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The Equality of Innocence: Washington, D.C.

Most academic studies of school finance, sooner or later, ask us to consider the same question: “How can we achieve more equity in education in America?” A variation of the question is a bit more circumspect: “How can we achieve both equity and excellence in education?” Both questions, however, seem to value equity as a desired goal. But, when the recommendations of such studies are examined, and when we look as well at the solutions that innumerable commissions have proposed, we realize that they do not quite mean “equity” and that they have seldom asked for “equity.” What they mean, what they prescribe, is something that resembles equity but never reaches it: something close enough to equity to silence criticism by approximating justice, but far enough from equity to guarantee the benefits enjoyed by privilege. The differences are justified by telling us that equity must always be “approximate” and cannot possibly be perfect. But the imperfection falls in almost every case to the advantage of the privileged.

In Maryland, for instance, one of several states in which the courts have looked at fiscal inequalities between school districts, an equity suit filed in 1978, although unsuccessful, led the state to reexamine the school funding system. When a task force set up by the governor offered its suggestions five years later, it argued that 100 percent equality was too expensive. The goal, it said, was 75 percent equality—meaning that the poorest districts should be granted no less than three quarters of the funds at the disposal of the average district. But, as the missing 25 percent translates into differences of input (teacher pay, provision of books, class size, etc.), we discover it is just enough to demarcate the difference between services appropriate to different social classes, and to formalize that difference in their destinies.

“The equalized 75 percent,” says an educator in one of the state’s low-income districts, “buys just enough to keep all ships afloat. The unequal 25 percent assures that they will sail in opposite directions.”

It is a matter of national pride that every child’s ship be kept afloat. Otherwise our nation would be subject to the charge that we deny poor children public school. But what is now encompassed by the one word (“school”) are two very different kinds of institutions that, in function, finance and intention, serve entirely different roles. Both are needed for our nation’s governance. But children in one set of schools are educated to be governors; children in the other set of schools are trained for being governed. The former are given the imaginative range to mobilize ideas for economic growth; the latter are provided with the discipline to do the narrow tasks the first group will prescribe.

Societies cannot be all generals, no soldiers. But, by our schooling patterns, we assure that soldiers’ children are more likely to be soldiers and that the offspring of the generals will have at least the option to be generals. If this is not so, if it is just a matter of the difficulty of assuring perfect fairness, why does the unfairness never benefit the children of the poor?

“Children in a true sense,” writes John Coons of Berkeley University, “are all poor” because they are dependent on adults. There is also, he says, “a sameness among children in the sense of [a] substantial uncertainty about their potential role as adults.” It could be expressed, he says, “as an equality of innocence.” The equality of adults, by comparison, “is always problematical; even social and economic differences among them are plausibly ascribed to their own deserts.… In any event, adults as a class enjoy no presumption of homogeneous virtue and their ethical demand for equality of treatment is accordingly attenuated. The differences among children, on the other hand, cannot be ascribed even vaguely to fault without indulging in an attaint of blood uncongenial to our time.”

Terms such as “attaint of blood” are rarely used today, and, if they were, they would occasion public indignation; but the rigging of the game and the acceptance, which is nearly universal, of uneven playing fields reflect a dark unspoken sense that other people’s children are of less inherent value than our own. Now and then, in private, affluent suburbanites concede that certain aspects of the game may be a trifle rigged to their advantage. “Sure, it’s a bit unjust,” they may concede, “but that’s reality and that’s the way the game is played.…

“In any case,” they sometimes add in a refrain that we have heard now many times, “there’s no real evidence that spending money makes much difference in the outcome of a child’s education. We have it. So we spend it. But it’s probably a secondary matter. Other factors—family and background—seem to be a great deal more important.”

In these ways they fend off dangers of disturbing introspection; and this, in turn, enables them to give their children something far more precious than the simple gift of pedagogic privilege. They give them uncontaminated satisfaction in their victories. Their children learn to shut from mind the possibility that they are winners in an unfair race, and they seldom let themselves lose sleep about the losers. There are, of course, unusual young people who, no matter what their parents tell them, do become aware of the inequities at stake. We have heard the voices of a few such students in this book. But the larger numbers of these favored children live with a remarkable experience of ethical exemption. Cruelty is seldom present in the thinking of such students, but it is contained within insouciance.

Sometimes the residents of affluent school districts point to certain failings in their own suburban schools, as if to say that “all our schools” are “rather unsuccessful” and that “minor differentials” between urban and suburban schools may not therefore be of much significance. “You know,” said the father of two children who had gone to school in Great Neck, “it isn’t just New York. We have our problems on Long Island too. My daughter had some high school teachers who were utterly inept and uninspired. She has had a devil of a time at Sarah Lawrence.…” He added that she had friends who went to private school and who were given a much better preparation. “It just seems terribly unfair,” he said.

Defining unfairness as the difficulty that a Great Neck graduate encounters at a top-flight private college, to which any child in the South Bronx would have given her right arm to be admitted, strikes one as a way of rendering the term so large that it means almost nothing. “What is unfair,” he is saying in effect, “is what I determine to be unfair. What I find unfair is what affects my child, not somebody else’s child in New York.”

Competition at the local high school, said another Great Neck parent, was “unhealthy.” He described the toll it took on certain students. “Children in New York may suffer from too little. Many of our children suffer from too much.” The loss of distinctions in these statements serves to blur the differences between the inescapable unhappiness of being human and the needless misery created by injustice. It also frees the wealthy from the obligation to concede the difference between inconvenience and destruction.

