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Sins of the Fathers

Something happened this week which will, unless something changes soon, have the effect of finishing the job of effectively destroying the Detroit public schools. And maybe, Michigan’s future.

The state department of education has ordered Detroit to put in place a financial restructuring plan that would close half the district’s schools within two years. That would result in an  average high school class size of sixty-two students.

That would make anything resembling education all but impossible. As a conservative columnist for The Detroit News said recently, that’s not a classroom, that’s a holding pen.

Detroit’s schools have been dying for a long time. Parents who care about their children‘s future have been fleeing the district in droves. Back in 1999, they still had 175,000 students. This fall, that had shrunk to seventy-four thousand. That’s a loss of nearly ten thousand a year. The district is expected to lose another sixteen thousand over the next three years

What happens to the students who are then left is anybody’s guess, but it won’t really be education. Not a lot of education seems to be happening now. Fewer than half graduate from high school,, and many of those who do get diplomas are barely literate.  Whose fault it is that the Detroit schools are in such a  state has been argued over endlessly. But what baffles me is that the rest of us don’t feel compelled to do something about it, both out of human compassion and sheer self-preservation.

Think about this. Detroit is being populated with hundreds of thousands of desperate young people who are not going to be employable at any conceivable legal, twenty-first century job.

How can that be good for our state? How can that leave the rich people in the Grosse Pointes, some of whom live only blocks from urban squalor, feeling secure?

We live, sadly, in two worlds in this country: The white world and the black one. Several weeks ago, I talked about how the West Germans pitched in and spent billions to build up East Berlin after Communism fell and the wall came down.

I said it was baffling that we weren’t willing to do that here. I immediately heard from an elderly white woman I know. “Tain’t baffling,“ she said. All Germans were white.

Incidentally, this woman is about at politically liberal as they come. She lived and worked in the city until about a year ago, when the sheer cost and difficulty got to be too much.

Now, deeply pessimistic, she worries that the answer to Rodney King’s famous question -- can’t we all just get along -- might be no, primarily because of the way white Americans treated black Americans for generations after slavery -- “brutalizing and ghettoizing them and keeping them in “separate but equal ignorance.“

That, she fears, as led to hatred and rejection of our culture on the part of much of black America, and a lack of interest on the part of white America in whatever happens to blacks.

“Politically incorrect?“ she said. Perhaps. But true, nevertheless. I don’t claim to be a sociologist or an economist, but I do know this. That unless we solve the problem of Detroit, Michigan has no chance of serious prosperity in any scenario we can foresee.