Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member Tom Tate got booed during Tuesday’s board meeting.
His offense? Trying to explain that work conflicts and transportation troubles are likely keeping low-income parents from showing up at student reassignment meetings.
Let’s be clear: Only one or two folks booed. Most neighborhood school advocates showed class and respect. They don’t want their children uprooted, but they do want to see low-income kids succeed. Many seemed appalled by the outburst; applause quickly drowned the boos, and the awkward moment passed.
Still, the boos reflect a deeper challenge facing our community: Many of those who might be asked to sacrifice for low-income children’s betterment feel that those children’s parents aren’t doing their part.
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That might well be true in many cases. But that does not resolve the school board’s main question here: What do we do about all these low-income children who are weighed down by troubles not of their making, and who are increasingly clustered in environments that make those troubles worse?
We can spend years arguing over the research into concentrated poverty’s effects on academic achievement, but common sense tells you good things don’t tend to happen in the places where poor people get herded together.
Now that the board has settled on its broad goals, it must move quickly to flesh out a detailed student reassignment plan. It must break up poverty clusters without destabilizing high-performing campuses.
If we’re going to have an uproar over school attendance lines, at least let it be about a real plan, not these imaginary ones currently whipping up anxiety levels.
It should strive for middle ground. Suburban parents should not be demonized for wanting the best schools for their children. Shouldn’t all parents want that?
And low-income parents should not be demonized as character-deficient or uncaring because their children struggle. What if their hearts are right toward their children but the tools life has given them are wrong? What if they sincerely want to do better but just don’t know how?
Yes, we must hold adults accountable. But what of the children who pay daily for those parents’ failings? Don’t they deserve more than our pity?
Doesn’t the Good Samaritan parable teach that when you see a stranger in trouble, the very act of helping involves going out of your way, leaving your comfort zone, taking a risk?
These schoolchildren are in trouble. If their parents have indeed failed them, does that relieve the rest of us of our choices concerning them?
It does not. It simply makes the imperative to help that much stronger.