Poor people do not need to be reminded that the contest is unfair. “My children,” says Elizabeth, a friend of mine who lives in a black neighborhood of Boston, “know very well the system is unfair. They also know that they are living in a rich society. They see it on TV, and in advertisements, and in the movies. They see the president at his place in Maine, riding around the harbor in his motor boat and playing golf with other wealthy men. They know that men like these did not come out of schools in Roxbury or Harlem. They know that they were given something extra. They don’t know exactly what it is, but they have seen enough, and heard enough, to know that men don’t speak like that and look like that unless they have been fed with silver spoons—and went to schools that had a lot of silver spoons and other things that cost a lot.…

“So they know this other world exists, and, when you tell them that the government can’t find the money to provide them with a decent place to go to school, they don’t believe it and they know that it’s a choice that has been made—a choice about how much they matter to society. They see it as a message: ‘This is to tell you that you don’t much matter. You are ugly to us so we crowd you into ugly places. You are dirty so it will not hurt to pack you into dirty places.’ My son says this: ‘By doing this to you, we teach you how much you are hated.’ I like to listen to the things my children say. They’re not sophisticated so they speak out of their hearts.”

One of the ideas, heard often in the press, that stirs the greatest sense of anger in a number of black parents that I know is that the obstacles black children face, to the extent that “obstacles” are still conceded, are attributable, at most, to “past injustice”—something dating maybe back to slavery or maybe to the era of official segregation that came to its close during the years from 1954 to 1968—but not, in any case, to something recent or contemporary or ongoing. The nostrum of a “past injustice”—an expression often spoken with sarcasm—is particularly cherished by conservatives because it serves to undercut the claim that young black people living now may have some right to preferential opportunities. Contemporary claims based on a “past injustice,” after all, begin to seem implausible if the alleged injustice is believed to be a generation, or six generations, in the past. “We were not alive when these injustices took place,” white students say. “Some of us were born to parents who came here as immigrants. None of these things are our responsibility, and we should not be asked to suffer for them.”

But the hundreds of classrooms without teachers in Chicago’s public schools, the thousands of children without classrooms in the schools of Irvington and Paterson and East Orange, the calculated racial segregation of the children in the skating rink in District 10 in New York City, and the lifelong poisoning of children in the streets and schools of East St. Louis are not matters of anterior injustice. They are injustices of 1991.

Over 30 years ago, the city of Chicago purposely constructed the high-speed Dan Ryan Expressway in such a way as to cut off the section of the city in which housing projects for black people had been built. The Robert Taylor Homes, served by Du Sable High, were subsequently constructed in that isolated area as well; realtors thereafter set aside adjoining neighborhoods for rental only to black people. The expressway is still there. The projects are still there. Black children still grow up in the same neighborhoods. There is nothing “past” about most “past discrimination” in Chicago or in any other northern city.

In seeking to find a metaphor for the unequal contest that takes place in public school, advocates for equal education sometimes use the image of a tainted sports event. We have seen, for instance, the familiar image of the playing field that isn’t level. Unlike a tainted sports event, however, a childhood cannot be played again. We are children only once; and, after those few years are gone, there is no second chance to make amends. In this respect, the consequences of unequal education have a terrible finality. Those who are denied cannot be “made whole” by a later act of government. Those who get the unfair edge cannot be later stripped of what they’ve won. Skills, once attained—no matter how unfairly—take on a compelling aura. Effectiveness seems irrefutable, no matter how acquired. The winners in this race feel meritorious. Since they also are, in large part, those who govern the discussion of this issue, they are not disposed to cast a cloud upon the means of their ascent.

People like Elizabeth are left disarmed. Their only argument is justice. But justice, poorly argued, is no match for the acquired ingenuity of the successful. The fruits of inequality, in this respect, are self-confirming.

There are “two worlds of Washington,” the Wall Street journal writes. One is the Washington of “cherry blossoms, the sparkling white monuments, the magisterial buildings of government …, of politics and power.” In the Rayburn House Office Building, the Journal writes, “a harpist is playing Schumann’s ‘Traumerei,’ the bartenders are tipping the top brands of Scotch, and two huge salmons sit on mirrored platters.” Just over a mile away, the other world is known as Anacostia.

In an elementary school in Anacostia, a little girl in the fifth grade tells me that the first thing she would do if somebody gave money to her school would be to plant a row of flowers by the street. “Blue flowers,” she says. “And I’d buy some curtains for my teacher.” And she specifies again: “Blue curtains.”

I ask her, “Why blue curtains?”

“It’s like this,” she says. “The school is dirty. There isn’t any playground. There’s a hole in the wall behind the principal’s desk. What we need to do is first rebuild the school. Another color. Build a playground. Plant a lot of flowers. Paint the classrooms. Blue and white. Fix the hole in the principal’s office. Buy doors for the toilet stalls in the girls’ bathroom. Fix the ceiling in this room. It looks like somebody went up and peed over our heads. Make it a beautiful clean building. Make it pretty. Way it is, I feel ashamed.”

Her name is Tunisia. She is tall and thin and has big glasses with red frames. “When people come and see our school,” she says, “they don’t say nothing, but I know what they are thinking.”

“Our teachers,” says Octavia, who is tiny with red sneakers and two beaded cornrows in her hair, “shouldn’t have to eat here in the basement. I would like for them to have a dining room. A nice room with a salad bar. Serve our teachers big thick steaks to give them energy.”

A boy named Gregory tells me that he was visiting in Fairfax County on the weekend. “Those neighborhoods are different,” Gregory reports. “They got a golf course there. Big houses. Better schools.”

