Sunday, October 23, 2005

School Tracking

Several years ago I was on a public bus in downtown Seattle when I overheard a conversation that deeply disturbed me and continues to. In the back of the bus there was a group of four or five African-American boys who were in middle school talking about what they wanted to do after they finished school. I remember one of the boys saying he thought about going to college but that his counselor said he should learn a trade instead. Ironically, I was on my way home from tutoring at a poor, urban middle school. Unfortunately, I didn't tell him--or his counselor--that he or she was full of it. Now I wish I had.

I bring this up because there is a dialogue in Shame of the Nation that caused me to recall this story. A young girl, Mireya, is lamenting the fact that she has had to take hair-dressing as a class in high school:
      Mireya stared hard at this student [who took hair dressing twice] for a moment and then suddenly began to cry. "I don't want to take hair-dressing. I did not need sewing either. I knew how to sew. My mother is a seamstress in a factory. I'm trying to go to college. I don't need to sew to go to college. My mother sews. I hoped for something else."
      "What would you rather take?" I asked.
      "I wanted to take an AP class," she answered.
Mireya's sudden tears elicited a strong reaction from one of the boys who had been silent up to now. A thin and dark-eyed student, named Fortino, with long hair down to his shoulders who was sitting on the left side of the classroom, he turned directly to Mireya.
      "Listen to me," he said. "The owners of the sewing factories need laborers. Correct?"
      "I guess they do," Mireya said.
      "It's not going to be their own kids. Right?"
      "Why not?" another student said.
      "So they can grow beyond themselves," Mireya answered quiety. "But we remain the same."
      "You're ghetto," said Fortino, "so we send you to the factory." He sat low in his desk chair, leaning on one elbow, his voice and dark eyes loaded with a cynical intelligence. "You're ghetto--so you sew!"
      "There are higher positions than these," said a student named Samantha.
      "You're ghetto," said Fortino unrelentingly to her. "So sew!"
I lack the ability to understand how we can allow children to lose all hope. What's going to happen to all those dreams being deferred?

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