Following one of the largest mass shootings in New Zealand history that left 49 dead and more injured —
New Zealand Prime Minister: “I can tell you one thing right now. Our gun laws will change.”
Richard Cohen, president Southern Poverty Law Center: “The atrocity in New Zealand shows us, once again, that we’re dealing with an international terrorist movement linked by a dangerous white supremacist ideology that’s metastasizing in the echo chambers of internet chat rooms and on social media networks.”
U.S. President: “I don’t really (think white nationalism is on the rise.) I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess … .”
Separating children from their families because of “toxic” neighborhoods. What?
America has a long, painful history of removing children from their families for a variety of reasons.
By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were removed from their families and sent to boarding schools starting in the early 1800s and continuing to the mid 1900s. The goal was to separate children from their Indian culture and assimilate them into a white society that was thought to be superior. Children were forbidden to speak their native languages, and history was taught from a white perspective. Abuse was physical, psychological and sexual.
In Illinois and other states, children are taken from their parents and placed in foster care at racially disparate rates. Black children are removed from their families at rates far exceeding other children. Parents can struggle for years to get their children back.
In a country made stronger by diversity, we can see a clear pattern of punishing diversity.
Our best hope is to understand our history and act with knowledge.
Poet Maya Angelou wrote, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
So it was surprising to read the headline on an Op-Ed column that ran in the Journal Star last month: “Get our kids out of violent neighborhoods.”
The PJS piece suggested children who are considered “at high risk of failure” be removed from their “violent neighborhoods” and sent to boarding schools for 7th through 12th grades. The concept sounds like reform schools from the 1800s.
The piece suggests that not only would the schools provide a sound education, but after-school activities and even dinner now and then at an adviser’s home. The students could help pay for this by working in the kitchen, and doing housekeeping and lawn chores, the author suggested.
It’s discouraging this piece was written and discouraging it was published.
Unless the founding principles of our country have changed, all children should have access to free and equal public education without working in the school kitchen. That’s the goal. Every citizen of this country should be able to live in a safe community. That’s the goal. No children should be removed from their parents.
The justifications for removing children from their families is endless and just that, justifications for throwing discriminatory solutions at government and institutional failures.
Here are some better ways to help children:
- Establish universal parenting classes and provide prenatal and postnatal care for both mothers and babies. In France, all expectant and new mothers receive regular at-home visits from nurses.
- Allocate more money for excellent universal preschool.
- Change the school funding formula so all schools can provide quality education and an array of after-school activities. Separate but equal does not work.
- Make sure all parents have access to jobs paying a living wage so they are not forced to work two or three part-time jobs with no benefits.
- Ensure health insurance and dental care for all families.
- Eliminate food deserts so people living in all communities have access to fresh, healthy food. Increase funding for Food Stamps.
- End policies that perpetuate police profiling and, instead, entrench best practices of community policing. If police budgets and staffing levels are continuously cut, the goal of “safe neighborhoods” is little more than lip service.
- Reform the judicial system and eliminate practices that send parents to prison along disproportionately racial lines. When more African Americans are in prison than whites for marijuana, yet usage is higher among white populations, injustice is blatant. “Three strikes and you’re out” removed thousands of fathers from their families. Mass incarceration levels in this country are unmatched in other developed nations.
The writer of the Journal Star Op-Ed column stated, “I think the youngsters may well need to be removed almost permanently from their toxic neighborhoods.”
Since these proposed boarding schools are for students, not their parents, the writer is advocating permanently separating children from their families.
We are separating children from their parents now at the border with Mexico, and it is un-American, inhumane and immoral. There is no justification for doing this on the border or in our neighborhoods. There is also no justification for contending we can’t do what is right and moral because it would cost too much. Really? This is not Mar-a-Lago, billions of dollars in foreign military aid or tax breaks for corporations that earn billions (as in zero taxes paid by Amazon). This is basic food, health care, quality education, living wages, safe neighborhoods and equal justice.
Contrast this notion of state-run boarding schools for children from impoverished communities with a new bill co-sponsored by Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, and Rep. Andre Thapedi, D-Chicago. HB 27 calls for establishment of two vocational academies modeled after the Illinois Math and Science Academy. These two residential schools for students in 7th through 12th grades would provide vocational training for students who elect to develop skills not taught at their home schools. The vocational training would bridge the gap between high school graduation and careers in technical fields.
“Vocational education helps prepare students to become an integral part of the modern world,” Gordon-Booth said.
She added, “We must ensure students learn the job and career skills they need to succeed.”