One year later in Ferguson….

I, like many others in this country are struggling to make sense of what happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The incident has gripped this nation and briefly created a war-like zone in Ferguson that has continued well after the incident bringing people from all over the country to march in protest.

As the one year anniversary has demonstrated the wounds are still open and since that shooting in Missouri — police have shot and killed an additional 53 teenagers — 22 white, 21 black, 9 hispanic and one native american. (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2015/08/since_michael_brown_police_sho.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS2-RM)

Police officers have very difficult and stressful jobs — but we need to do better — all lives matter –including police officers. Our youth is not the enemy — poverty — is the enemy. Yet, most of the commentary has focused on whether or not the 18-year-old was a good person and whether or not the police action was justified. This discussion has of course become political with people siding with one or the other depending on the lense they choose to see the incident. Civil unrest does not just happen…it is often a the result of numerous factors and pent-up frustrations.

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court in a landmark ruling struck down segregation in American Public Schools. We then experienced a tumultuous period in the 1960’s with key legislation that outlawed racial discrimination in all parts of public life.

We may have legislated and litigated integration but what has happened since 1954’s Brown decision that has been pointed out by several researchers and observers — our public schools are more segregated now in 2015, than in 1954. In 2006, Jonathan Kozol declared “Apartheid” in American Public Schools with the publication of his book Shame of the Nation. Public Schools today are more segregated and no one seems to really care about that anymore?

Why is this important? What I see in the tragedy in Ferguson is partially a failure of education. Public Education is the “tide that lifts all boats.” Education was and still is a ticket out of poverty. The reason for Brown decision in 1954 was the separate schools were not equal. Our solution albeit an unpopular one was forced busing to integrate schools. Today’s solution is “choice” to often inferior and failing charter schools. The circumstances that existed in urban schools in 1954 still exist in 2015. In fact, one can argue they are worse.

The pervasive and destructive nature of poverty coupled with a lack of a quality education creates environments that put all youths at risk. It is the same environment that puts police and the publics safety at risk. It is a powder keg of misunderstanding and fear that explodes often with incidents such as the one in Ferguson.

We need a renewed focus on the power of education and its ability to lift families out of poverty. We need to stop blaming teachers, administrators and families for poverty. Poverty is not a disease one catches, but if you listen to pundits who discuss poverty they discuss it like an illness. Sorry to disappoint but you cannot catch poverty! We need to continue to find ways to address those obstacles to break the cycle of poverty. If desegregation of public schools mattered in 1954 it should matter in 2015. Our solutions to this problem has failed thus far…maybe its time we try something else before another police officer or youth is involved in an incident that ends with one or both losing their life.

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About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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