Schools need us - mostly

Staff WriterApril 9, 2004 

I don't know about you, but my first inclination is to say sayonara, bon voyage, arrivederci, don't let the door hit ya' where the good Lord ...

Oops, it wouldn't be prudent -- or wise -- to bid such a fond adieu to white residents of Durham who are pulling their kids out of Durham Public Schools like a blind dentist pulling teeth.

As disdainful as one might feel toward such residents, they're needed by the schools.

Parents with no stake in public schools are going to be less likely to want to support them physically or financially. Those bonds seeking money to revitalize or improve schools are going to face opposition from parents who home-school or spend thousands educating their children in private schools.

With enough opposition, those bonds will fail, schools will crumble, and parents will be even more likely to flee what they feel is a sinking ship.

If Durham's schools really were the cesspools of crime, violence and underachievement that they have been portrayed as being, a sensible person would wonder why anyone of any race would allow their kids to attend them.

That perception is not borne out by empirical data. Durham's end-of-grade test scores are rising, and SAT scores are within sniffing distance of the statewide average. The scores would be even higher if Durham did as some systems do and discouraged less academically gifted students from taking the SAT.

Having lived through Rockingham's school integration during the 1960s, I know there is nothing magical about sitting next to a kid of another color.

Indeed, we were raised on a diet of idealized TV families such as "Ozzie & Harriet" and Ward, June and the Beav, so the most illuminating and liberating thing about school integration was seeing that white kids had the same interests, concerns and problems as my friends and I had.

That, come to think of it, was way more important than anything they or we could have learned from a book.

Without a school system that reflects the racial, cultural and ethnic diversity of the community, children will grow up thinking BET and MTV accurately portray their peers.

It's especially disturbing that white flight is occurring in Durham, which must be the Birkenstock-wearing capital of the state. It's a city where you can still see people in tie-dyed T-shirts munching on granola bars.

The elephant in the room -- the one issue everyone knows is there but no one wants to acknowledge -- is plain, old-fashioned racism.

Don't look at me like that. There are white parents -- and probably black ones, too, but they're more likely to lack the financial wherewithal to yank their kids -- who don't want their children attending school with children of other races. That wouldn't change if Durham's average SAT scores quadrupled and Superintendent Ann Denlinger handed out free Popsicles every day at lunch.

Those are the residents whose leeriness of the school system we should actually applaud: Durham schools are better off without them or their poisoned progeny.

To them, here's a hearty "Arrivederci, y'all."

Of the others, we ask only that they think of the repercussions not only to the system but to their own kids.

Call Barry at 836-2811 or send him e-mail at barrys@newsobserver.com.

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