The world outside Room E4

Susan Eaton’s The Children in Room E4 is a heartbreaking account of a dedicated teacher and her black and Hispanic students in Hartford, Connecticut, says Teacher Magazine. It’s also the saga of Hartford’s decades-long desegregation lawsuit.

. . . most Hartford kids are worse than poor. They are “experientially impoverished”: clamped in such intense poverty, both in their neighborhoods and at school, that they are shut out from the rest of American life.

Eaton questions whether raising standards and test scores — the school is relatively successful — is enough given Hartford’s failure to integrate classrooms and provide the same opportunities as suburban schools, writes reviewer Steve Weinberg in the Seattle Times. The city’s schools are 95 percent black and Hispanic.

It’s an old story told better elsewhere, writes reviewer David Nicholson on Education Sector.

What’s most valuable if not entirely new about The Children in Room E4, is its reminder that people, unlike rats, will continue down the same tunnels long after it’s apparent there is no cheese. This is, I know, harsh, but it seems an apt characterization of superintendents, principals, and educational consultants who keep devising solutions that are only variations of old ways of failing.

Middle-class parents — white, black, brown or purple — rarely choose to send their children to low-performing or even improving schools with a large majority of very low-income students. Integration by color and social class is a fantasy in a school system as far gone as Hartford’s. Better to focus on the needs of the students you’ve got. If they don’t know Hartford has a river, show them the river. Teach them to read and give them books about the world they don’t know.

Joe Miller’s Cross X is the story of a winning debate team at an inner-city Kansas City high school that received millions of dollars in a vain attempt to attract white students. When the desegregation plan was abandoned, the buildings were better but the quality of education was just as poor.

Ninety percent of students at Downtown College Prep, the charter school in my book, Our School, come from Mexican-American families, many of whom are isolated from mainstream America. The school is designed to help its very needy students catch up so they can go on to college and succeed in the larger world. Educating these students is the mission. Trying to emulate a suburban school or attract middle-class students would not serve the needs of the students they’ve got.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    If they can’t learn, at least give them bus rides. That worked for East San Jose.

  2. wayne martin says:

    The reviews of this book don’t provide much background information (which is all too common an occurrence in the print media these days). Wikipedia and the US Census provides necessary background to understanding issues associated with Hartford, CT —

    Wikipedia/Hartford, CT:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartford,_Connecticut


    US.Census/Hartford, CT:
    http://censtats.census.gov/data/CT/1600937000.pdf

    Ancestries: “Other” 59%
    Lived in Different House in US in 1995: 46%
    Language other Than English Spoken at Home: 46%
    Region of Birth of Foreign Born: Latin America: 65%
    School Enrollment: 31% of Population
    Median Household Income (1999): $24, 820 (CT: $53, 835)

    What is clear from the background information is that Hartford has become a “sink” for immigration, and the public school issues ride the back of that dragon. Unfortunately, based on the Supreme Court’s Plyler vs Doe decision (http://www.tourolaw.edu/PATCH/Plyler/) , the US schools have to provide education for illegal immigrants. As a result, US schools generally are not allowed to inquire as to immigration status, leaving policy makers with no little/hard data about the impact of illegal immigration on schools.

    > More specifically, Eaton realized that the mostly poor, mostly
    > minority children in the school she studied longest knew almost
    > nothing outside their neighborhoods. A well-to-do suburb six
    > minutes away seemed akin to Disneyland when she chaperoned
    > a visit there.

    Notice the use of the word “minority”, which provides no sense of immigration status—legal or illegal. A “minority” could well have been in this country for decades, perhaps even hundreds of years. Use of the word “immigrant” implies reasonably recent arrival—presumably less than five-ten years (the time it takes to become nationalized). Certainly cultural issues (such as visiting “well-to-do suburbs”) are likely to be different for those newly arrived from countries with poverty that is more grinding than evidenced in Hartford.,

    > In one of the more heartbreaking scenes, a former teacher describes
    > the extraordinary thing that happened when she took her 1st graders
    > from inner city Hartford, Connecticut, on a rare field trip. As the
    > school bus reached the bridge over the Connecticut River, the kids
    > jumped to their feet and cheered. They were so astonished to see a
    > river flowing just miles from their homes that they gave the river
    > a standing ovation.

    Not certain what to make of this. However, if lack of familiarity of basic geologic features were truly an issue with the kids not being able to learn, it would seem to be a small matter for schools, churches, school booster groups, business groups, to put together a list of local landmarks, cultural points-of-interest, geological features, and provide such a list to parents. How many children in the Hartford school system that have not seen the Connecticut river from bridge-level is not mentioned, but it would seem that there are more than enough resources in this town to provide weekend/summertime day trips to help culturally orient these kids for the “inner city”.

