The Cold Hard Truth

By J.L. Chestnut, Jr.

Vol. 13, No. 3, 1991, pp. 32, 31

I have been looking quietly at the Selma school system and the Selma school board. Selma is where I live, but I expect it's the same elsewhere in the South. I don't like what I see, though I expected what I found.

The whole focus of public education in Selma misplaced. I sued in 1969 to bring integration to Selma schools. At the time I didn't realize another type of widespread segregation existed in the schools and was predicated on the foolish criteria of elitism.

How many geniuses are there anywhere? Where does one find a first-class imagination? Who really knows? Imagination is where you find it thus we must search among all the children. There are no throwaway children, only misguided adults.

Selma schools have turned out an army of pretentious graduates through so-called progressive education. A few have been articulate, and some were even highly imaginative and creative. We can be thankful for that small achievement.

But, many Selma graduates were utterly unprepared by their education to live in this world without extensive aid. I am not making the point, at least today, they were estranged from their backgrounds and given skills of limited utility in the real world.

Rather, I am saying something is more basically and fundamentally wrong with public education in Selma. We are missing the target and all our children are suffering as a result. To be ill-clothed, ill-housed and ill-fed is not the only way to suffer deprivation.

I hear white educators, social workers, teachers and others speak of the "culturally deprived child." Apparently, they think all culturally deprived children live in housing projects and are mostly black. Public education in Selma and in America proceeds on that false premise.

When children have no sense of how they should fit into the society around them, they are culturally deprived--no matter how high their parents' income. One would think that obvious, but it isn't in Selma.

When children have no fruitful way of relating the cultural traditions and values of their parents to the diversity of cultural forces with which they must live in this pluralistic


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society, they are culturally deprived.

When children spend a great part of their time in the care of psychoanalysts, they are culturally deprived. It is about time Selma educators recognized obvious facts and acted accordingly.

What is the source of this trouble, these blind spots among educators and board members?

First, local educators and board members, like the rest of this society, are color-oriented in the wrong way. This guarantees misplaced values. They would rather whistle "Dixie" than sing "The Star Spangled Banner."

Second, there is a dislocation between that which an education is supposed to guarantee a child and the nature of the world in which he or she lives. Our children are not trained to reject enough of the negative values which this society presses upon them.

The children are not trained sufficiently to preserve those values which sustained their forefathers and which constitute an important part of their heritage. They are unable to identify those aspects of American life where it is in their best interest to say "No."

Too often they are not taught why there are American situations, processes and experiences that are not merely to be avoided, but actually feared. Take a look at what drugs have done to the young from the best middle-income families.

Finally, there is a raging conflict between a child's own knowledge, his or her own intuitive feeling, and a sense of security to be derived through a gang or something similar that leads to rejection of many of the values offered by the school board and the schools.

What passes for education in Selma and many other communities does a poor, poor job of addressing the situations mentioned here. There are others.

While we fight over the skin color of school board members, and leave the appointment of board members to race-conscious, self-serving municipal politicians, this society is coming loose at the seams.

The school board's notion of "quality education" is rapidly becoming irrelevant to the young souls entrusted to its care.

I am convinced the school board in my town couldn't correctly identify the real problems and fashion effective solutions if the fate of Selma hung in the balance.

And, it may.

Is it any better where you live?

Peace.

J L. Chestnut is an Alabama trial lawyer and writer.