I ask him why he thinks they’re better schools.

“We don’t know why,” Tunisia says. “We are too young to have the information.”

“You live in certain areas and things are different,” Gregory explains.

Not too long ago, the basement cafeteria was flooded. Rain poured into the school and rats appeared. Someone telephoned the mayor: “You’ve got dead rats here in the cafeteria.”

The principal is an aging, slender man. He speaks of generations of black children lost to bitterness and failure. He seems worn down by sorrow and by anger at defeat. He has been the principal since 1959.

“How frustrating it is,” he says, “to see so many children going hungry. On Fridays in the cafeteria I see small children putting chicken nuggets in their pockets. They’re afraid of being hungry on the weekend.”

A teacher looks out at her class: “These children don’t smile. Why should they learn when their lives are so hard and so unhappy?”

Seven children meet me in the basement cafeteria. The flood that brought the rats is gone, but other floods have streaked the tiles in the ceiling.

The school is on a road that runs past several boarded buildings. Gregory tells me they are called “pipe” houses. “Go by there one day—it be vacant. Next day, they bring sofas, chairs. Day after that, you see the junkies going in.”

I ask the children what they’d do to get rid of the drugs.

“Get the New Yorkers off our streets,” Octavia says. “They come here from New York, perturbed, and sell our children drugs.”

“Children working for the dealers,” Gregory explains.

A teacher sitting with us says, “At eight years old, some of the boys are running drugs and holding money for the dealers. By 28, they’re going to be dead.”

Tunisia: “It makes me sad to see black people kill black people.”

“Four years from now,” the principal says when we sit down to talk after the close of school, “one third of the little girls in this fifth grade are going to be pregnant.”

I look into the faces of these children. At this moment they seem full of hope and innocence and expectation. The little girls have tiny voices and they squirm about on little chairs and lean way forward with their elbows on the table and their noses just above the table’s surface and make faces at each other and seem mischievous and wise and beautiful. Two years from now, in junior high, there may be more toughness in their eyes, a look of lessened expectations and increasing cynicism. By the time they are 14, a certain rawness and vulgarity may have set in. Many will be hostile and embittered by that time. Others will coarsen, partly the result of diet, partly self-neglect and self-dislike. Visitors who meet such girls in elementary school feel tenderness; by junior high, they feel more pity or alarm.

But today, in Anacostia, the children are young and whimsical and playful. If you hadn’t worked with kids like these for 20 years, you would have no reason to feel sad. You’d think, “They have the world before them.”

“The little ones come into school on Monday,” says the teacher, “and they’re hungry. A five-year-old. Her laces are undone. She says, ‘I had to dress myself this morning.’ I ask her why. She says, ‘They took my mother off to jail.’ Their stomachs hurt. They don’t know why. We feed them something hot because they’re hungry.”

I ask the children if they go to church. Most of them say they do. I ask them how they think of God.

“He has a face like ours,” Octavia says.

A white face or a black face?

“Mexican,” she says.

Tunisia: “I don’t know the answer to that question.”

“When you go to God,” says Gregory, “He’ll remind you of everything you did. He adds it up. If you were good, you go to Heaven. If you were selfish, then He makes you stand and wait awhile—over there. Sometimes you get a second chance. You need to wait and see.”

We talk about teen-agers who get pregnant. Octavia explains: “They want to be like rock stars. Grow up fast.” She mentions a well-known singer. “She left school in junior high, had a baby. Now she got a swimming pool and car.”

Tunisia says, “That isn’t it. Their lives are sad.”

A child named Monique goes back to something we discussed before: “If I had a lot of money, I would give it to poor children.”

The statement surprises me. I ask her if the children in this neighborhood are poor. Several children answer, “No.”

Tunisia (after a long pause): “We are all poor people in this school.”

The bell rings, although it isn’t three o’clock. The children get up and say good-bye and start to head off to the stairs that lead up from the basement to the first floor. The principal later tells me he released the children early. He had been advised that there would be a shooting in the street this afternoon.

I tell him how much I liked the children and he’s obviously pleased. Tunisia, he tells me, lives in the Capital City Inn—the city’s largest homeless shelter. She has been homeless for a year, he says; he thinks that this may be one reason she is so reflective and mature.

Delabian Rice-Thurston, an urban planner who has children in the D.C. schools, says this: “We did a comparison of schools in Washington and schools out in the suburbs. A group of business leaders went with us. They found it sobering. One of them said, ‘If anybody thinks that money’s not an issue, let the people in Montgomery County put their children in the D.C. schools. Parents in Montgomery would riot.’ ”

She runs through a number of the schools they visited in Washington: “There was a hole in the ceiling of a classroom on the third floor of the Coolidge School. They’d put a 20-gallon drum under the hole to catch the rain. The toilets at the Stevens School were downright unpleasant. But, if you really want to see some filth, you go to the Langston School. You go down into the basement—to the women’s toilet. I would not go to the bathroom in that building if my life depended on it.

“Go to Spingarn. It’s a high school in the District. The time we visited, it was a hot, humid day in June. It was steaming up there on the third floor. Every window on one side had been nailed shut. A teacher told me that a child said to her, ‘This school ain’t shit.’ She answered him, ‘I have to teach you here. We both know what it is.’

“If you’re rich in Washington, you try to send your kids to private school. Middle-class people sometimes put their kids in certain public schools. Parents in those neighborhoods raise outside money so their kids get certain extras. There are boundaries for school districts, but some parents know the way to cross the borders. The poorer and less educated parents can’t. They don’t know how.