    > The factors that made one elementary school with minimal resources
    > a good place to learn are not easily identifiable, nor does Eaton
    > ever suggest they are.

    This does not bode well for seeing highly successful urban schools, based on the transference of “basic principals” from “working” schools to “non-working” schools. The reasons “why not” don’t seem to be discussed, either.

    The reviews also seem to not mention the role, and contributions, of the parents of these kids—so typical of people in the Education Industry.

  3. JorgXMcKie says:

    In my admittedly limited contact with school administrators leads me to a few conclusions. 1) Some very good teachers who have maxed out (or soon will) in terms of pay move into administration to get a raise. At least some of these become Peter Principle examples. 2) Quite a few inadequate (or even incompetent) teachers *still* manage to get the certificate and move into admin. They almost uniformly aren’t even good enough to make Peter Principle examples. (I have a fair amount of experience with grad students in two of the biggest colleges of Education in the US. The standard courses don’t appear to truly prepare anyone to be a school administrator in a real CEO way. No one fails the course. Most of the content is pabulum.) Practically no one who hasn’t been infected with the Education Establishment virus ever gets the chance to be a school administrator, so how would we know whether or not either the preparation of admins is inadequate or if outsiders could actually do a good or better job.

    Face it. In general, the Education Establishment, especially in K-12, is a giant Marxist-style job protection racket protected basically by our various governments.

  4. In fact, Hartford, Connecticut, where I worked as an educator for many years, is not a sink for immigration at all. The vast majority of the Latino students in the system are Puerto Rican. Puerto Ricans are American citizens. How can we have decent discourse on education these days when people refuse to see that the social conditions outside room E4 are enormous and hamper what schools can do. There’s no question that more could be done to expose the children in poor, segregated neighborhoods to live outside their neighborhood and there’s also no question that schools, hampered by testing agendas, can’t provide that. ANd it’s not true that you can’t do more to integrate the schools — you can, especially through voluntary measures and this has shown to be successful in many cities across the nation. It’s more than not having seen a river, it’s about being so cut off from mainstream society that it it’s a miracle everytime one of the kids can get out and succeed. You suggest that Hartford should just deal with the students they’ve got. Did you even bother to read the book that you feel free to comment upon? If you did, you’d see that for decades, Hartford has been trying to do just that, with limited success. Furthermore, the author of E4, does NOT argue that the school in which she spent time is a good place to learn. Just the opposite is true.

  5. wayne martin says:

    > In fact, Hartford, Connecticut, where I worked as an
    > educator for many years, is not a sink for immigration
    > at all. The vast majority of the Latino students in the
    > system are Puerto Rican. Puerto Ricans are American citizens.

    Hmmm … immigration, migration .. is there a difference when the people moving into the US do not speak English, have no formal education, see little use for education, and come from societies where education was not available, or of interest?

    The following links (obtained over several hours of WEBing) provide a pretty clear view of what has/is going on in Hartford:

    Suburbanization and the Racial/Ethnic Divide in the Hartford Metropolitan Area:
    http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Sociology/faculty/hsilver/immigneng_04/papers/sacks.pdf

    Puerto Rican migrants were initially concentrated in agriculture. The most important companies growing tobacco in Connecticut previously had manufacturing and processing plants n Puerto Rico. Ties to Puerto Rico were, of course, particularly deep. Having been granted .S. citizenship in 1917, Puerto Ricans long benefitted from easy entry to the United States, increased demand for low skilled labor due to restricted European immigration after 1921, and very direct governmental and employer recruitment efforts (Cruz 1998: 3, 22). Migrants to Connecticut were often former workers at tobacco facilities in Puerto Rico. “Ironically, they came to the mainland to try to get a living wage from the very same employers” (Glasser 1997:55). In a pattern familiar across the globe, this was a migration stream built upon social, economic and political ties between areas of origin and destination. Beginning with laborers alone, the stream expanded rapidly and overtime produced ethnic enclaves in the country of
    destination (see Castles and Miller 1998; Sassen 1999). The “Great Migration” between 1946 and 1964 brought nearly two-fifths of the residents of Puerto Rico to East coast cities ((Davis 2000: 103).

    Puerto Rican Labor Migration To the United States:
    http://www.africamigration.com/articles/grosfoguel.html

    Although the Puerto Rican pre-1950’s migration was composed of urban skilled and educated workers because they were the only ones who could afford paying for the transportation expenses (Vazquez, 1979), after 1950 air fares were significantly reduced between the island and the mainland (Bach, 1985). The unrestricted border along with the reduced air fare has the result that the bulk of the 587,535 Puerto Rican migrants during the 1950-80 period came from the unskilled and low-income sectors, many of them from rural areas (Grosfoguel, 1992; Levine, 1987; Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, 1979). Dring the 1980’s more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans migrated to the United States. This migration was more representative of all social classes in the island and the majority settled in new communities outside of New York City.

