The foundation of our democratic society has a cornerstone in our public schools yet I see that cornerstone being chipped away more each day. Decatur’s public schools haven’t escaped the downward spiral of the public school system and our schools have had their controversies – some have even gained national attention. The Rev. Jessie Jackson spent several days in Decatur after several black students were expelled after a brawl at a football game. Jackson and his supporters felt the expulsion was unfair and excessive while the school board thought otherwise. Racial tensions were running high in Decatur during that time but those tensions certainly haven’t left us. I’ve seen this first hand as a parent of a Decatur Public School student.
A couple years ago my daughter, who was in the second grade at the time, saw many of her classmates leave after new school boundaries were redrawn. The new boundaries resulted in a much larger percentage of black students being bused in from other areas. Many parents weren’t too happy with the changes and when a couple black lunch supervisors were accused of picking on the white students at recess – all heck broke loose! Several parents, many of whom had been very active in the school and PTA, decided to pull their kids out and send their children to private schools instead. My daughter told me she saw two of her teachers in the hallway crying because they had learned many of their best and brightest students were leaving – and so were the parents who often volunteered in their classrooms. There’s something very wrong with our society, if we leave our teachers standing in the hallway crying, while we walk out on our schools for racial insecurities and prejudices.
I’ve had many parents tell me they would never send their kids to Decatur’s public schools because, “There’s too many black kids”. I’ve heard it too many times. Having the son of the ghetto go to class with the son of a CEO is an important lesson for kids (and parents) to learn. Having kids of all different colors, socio-economic backgrounds, learning abilities and talents attend school together, is a lesson on life, that many of our kids are missing. How can we have a true community with a shared interest when we are so segregated and becoming more so in our schools?
If our public schools are failing, it’s because we abandoned them. If our kids aren’t learning, it’s because we’re not teaching them. If our nation is divided by race and social class, it’s because they learned it well by our divided school populations. Parents should have the right to send their kids to parochial schools if they choose, but I’d hope it would be for reasons of faith, not for irrational fears or prejudices. I’d hope we’d all choose to support our community’s most important key to success – our public schools. That means we have to be there and not leave our teachers standing alone in an empty hallway.