“The D.C. schools are 92 percent black, 4 percent white, 4 percent Hispanic and some other ethnics. There is no discussion of cross-busing with the suburbs. People in Montgomery and Fairfax wouldn’t hear of it. It would mean their children had to cross state borders. There is regional cooperation on a lot of other things. We have a regional airport, a regional public-transit system, and a regional sewage-disposal system. Not when it comes to education.

“Black people did not understand that whites would go to such extremes to keep our children at a distance. We never believed that it would come to this: that they would flee our children. Mind you, many of these folks are government officials. They are setting policy for the entire nation. So their actions, their behavior, speak to something more than just one system.

“If you’re black you have to understand—white people would destroy their schools before they’d let our children sit beside their children. They would leave their homes and sell them for a song in order not to live with us and see our children socializing with their children. And if white people want the central city back someday, they’ll get it. If they want to build nice homes along the Anacostia River, they’ll get Anacostia too. We’ll be sent off to another neighborhood, another city.”

Poor people in the District, she explains, want very much to keep the middle-class children, white and black, from fleeing from the city’s schools. In order to keep them, they are willing to accept a dual system in the District, even while recognizing that the better schools, the so-called “magnet schools,” for instance, will attract the wealthier children and will leave more concentrated numbers of the poorest children in the poorest schools. In other words, she says, in order not to have an all-poor system with still less political and fiscal backing than they have today, they will accept the lesser injustice of two kinds of schools within one system. Even within a single school, they will accept a dual track—essentially, two separate schools within one building.

This compromise would not be needed if the city were not isolated from the suburbs in the first place. A similar dynamic is at stake in New York City and Chicago, where, as we have seen, at least two separate systems coexist disguised as one. If the urban schools were not so poor, if there were no ghetto and therefore no ghetto system, people wouldn’t be obliged to make this bleak accommodation. But once a city of primarily poor people has been isolated and cut off, the poorest of the poor will often acquiesce in this duality out of the fear of losing some of the side-benefits of having less-poor people in the system.

So it is a loser’s strategy: “Favor the most fortunate among us or they’ll leave us too. Then we will have even fewer neighbors who can win political attention for our children.” There is always the example of a place like Paterson or East St. Louis, where almost all residents are poor. These pitiful trade-offs would not be required if we did not have a dual system in the first place. But one dual system (city versus suburbs) almost inevitably creates a second dual system (city-poor versus city-less-than-poor). So it is that inequality, once it is accepted, grows contagious.

“Like soldiers who have seen too much combat,” writes the New York Times, “increasing numbers of children in the nation’s capital” are beginning to show “battle fatigue.” Psychologists tell of children “who talk of death” while parents speak of children “who cry uncontrollably” and “keep the shades drawn in their rooms.”

“We’re seeing more and more kids who are simply overwhelmed,” says a doctor at a local hospital, “not unlike people who have experienced shell shock.”

Another physician calls them “children under siege.” They are, he says, “always suspicious … fatalistic and impulsive.” They live surrounded by the vivid symbols of their undesirable status: drugs and death, decay and destitution.

Soon after my visit to the elementary school in Anacostia, the press described the efforts of the District of Columbia to round up its prostitutes and ship them to Virginia. Two dozen prostitutes, according to one report, were “herded” by policemen from the sidewalks of the downtown area and forced to “hoof it” along Fourteenth Street to a bridge over the Potomac River, “This is the fourth commodity the District exports to Virginia,” said a Virginia congressman. “We get all the sludge, all the garbage, most of the prisoners and now their prostitutes.” One commodity, however, was effectively resisted. As observers noted, black children from the District were successfully kept out of the Virginia schools.

A few weeks later, at a housing project in a crowded neighborhood of Anacostia, a little girl named Harper and her mother talk to me about the neighborhood while standing on the front steps of their house. Nearby, a group of men stand in a semicircle looking at a car that has been set on blocks. The hood is up and auto parts are spread out on the street. A number of boys in bare feet, some in sneakers, stand around the men, while others watch from the adjacent stoops. A boy who may be six years old is holding a baby girl, perhaps his sister, in his arms.

In back of the building, in a narrow lane, about a dozen men are lined against the wall. Every so often a car comes by and stops. A brief transaction is concluded. Then the car moves on. A game of dice is going on outside the kitchen door.

Above our heads a helicopter circles in the sky. As the tempo of drug-dealing rises in the lane, the helicopter’s passes grow more frequent. Now and then it banks and dives, then soars up in the sky.

“It’s like being in a battle zone,” says Harper’s mother. “Cops above us. People up to no good on the ground.…”

The helicopter’s roar becomes an intermittent background to the children’s afternoon. Dozens of men on every side are doing nothing.

“What do you do with a former slave,” asks Congressman Augustus Hawkins when I meet him the next day, “when you no longer need his labor?”

Harper and four friends of hers go with me to a neighborhood McDonald’s. While we eat, they talk about their school. Harper describes the paddle that her teacher uses when the children misbehave. “Teacher makes you stand and bend across the desk,” she says.

Another child, named Rebecca, climbs from her chair and shows me how she stands and bends when she is beaten. “Man!” she says. “That thing eats up your butt.”

At some point, whenever I’m with children of this age, I try to gain some sense of what they love the most or what they think is beautiful. I ask them this question: “What is the most beautiful thing in the entire world that you can think of? ”

Harper says, “A baby fox.”

I ask her why.

“A baby fox,” she answers, “has soft reddish hair, a sweet expression, and a bushy tail.”