    In sum, the Puerto Ricans migrants’ unskilled working class backgrounds combined with a negative socio-political mode of incorporation produced a massive incorporation to the secondary labor market and later, with deindustrialization, a massive marginalization from the labor market. Today they have one of the worst socio-economic profiles of all ethnic groups in the United States. Puerto Ricans have one of the highest unemployment rates, lowest labor force participation rates, and highest poverty rates among Caribbean groups in the United States.

    http://www.ctheritage.org/encyclopedia/HRJ/MariaSanchez.htm

    In 1970, nearly half of the Puerto Ricans in Hartford were under 18 years of age. Almost half, 44 percent, had migrated to Hartford to improve their economic status. Only 23 percent had a high school diploma or its equivalent and only 1.5 percent had a college degree. According to the Census Bureau, 27.6 percent of “Spanish-language” families, most of whom were surely Puerto Rican, and 45.1 percent of “Spanish-language” families below the poverty level received welfare in 1969. Median income for Hartford’s Puerto Ricans in 1970 was $4,556.

    http://www.city-data.com/us-cities/The-Northeast/Hartford-History.html
    In the 1950s and 1960s, Hartford experienced a substantial loss of population as the middle class followed the express-ways to the suburbs. Hartford’s population peaked in 1950 at 177,397. As agriculture declined in the area, former farm workers, including Puerto Ricans and southern African Americans, were left in urban poverty. Ghettos developed along Hartford’s old East Side. In 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the city’s predominantly African American north end erupted in riots.
    Hartford’s city leaders responded quickly, launching massive urban renewal efforts. Constitutional Plaza, completed in 1964, includes office buildings, a hotel, a shopping mall, and research facilities. Bushnell Plaza followed, with the Hartford Civic Center opening in 1975. Older deteriorating neighborhoods began receiving attention in the 1970s and 1980s, helping attract residents back into the city. In 1981, Thirman L. Milner became the first African American mayor of Hartford and the first in any New England city. In 1987 Hartford’s Carrie Saxon Perry became the first African American woman to be elected mayor of a New England city. Current Hartford mayor Eddie Perez, born in Puerto Rico, continues Hartford’s tradition of diversity among government officials.

    In the 1990’s, Hartford experienced massive population loss and suffered from problems with crime and gangs. Since the end of that decade, however, Hartford has seen its population stabilize. Mayor Perez has dedicated himself to the continued revitalization of the Hartford area. Under his leadership, the city has developed a Neighborhood Policing Plan to augment the safety of Hartford neighborhoods. Hartford has also committed itself to improving the city’s educational structure by investing $800 million into city schools during the first decade of the 2000’s. Hartford’s educated workforce and abundance of opportunities for development have made it an increasingly attractive setting for business, an attraction city leaders hope will help Hartford thrive in the decades to come.

    How can we have decent discourse on education these days when people refuse to see that the social conditions outside room E4 are enormous and hamper what schools can do.

    > There’s no question that more could be done to expose the
    > children in poor, segregated neighborhoods to live outside their
    > neighborhood and there’s also no question that schools, hampered
    > by testing agendas, can’t provide that.

    > It’s more than not having seen a river, it’s about being so
    > cut off from mainstream society that it it’s a miracle
    > everytime one of the kids can get out and succeed.

    And who has “cut off” these people (in this case the Puerto Ricans of Hartford) from the mainstream of society? Are the legal ghettos in Hartford? No televisions? No Internet? No parents? Who is responsible for this “isolation” other than the people who isolate themselves?

    > You suggest that Hartford should just deal with the students
    > they’ve got. For decades, Hartford has been trying to do just
    > that, with limited success.

    And the reason that the (mostly) Puerto Rican migrants (first and second generation) have responded with only limited success is? Certainly migrants (or immigrants) bring their cultures with them. There was a time that the US expected (for better or worse) that newcomers assimilated. Most who migrated here before WWII were Europeans, with basic commonalities in cultures. After the shift in immigration patters, facilitated by the Congress in the mid-1960s, people from non-European societies have migrated (immigrated) in large numbers. This is particularly true of Hispanics, who have all to often been from the lower ends of the education spectrum. Is there little reason not to predict limited success trying to instantly assimilate groups that have never valued education?

    > Did you even bother to read the book that you feel free to
    > comment upon?

    No .. books reviews are posted on this Blog almost daily .. making impossible to read them before commenting upon them. I did read all of the materials on the links provided (and many more not provided). However, a better question would be: “Have the people of Hartford read this book?” After all, it’s their problem?