No, this isn’t an article from The Onion.
North Side High School — located in Fort Worth’s “North Side”, a predominantly Latino, migrant, first-generation community — has decided to create a new generation of stereotypes by mis-allocating $13 million that could have been used to expand its already existent and largely successful medical magnet program; and instead reduced the medical magnet school with plans to remove it altogether, and opened a new culinary arts program that does not intersect math, science, or business administration, which would otherwise prepare its students for a globalizing, increasingly competitive university market. And yet, the North Side is not alone; this trend — underresourcing vital educational programs in schools that are predominantly People of Color, and shifting from the professional to vocational — is a statewide phenomena. For sake of this article, however, the case study is North Side High School in Fort Worth Texas.
Let me first jump back a few centuries and put NS in an historical context. In the 1960s, there emerged “Mexican schools” in order to address the “Mexican problem” (too many Mexicans, that is). The fear by white administrators and politicians was the realization that the large Mexican population would one day graduate and fill in positions of power — doctors, lawyers, professors, public intellectuals, etc. The Mexican Schools had two parts: mechanics for the men, and cosmetology for the women. It was a way to funnel Mexicans outside of the professional route, and into the vocational. North Side still has these programs, and so has remained stuck in this systemically racist framework.
Let me also be clear that I am not critiquing anybody who has graduated from these programs. My father graduated from the mechanics program at Diamond Hill; and while my mother dropped out of middle school, graduated from cosmetology school. Being their son, they always told me go for the books not the vocation. My mother once broke her spine, which didn’t allow her to stand for long periods of time to cut hair, and had to quit her profession, leaving my father with the financial responsibility. However, my father also had to miss one-and-a-half years of work after needing two hip replacements surgeries, after he had been exposed to chemicals from his work. My parents told me go to the professional and not the vocational, because they were protecting me from the struggles with which I grew up.
I understand the struggle, the need to find a steady job, because it is survival that is at stake. I am a son of North Side, and write this letter because a new culinary arts program will only graduate a generation of stereotypes. We need doctors, not chefs.
I understand artistic expression. I myself am a poet. But I was admitted to the university because of my experience working with university laboratories through the medical magnet program, because I was taught how to articulate my thoughts. My biggest critique about the magnet program was that it was allocated only to a select few; so, I would have imagined that the $13 million would have been used to reach the other students who are typically ignored — ESL, “at-risk” students, students of color.
I’m not willing to see my prophecy fulfilled — I’m not willing to lay waste to $13 million, or the future of students which is definitely worth more that $13 million, too. I believe in the possibility of all human potential. Yet, in this system this belief is seen as nothing more than superstition, idealism that doesn’t reach anywhere.
I spoke to a few current students at North Side who said they did not feel that they were learning anything worth while. Another student said at an opening, the culinary arts provided sandwiches — to which I responded, “They had better been some dang good sandwiches for $13 million!”. Our students are aware that this is a symbolic way of telling them, “Lower your standards. The professional is not in your path. Stick to the stereotypes. This is what you are. What your blood has always been.”, and I cannot agree.
I cannot agree, because I also have the perspective of a former Administrator for Fort Worth ISD. I worked in the Department of Student Engagement — the very department that works with the “at risk” “bottom 25%” of FWISD’s students. I’ve also spoken at and have an upcoming publication by the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, which address exactly this phenomenon of institutional racism. I can therefore say there is favoritism, classism, and racism, because, in meetings and polities, there is favoritism, classism, and racism. Our schools are named after the “Sides”, and the communities are just as segregated — North Side, Latino; East Side, African American; Southwest, mixed, more affluent, and relatively more successful that the aforementioned.
The way FWISD grants money to schools is based on local taxes, and so schools in poorer neighborhoods are often also underresourced; conversely, schools in more affluent areas are better resourced, and we see these differences in test scores, university matriculation, drop-out rates, and the education gap. We also see it in the school-to-prison pipeline — the disproportionality in which schools refer students to the juvenile system, which in turn creates the record that is used to justify a student’s placement in jail or prison when they reach adulthood.
Let’s take a moment to recognize an amazing disparity: FWISD has well over 100 elementary schools, and just over 10 high schools. This 90% drop in representation leaves us to question: Where do those students go? The bottom percentage will most likely end in prison. The next tier will end up in a minimum wage job. The following vocational jobs (ie: “chefs”, where the NS’s future is headed with its “culinary arts”). Then a select few — most often those in the magnet program — will be trained for the university and thus professional paths.
With the simple math — dropping from 100 elementary schools to 10 high schools — and with the experience as Administrator for FWISD, I can firmly say the majority (really, 90%) of your, our, children and their future, aren’t safe. Statistically, the future is very grim.
So, when we do have the funding, when there is the possibility to change this course, I can’t help but wonder why we’d regress. Progress would be a recognition that “Mexican schools” — mechanics and cosmetology — would be dismantled, a part of history. Progress would be the expansion of the medical program, the inclusion of engineering, science, math, technology. I believe in arts and believe it should be included, but $13 million is unjustifiable, especially if they do not intersect with subjects that will prepare them for an increasingly competitive world; and the decision to misallocate such an enormous fund leaves me questioning the Administration and Board’s priorities — how they really envision and uphold the potential of our students.
This might be the North Side’s problem, yet it intersects with Texas’s changing educational landscape. The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has motioned for cultural erasure and false histories, and have gone as far as redefining the Civil Rights Movement as a “movement for unreasonable expectations for equality”; and so, in context with North Side’s allegiance to create new stereotypes, I begin to question how the Administration and SBOE wants to steer the future of its students of color.
It seems the SBOE knows and recognizes the potential in educating our students of color, and are pressed to re-employ the “Mexican Schools” of the 1960s. But it is 2013, and we have learned. We, too, know that times are changing; and we know that we, too, are America. That we have always contributed to this country — and have existed in this space long before the creation of the “United States” and “America”; we are merely ending this cycle of institutional repression. We are reclaiming our future, and demand the recognition of our gift.
UPDATE: A teacher from the North Side reports that: “There are insufficient funds to use the facility as created. Much of the equipment will never be used. They weren’t asked what should be ordered.” First: how is there “insufficient funds” when the budget was $13 Million. We need to keep the Board, the Administrators, and Principal accountable. Where did the money go?