“Butterflies are beautiful,” Rebecca says.

“Daffodils and roses and sunflowers and a big old lemon cake and silky underwear and Gucci suedes,” another child says.

“A wedding is also beautiful,” says Harper.

Surprised by this, I ask what kind of wedding she would like.

“A wedding in a big old church,” she says. “A pretty dress, all pearly white, with diamonds in my hair.”

“In your hair,” I ask, “or in your ears?”

“Sprinkly diamonds, sprinkled in my hair,” the little girl replies. Then she goes on: “Have my honeymoon at Disneyland. Go to Nebraska after that. Live in a big white house and have a swimming pool shaped like my name.”

I ask if she wants children.

“No,” she says. “No children. Have a weddin’, buy a house, then put my husband out so I can live with someone that I like.” She bursts into a smile.

The fourth girl at the table is a somewhat awkward seventh grader who has scarcely spoken up to now. Dressed in black shorts, a black jersey and black shoes, she’s not as playful as the others.

“Heaven is beautiful,” she suddenly remarks.

Harper, however, screws up her face at this. “Why you want to go to Heaven when you still got time to be alive?”

Like many teachers and some journalists, I do my best to steer the conversation into channels that I somehow think will be “significant.” But my careful plans are easily subverted by these lively little girls. The children’s thoughts dart off in all directions. Without warning, the conversation shifts to drugs.

“This man in my neighborhood,” Rebecca suddenly reports, “he’s a tiny, tiny, little man.…” After a pause in which she seems to lose her thought, she starts again: “This man is a midget. Name is Tony Africa. Everybody knows this little man is a drug addict. If you go outside at night, ’round ten o’clock, you see him sometimes crawling in the dirt.”

Harper introduces me to an expression I have never heard. “Name for what this little, little man is doing is called geeking,” she explains. “Geeking is—you crawl along the street and look for rocks. You look for rocks that other people spill. You crawl along your knees.…”

“Night-time,” says Rebecca, “you see people with no money lunchin’ off each other. Lunchin’ is—you breathe somebody else’s air.”

“Get excited!” Harper tells me. “Take their clothes off! Start to dance!”

“Ice cream man sells condoms,” says the quieter, older girl.

I ask the children, “Is that true?”

“Ice cream man sells condoms in the project,” she replies.

“This man, name is Hollywood,” Rebecca says. “He ain’t a man and ain’t a lady. He’s a man but dresses like a lady. Don’t use drugs. He drinks. Get him a bottle of Cisco [reinforced sweet wine], he starts to dance! ‘I don’t need no man or woman! I don’t need no condom or no nothin’!’ ”

“When he’s drunk,” says Harper, “he starts barkin’ like a dog. Go down on the ground and barks and then he’s eatin’ off this woman’s feet.”

“Name of this woman is Passion Flower,” says Rebecca.

Although the things they talk about are anything but cheerful, they are animated and excited as they speak, and there is the playfulness of nine-year-olds within their voices. Harper is one of the most beautiful little girls I’ve ever seen. She’s wearing blue-jean jumpershorts and a white T-shirt and barrettes that look like daisies in her hair. She squirms about within her chair. Her feet, in clean blue sneakers, do not reach the floor. Rebecca, who is leaning on her elbows, holds her hands against her cheeks and squeezes them together so she looks a little like a minnow with its mouth against the wall of an aquarium.

The other child at the table is a teen-age boy, Rebecca’s older brother. He speaks very little and seems somewhat bored. There is also a degree of sullenness about his words. I have to ask a question twice before he looks at me and gives an answer. The three fourth graders, on the other hand, are spirited and clear.

“The little ones,” says Harper’s mother later on, “are innocent. They run their mouths because they see a lot, but they don’t know exactly what it means. The older ones, they know enough to guard their words.” A degree of caution is a matter of survival at their age, she says.

At 8:00 P.M., the street in front of Harper’s house is filled with adolescents and with many older men who seem to have more occupation now than in the listless afternoon. Inside her house I tell her mother that I’m thirsty, and she offers me a glass of ice-cold water. Through the kitchen doorway in the back I see some of the same men as before against the wall.

In the quiet living room Harper’s mother gestures to the men out in the lane. “Some of those men out there will be in jail tonight,” she says.

As I prepare to leave, a cop car rolls up to the door. Two officers get out, one white, one black, both with handcuffs on their belts, and head out to the rear.

Night after night, on television, Americans can watch police or federal agents rounding up black men and black teen-agers. The sight of white policemen breaking down the doors of houses, black people emerging with their heads bent low in order to avoid the television cameras, has become a form of prime-time television entertainment in America. The story that is told by television cameras is a story of deformity. The story that is not told is the lifelong deformation of poor children by their own society and government. We hear of an insatiable attraction to consumer goods like sneakers, stereos and video recorders. The story that we do not hear is of the aggressive marketing of these commodities in neighborhoods where very poor black people live: neighborhoods where appetites for purchasable mediocrity are easily inflamed because there sometimes is so little that is rich and beautiful to offer competition. Once these children learn that lovely and transcendent things are not for them, it may be a little easier to settle for the cheaper satisfactions.

The manufacture of desire for commodities that children of low income can’t afford also pushes them to underground economies and crime to find the money to appease the longings we have often fostered. Here, too, market forces are available to push them into further degradation. Gambling and prostitution have been centered now for many decades in black neighborhoods. Heroin sales to whites as well as blacks were centered in Boston’s black South End and Roxbury as long ago as 1945. Today in Roxbury, as in the South Bronx and in Anacostia, eight-year-olds can watch the cars of people from the suburbs cruising through their neighborhoods in search of drugs.

