Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Racism in Ramapo? A critical look (GUEST POST)
Hirshel Tzig says: "There's little on the political scene that makes me really upset these days. I may have an opinion on National or local politics, but ultimately you come to realize that נישט פון דארט וועט קומען די ישועה. But when it comes to the East Ramapo Central School District (ERCSD) and the constant attack from the local press and many residents who want their cake and to eat it too - I cannot sit idly by. The ERCSD includes Monsey and its environs, as well as New Square. The change in demographics has brought a major real estate boom to the area, with home prices skyrocketing, but it has also made for empty public school buildings, since frum Jews don't send to public schools. The school board is now populated almost entirely by frum Jews, since they are now the majority in the district, and you would think that people would come to terms with the new reality. But no. They want a status quo, which is fine, anybody could want anything, if only for the fact that now what has happened is that they realize that conventionally they have no chance in ERCSD, so they have changed course. Seeing that this is a losing battle they have pulled out their last good card - the race card. Now it's the big, bad, rich Jews stealing the education from poor Blacks and Latinos. They're stealiong from the public schools and lining the pockets of the evil private schools... In other words, the fact that the student body in these schools has shrunk to a fraction of its size means nothing... Everything must go on. Empty school buildings, empty classrooms, nothing can change. The הסתה (incitement) that goes on in the press is unbearable. It affects the relationship with your non-frum neighbors who get their "facts" from the very unbiased.... local media, who now see you as (not just weird and rude...) but also like a bunch of thieves. The fact that so-called "Jewish" media like the Forward also sees this as some sort of social injustice (when is what פרומע אידן do not unjust...) only makes your blood even more. In light of the recent "Forward" article I asked a very eloquent and intelligent reader of this blog - one who may not agree with me 100% but who has a valid opinion and understanding of the matter to get the discussion rolling by writing a blog post. I thank him profusely for his time and effort. The way things are now CANNOT go on forever. There's lots more to be said about the situation, but let's start it now and continue later, IYH.
The "Forward" article that prompted this post
YouTube clips that may help you see what's going on, although they are very biased against the frum Jews
AND NOW TO THE GUEST POST:
Recent controversies about the East Ramapo school district have served to raise ugly insinuations of racism and de facto segregation by fervently Orthodox Jews. Videos where folks refuse to “go to the back of the bus” (e.g. follow protocols of a meeting) and alarmist articles in the Forward only buttress the impression that Orthodox Jews are engaging in an effort to strip down the school district, sell off the parts and screw over minority students. It isn’t just an insinuation: “You have eight school districts in Rockland County,” the retired school administrator told the Forward recently.“One is cutting every non mandated service to the bone. Seven are not. Ninety percent of the kids going to the one are children of color. Is something wrong with that picture? ”Today, Cohen, is an activist with the NAACP, which is warning that racial tensions are boiling over in the East Ramapo school district. The school board, the group charges, is stripping services from public school children and channeling resources to benefit the Orthodox parochial schools attended by the school board members’ own children. Allegations of racial segregation are serious. They should be made seriously. What's going on in East Ramapo doesn’t fit the bill. On the contrary, the East Ramapo school district will serve as a paradigm and a newly religious and newly cost conscious educational landscape. Does this new paradigm always lead to improved educational outcomes for minority students? Not necessarily, but that doesn’t make it wrong and certainly doesn’t make it racism.
Let’s imagine three possible combinations. First, a low income enclave in a higher income area with a robust tax base which utilizes public schools. Second, a low income enclave in a middle to lower income area which doesn’t utilize public schools (East Ramapo, Lakewood). Finally, an entirely low income neighborhood. We can imagine that our low income population would be best served educationally in the first area, riding the coattails of higher income parents who are invested in the schools. We would also assume that an entirely low income area would have a diminished tax base and would not produce excellent educational outcomes. We can also assume that the preponderance of lower income people unfortunately live with the third scenario. What happens if scenario 1 changes to scenario 2? Because of a change in the neighborhood, the poor people on the margins become the main population served by the public schools. They can no longer rely on other people’s investments in the schools to propel educational outcomes they couldn’t achieve on their own. Presumably, this would lead to resentment. Yet, what's the solution? It seems like the only way out would be to get the apathetic population to invest in the schools. Yet, this is a problem. In a democracy, lower to middle income folks who don’t feel their needs are being met by the schools don’t have a whole lot of choice. You still have to pay taxes.
Legislative efforts to lower the tax burden could be seen as “eviscerating” or “looting” public schools in a very mendacious interpretation. Perhaps if these same parents sent their kids to super expensive schools with pools and brand new science labs we would say that there’s something untoward about not sparing some money for the poorer children who rely on the public schools.In East Ramapo this isn’t the case. The non-mandated services aren’t enriching the Jewish kids. If anything, educational outcomes for the Jewish children are lower on almost any conceivable metric than their peers in public schools. College matriculation rates in Kaser? SAT scores in New Square? Give me a break.It’d be nice for East Ramapo to attract people of a higher income with an interest in the public schools. Its difficult to demonstrate, though, that people of lower or middle income with no interest in public schools should be required to perpetuate a public school system that was unusually advantageous for lower income students. It’s great that there used to be opportunities to get better educational outcomes in East Ramapo than in East Harlem. It sucks that these opportunities have dried up. But it isn’t unfair or racist beyond the normal unfairness associated with life. When reflexive accusations of racism are thrown at people trying to bend the cost curve, lower their taxes and educate their kids according to their religion we lose sight of the actual issues in play. Hyperventilating about any perceived disparity in such excitable tones is irresponsible and obscures a more important argument. Poor kids should not be condemned to poor education, whether or not it was better or worse yesterday or ten years ago.