in black leadership, and sometimes black educators as a whole, is they've played a defining role in dumbing down their own children. Instead of prepping them for higher learning, from pre-K on, it appeared the children were being prepped more to fill jails and prisons through over-the-top disciplining, punishment, suspension and expulsions, and even having their own children arrested for minor offenses. What's placed in a students school record can affect them later in life just as much or more than a prison or jail record.

If someone came along and said we're building new and bigger prisons and jails, and we need some abled bodies to fill them, black children started to be prepped for just that. On the other hand if someone came along and said we're going to need more physicists, heart surgeons and rocket scientists within the next several years, they were given this blank look like, **not our children, we got to prepare them for jails and prisons, and they went back to prepping their young to fill jails and prison all across America.

June 2, 2013 at 9:48 a.m.
rumrunr said...

andrewlohr... what bullcrap that is. fund the public schools so that they can begin to compete. then we can talk about your so called playing field.

June 2, 2013 at 11:35 a.m.
marmadukegarcia said...

andrewlohr is right - you would think people like Handwringer Dave would eventually figure out that throwing government money at problems usually just ends up perpetuating them.

June 2, 2013 at 2:28 p.m.
klifnotes said...

Poor performing schools aren't necessarily poor peforming due to lack of money, although lack of money can play a significant role. Those successful white schools aren't successful just becaue they may get more funding or the teachers are any smarter, parents more involved than at poor performing schools. They're successful because of the positive, often friendly relationship that's developed between parents, students, teachers and staff. Something that's been missing in poorly performing inner-city schools for at least the past 3 or more decades, when those schools actually ran the parents off. Deciding they weren't needed anymore.

Then there was period where the schools had to show the needed in order to obtain federal funding. Which meant, the schools had to dumb down the students in order to qualify. That led to a lot of miseducation of primarily healthy minded and potentially smart and creative children. If the investigation into dumbing students down in order to ger federal dollars had been carried out years go in the same way the system today was forced to show results and bring upb grades or else lose funding, which led to cheating accusations , I don't think inner-city schools would be struggling and rushing to play makeup for the lost years when primarily inner-city students were being purposely miseducated.

June 2, 2013 at 4:23 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Cook, why can't "browns and blacks" pull themselves up? Some manage it. Not every high achieving student gets shipped off one of the mountains every morning. You and your ilk seem to think the best solution is to "blame whitey" and use the race card to get more money.

June 3, 2013 at 10:24 a.m.
klifnotes said...

LaughingBoy said... Cook, why can't "browns and blacks" pull themselves up?

Browns and blacks DO pull themselves up educationally and financially when there is no purposeful effort to sabotage their efforts. That was proven during periods of segregation when poor black schools, receiving leftover funding and material from white schools, were actually outpacing white students in the educational arena. When it was realized there began a campaign to dumb down primarily black students to slow them down and allow white students go gain ahead. They kicked the parents out, flooded the schools with incompetent and inept teachers and staff, promised funding if they could prove just how dumb black kids were, and the reat became prophetic history.

There was at time black parents were teaching their children so well at home, that the students already knew the material better than the teachers. What did the system do? Instead of congratulating the parents and teaching the students on the actual level they were on, they instead threaten the parents and warn them to stop teaching their children at home or else!

June 3, 2013 at 2:03 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Cook types as if the pulling up is imaginary..and you keep blaming Whitey without looking at the real problem, the welfare system.

June 3, 2013 at 3:30 p.m.
Easy123 said...


"Cook types as if the pulling up is imaginary"

It basically is in the United States of America.

"and you keep blaming Whitey"

Show me where Cook or anyone has "blamed Whitey".

"without looking at the real problem, the welfare system."

That's not the problem and it never has been. 90% of the people that receive welfare/entitlement benefits are elderly, disabled, or the working poor.

Your argument is bunk and it always has been. You look down on those less fortunate than you from your perch and blame them for their circumstances. You accuse them of being "takers" when the overwhelming majority of the people that receive those benefits work just like anyone else or are elderly/disabled. You chastise them for not "pulling themselves up" when, in reality, it is becoming exceedingly hard to do so in this country.

In short, you're just wrong.

June 3, 2013 at 4:05 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

(Name one powerful system or organization in the county headed by a majority of black people.)

Blaming Whitey.

June 3, 2013 at 4:10 p.m.
Easy123 said...


"Blaming Whitey."

That is not "blaming Whitey". And you cannot logically explain how it is either without making multiple baseless assumptions.

June 3, 2013 at 4:12 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

How is the "network of whiteness" relevant to the issue if not part of the supposed problem?

Less Fortunate implies is a lottery whether someone will succeed or not. A person can stay in high school-even if Kliff believes there's a conspiracy against blacks being educated, stay childless until there's the means to raise one/them, continue through college or a trade school/job training, don't drink to excess, don't do drugs, don't associate with those who do. The plan is not that difficult to explain but liberal thought seems to be a large population segment can't succeed.

June 3, 2013 at 4:40 p.m.
klifnotes said...

Easy123 said:..That's not the problem and it never has been. 90% of the people that receive welfare/entitlement benefits are elderly, disabled, or the working poor.

And they come in every shade, color and hue. Even whitey (LBs term. Why I placed it in italics, because I consider the term racially derogatory)

June 3, 2013 at 7:41 p.m.
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