“You couldn’t permit this sort of thing,” a journalist in Boston said, “unless you saw these children and their parents as a little less than human.” There is some evidence that this is now the case. Not long ago, after the press in Boston had reported that black and Hispanic newborns had been dying at three times the rate of newborn whites, the Boston Globe said it was flooded with phone calls and letters. Few of them, said the paper, were compassionate. Many described the infants as “inferior” and “leeches.” Their mothers were called “moral-less.” Others called them “irresponsible pigs.” The infants, said the Globe, were described as “trash that begets trash.”

The press in Washington, New York and Boston has been filled with stories about drug use by black adolescents during recent months. Deaths by violence in Roxbury and Dorchester, where most of Boston’s nonwhite people live, are now reported almost weekly. The Globe reports 170 shootings in two months. A psychiatrist whom I have known for many years speaks of the ways this violence is viewed and understood by his suburban neighbors: “When they hear of all these murders, all these men in prison, all these women pregnant with no husbands, they don’t buy the explanation that it’s poverty, or public schools, or racial segregation. They say, ‘We didn’t have much money when we started out, but we led clean and decent lives. We did it. Why can’t they?’ I try to get inside that statement. So I ask them what they mean. What I hear is something that sounds very much like a genetic answer: ‘They don’t have it.’ What they mean is lack of brains, or lack of drive, or lack of willingness to work. Something like that. Whatever it is, it sounds almost inherent. Some of them are less direct. They don’t say genetics; what they talk about is history. ‘This is what they have become, for lots of complicated reasons. Slavery, injustice or whatever.’ But they really do believe it when they say that this is what they have become, that this is what they are. And they don’t believe that better schools or social changes will affect it very much. So it comes down to an explanation that is so intrinsic, so immutable, that it might as well be called genetic. They see a slipshod deviant nature—violence, lassitude, a reckless sexuality, a feverish need to over-reproduce—as if it were a character imprinted on black people. The degree to which this racial explanation is accepted would surprise you.”

Of the recent rise in crack addiction in the Boston ghetto, he says this: “People see it as another form of reckless self-indulgence. I find this explanation puzzling. The gratification it affords is so short-lived, so pitiful and meager, in comparison to the depression that ensues—and the depression is so deep and so long-lasting—that it’s just not credible to call it an indulgence. Suicide, as you know, is not particularly high in black communities, not at least the way that it is commonly defined. But crack addiction strikes me sometimes as a kind of ‘covert’ suicide. For many, many people in a neighborhood like Roxbury, the savor has gone out of life. I believe that many of these youths are literally courting death—enticing it into their presence.…

“Look at any other group of people in despair. Look at the Native Americans, for instance. They’re out there on those barren reservations, bleak and empty places, not so different really from these burnt-out stretches of the Bronx or Dorchester. What do they do? They drink themselves to death. A third of the babies on some reservations are brain-damaged from their mothers’ drinking. Physicians used to say, ‘The Indians are predisposed to being alcoholics.’ Would they say that black teen-agers, then, are predisposed to crack addiction? Obviously the common bond is their oppressive lives.”

He spoke about some recent crimes in Roxbury: “There is an element about it that is literally macabre. It’s like a welcoming of evil. People on the outside look at this and they see savages instead of human beings. Physicians I know refuse to go into those areas. Even in the middle of the day they will not do it.”

A black South African social scientist says this of the in-turned violence and hate among the people living in that country’s settlements: “If you degrade people’s self-respect on a daily basis, over centuries, you are bound to produce monsters.…” People ruled by the needs of the flesh, she says, are systematically separated from their spirit. Political anger is turned in against one’s wife or children. It is, she says, “the way that animals behave.”

Press discussion of these matters rarely makes much reference to the segregated, poorly funded, overcrowded schools in which these children see their early dreams destroyed. The indignation of the press is concentrated on the poor behavior of the ghetto residents; the ghetto itself, the fact that it is still there as a permanent disfigurement on the horizon of our nation, is no longer questioned. Research experts want to know what can be done about the values of poor segregated children; and this is a question that needs asking. But they do not ask what can be done about the values of the people who have segregated these communities. There is no academic study of the pathological detachment of the very rich, although it would be useful to society to have some understanding of these matters.

People ask me, “Is it safe to visit in these neighborhoods in Anacostia?”

I answer, “Safe for an adult to visit? Children live their whole lives in these neighborhoods! If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for them.” But the truth is that it isn’t safe either for those who live there or for those who visit.

In the summer sometimes in New York, groups of restless black teen-agers wander through the steamy streets of midtown neighborhoods and stand outside the doors of stores like Tiffany’s or Saks Fifth Avenue. The clothing and behavior of these adolescents seem particularly offensive to some people. “They wear expensive sneakers,” says a woman living on the East Side of Manhattan, “and they use their food allowance to buy stereo receivers. Then they bring these things downtown and blast their music at us on Fifth Avenue. Why should we be paying with our taxes for their sneakers and their gold chains and their crack addictions?” I am sure New Yorkers are familiar with this kind of statement. I have heard the same reaction also in downtown Chicago.

Her words bring back a memory from 1965. An eight-year-old, a little boy who is an orphan, goes to the school to which I’ve been assigned. He talks to himself and mumbles during class, but he is never offered psychiatric care or counseling. When he annoys his teacher, he is taken to the basement to be whipped. He isn’t the only child in the class who seems to understand that he is being ruined, but he is the child who first captures my attention. His life is so hard and he is so small; and he is shy and still quite gentle. He has one gift: He draws delightful childish pictures, but the art instructor says he “muddies his paints.” She shreds his work in front of the class. Watching this, he stabs a pencil point into his hand.

