Much political noise has been made about providing grants and/or loans for higher education. For minorities, these programs are seen as invitations for full participation in the American system. Many Americans believe changing the higher education equation for minorities is the only way to “level the playing field” economically for America’s minorities.
More specifically, liberals often believe solving the education conundrum is mandatory for our future. Conservatives, however, almost universally declare that the education gap can be addressed by neither federal programs or funding. They both are probably correct in this situation.
Solving America’s education gap is tantamount to our nation fighting a cobra. In cobra fighting, you have two choices. First, you can charm the cobra (typically by playing music), and prevent him from striking you today. Secondly, you can choose to attack him like Rikki Tikki Tavey, the mongoose of Rudyard Kipling fame, and solve your problem permanently. Dealing with our educational woes at the university level, while the majority of minority children are vastly unprepared for life, simply charms the cobra.
To kill the cobra of educational inequities in America, we must begin in pre-elementary school. Although we can do important work at every stage of the educational process, our problem is no one wants to wait the 20-30 years it will take to reform a system. I want to sound an alarm concerning our urgent national need to improve the education of minority students. Further, I want to advocate that resources and focus be directed primarily at charter schools.
Let me explain. While the nation’s high school dropout rate for black and Latino students is 43 percent, in urban centers like Detroit it is as high as 80 percent. This does not mean these young people will never graduate. It simply means they do not graduate on time. Unfortunately, academic failure is only the indicator of much greater problems. High school dropouts have higher rates of unemployment, incarceration (60 percent of black male dropouts are eventually incarcerated), drug use, and violent behavior. Our struggling economy has served to exacerbate these problems: the black unemployment rate nationwide surged to 16.7 percent this fall, the highest since 1984. But for black males in their 20s who lack a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is a shocking 72 percent!
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.