Seven years later he is in the streets. He doesn’t use drugs. He is an adolescent alcoholic. Two years later he has a child that he can’t support and he does not pretend to try. In front of Lord & Taylor he is seen in a long leather coat and leather hat. To affluent white shoppers he is the embodiment of evil. He laughs at people as they come out of the store; his laugh is like a pornographic sneer. Three years later I visit him in jail. His face is scarred and ugly. His skull is mapped with jagged lines where it was stitched together poorly after being shattered with a baseball bat. He does not at all resemble the shy child that I knew ten years before. He is regarded as a kind of monster now. He was jailed for murdering a white man in a wheelchair. I find him a lawyer. He is given 20 years.

To any retrospective pleas that I may make on his behalf, I hear a stock reply: “How much exactly does a person have the right to ask? We did not leave this child in the street to die. We put him in a foster home. We did not deny him education. We assigned him to a school. Yes, you can tell us that the school was segregated, dirty, poorly funded, and the books were torn and antiquated, and the teachers unprepared. Nonetheless, it was a school. We didn’t give him nothing. He got something. How much does a person have the right to ask?”

A New York City social worker makes this observation: “It’s very important that the city has some nonwhite people as administrators of the schools and homeless shelters and the welfare offices. It is unmistakable that many of these jobs are now reserved for nonwhite personnel. Do you notice how these cities look for black men, in particular, to be the heads of the police, the welfare and the schools? The presence of a white man at the head of a large urban system that is warehousing black children would be quite suggestive and provocative. An effort is made to find a suitable black person. Failing that, an Asian or Hispanic.”

Placing a black person in control of an essentially apartheid system—whether that system is a city or its welfare apparatus or its public schools—seems to serve at least three functions. It offers symbolism that protects the white society against the charges of racism. It offers enforcement, since a black official is expected to be even more severe in putting down unrest than white officials. It offers scapegoats: When the situation is unchanged, he or she may be condemned, depending on the situation, for corruption or ineptitude or lack of vision, for too much (or for too little) flair or energy or passion.

It is the truly gifted black officials who seem often in the most unenviable role; and this is the case especially in public education. Some of these people pay an awful price for the symbolic role they fill: a symbolism that at times appears to freeze their personalities and drain them of their normal warmth and humor.

There is a familiar pattern now in many cities. Typically, when prospective superintendents are first interviewed, they are told that they will be expected to fulfill specific “goals,” and sometimes nowadays, in keeping with the growing business ethos of the schools, such goals (or, as they’re often called, “objectives”) are specifically enumerated: raise the test scores so many points and lower dropout rates by certain specified percentages. In order to persuade the press that they can do the job, they have to voice a confidence that bears no possible connection to their powers. Most, in privacy, must wonder why they should be able to arrest a failure rate that several able predecessors could not seriously alter. They know the nation does not plan to do away with a divided and unequal education system that is still in place nearly four decades after Brown. But their hiring depends upon this show of confidence. So a certain note of unreality is present.

Once hired, often in a burst of press enthusiasm, they find themselves asphyxiated by the bureaucratic chaos they inherit and by the realities of class and race they must confront. Soon enough, the press outgrows its first inflated expectations. Impatience surfaces. Before long, they are treated as embarrassments and, sometimes, as pariahs.

An experienced superintendent was recuited some years ago to come to Boston. I’d known him for a decade prior to that time and found him an engaging man with high ideals and a disarming sense of humor. All of his humor disappeared within a month of taking up his job in Boston. Business leaders grew impatient when the reading scores refused to rise, the dropout figures to decline. Politicians grew sarcastic, then abusive. He was condemned severely now for lacking a “politically attractive” personality; and it is the truth that he seemed tight and tense and often had the cautious smile of a man who was afraid of falling off a ledge into a sea of hopelessness. At last the Boston Globe’s most influential columnist declared the system “leaderless.” The superintendent, he said, “is a proven incompetent who would have been fired long ago if he were white.”

At approximately the same time, in New York, a parallel situation was unfolding. A black administrator, Richard Green, had been recruited from a system in the Midwest. He came to New York with extravagant praise, welcomed by the press and business leaders. Soon enough, he started to incur the criticism that he was too cautious, too methodical, and not sufficiently aggressive. Dropout rates did not appreciably decline. Reading scores did not appreciably improve. New York City’s schools still had only one half as much to spend as those in the rich suburbs. Selective schools still drained away the better pupils and the better teachers, leaving the poorest children even more shortchanged. Violence surrounded and invaded many of the poorest schools. He soon began to have the stricken look of someone who could barely breathe; and this, I later learned, was literally true. He was asthmatic and the asthma now became acute and chronic. Facing an audience of business leaders or the press, he held an inhaler in his hand and often held it to his mouth when he was in discomfort. During a period of special tension in the spring of 1989, he suffered an attack of asthma and died suddenly.

“The most striking thing about him …,” writes a journalist for New York Magazine, “was how constricted he seemed, physically and figuratively.… He would speak in word clouds, imprecise, clichéd and formal, his inhaler clutched tightly in his hand. When I put the notebook away—and no longer was an official emissary of the white media—he literally seemed to breathe easier.” People like Dr. Green, says the reporter, “insistently moral black men and women working to overcome 400 years of stereotyping, are the most poignant victims.… They are the tightrope walkers, holding their breath as they perform in midair with only a slender strand of support—ever fearful that even the smallest mistake will prove cataclysmic.”

The casualty rate is high among such superintendents. Boston has had nine superintendents in two decades. Black superintendents have been released or “not renewed” in half-a-dozen cities in the past 12 months. The Hispanic superintendent of the San Francisco schools has recently announced his resignation with two years still pending on his contract. As I write, 18 of the nation’s 47 largest systems have no permanent leader at their helm. It is an almost literally untenable position. This may be the case because, no matter how the job may be described, it is essentially the job of mediating an injustice.

The city of Detroit has had a black administration for close to two decades. But the city is poor and mainly black and its school system, which is 89 percent black, is so poorly funded that three classes have to share a single set of books in elementary schools. “It’s not until the sixth grade,” the Detroit Free Press reports, “that every student has a textbook.…” At MacKenzie High School in Detroit, courses in word processing are taught without word processors. “We teach the keyboard … so, if they ever get on a word processor, they’d know what to do,” a high school teacher says. Students ask, “When are we going to get to use computers?” But, their teacher says, the school cannot afford them. Of an entering ninth grade class of 20,000 students in Detroit, only 7,000 graduate from high school, and, of these, only 500 have the preparation to go on to college. Educators in Detroit, the New York Times reports, say that “the financial pressures have reached the point of desperation.”

In 1988, according to a survey by the Free Press, the city spent some $3,600 yearly on each child’s education. The suburban town of Grosse Pointe spent some $5,700 on each child. Bloomfield Hills spent even more: $6,250 for each pupil. Birmingham, at $6,400 per pupil, spent the most of any district in the area.

“Kids have no choice about where they’re born or where they live,” says the superintendent of another district, which has even less to spend per pupil than Detroit. “If they’re fortunate [enough] to [have been] born in … Birmingham, that’s well and good.” Their opportunities, he says, are very different if they’re born in a poor district.

His words, according to the Free Press, echo mounting criticism of a funding scheme “that has created an educational caste system.” But equalizing plans that might address the problem, says the paper, have been bitterly opposed by wealthy districts, some of which deride these plans as “Robin Hood” solutions. “It would take money out and send it to Detroit …,” a teacher in one of the wealthy districts says.

Former Michigan Governor James Blanchard’s educational adviser says that higher funding levels do not “necessarily” improve a public school.

As the Free Press notes, however, many educators have opposed a funding shift because they fear that “it would benefit large urban districts” like Detroit.

Thus, as in New Jersey, equal funding is opposed for opposite reasons: either because it won’t improve or benefit the poorer schools—not “necessarily,” the governor’s assistant says—or because it would improve and benefit those schools but would be subtracting something from the other districts, and the other districts view this as unjust.

Race appears to play a role in this as well, according to the Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives. People in affluent Farmington, he says, “are not going to vote for more taxes so the poor black kids in Ypsilanti can get … better reading programs.”

A rural superintendent seems to justify the Speaker’s explanation. “I’m concerned,” he says, that, if the funding of the schools is changed, “you’ll get most of the money going to Saginaw, Flint, Detroit”—all three being cities where the public schools are heavily nonwhite. The racial point, however, isn’t generally expressed.

“Despite a lot of pious rhetoric about equality of opportunity …,” writes Christopher Jencks, “most parents want their children to have a more than equal chance of success”—which means, inevitably, that they want others, not all others but some others, to have less than equal chances. This is the case in health care, for example—where most wealthy people surely want to give their children something better than an equal choice of being born alive and healthy, and have so apportioned health resources to assure this—and it is the case in education too.

Test scores in math and reading in America are graded not against an absolute standard but against a “norm” or “average.” For some to be above the norm, others have to be below it. Preeminence, by definition, is a zero-sum matter. There is not an ever-expanding pie of “better-than-average” academic excellence. There can’t be. Two thirds of American children can never score above average. Half the population has to score below the average, and the average is determined not by local or state samples but by test results for all Americans. We are 16,000 districts when it comes to opportunity but one nation when it comes to the determination of rewards.

When affluent school districts proudly tell their parents that the children in the district score, for instance, “in the eightieth percentile,” they are measuring local children against children everywhere. Although there is nothing invidious about this kind of claim—it is a natural thing to advertise if it is true—what goes unspoken is that this preeminence is rendered possible (or, certainly, more possible) by the abysmal scores of others.

There is good reason, then, as economist Charles Benson has observed, that “discussion about educational inequalities is muted.” People in the suburbs who deplore de facto segregation in the cities, he observes, “are the ones who have a major stake in preserving the lifetime advantages that their privileged, though tax-supported, schools offer their children.” The vocal elements of the community, he says, “find it hard to raise their voices on the one issue over which, in the present scheme of things, they can lose most of all.”

The issue was forced dramatically in Michigan in 1975 when a U.S. district court, finding the schools of metropolitan Detroit both “separate” and “unequal,” and observing that desegregation could not be achieved within the geographical limits of Detroit, ordered a metropolitan desegregation plan. The plan required the integration of the quarter-million children of Detroit with some 500,000 children, most of whom were white, in 53 suburban districts. Among these white suburban districts were Grosse Pointe and Birmingham.

The case, Milliken v. Bradley, was appealed to the Supreme Court. The court’s five-man majority, which overruled the district court’s decision, included all four justices that President Richard Nixon had appointed. The court decided that the metropolitan desegregation plan was punitive to the white suburbs and that Detroit would have to scramble to desegregate as best it could, within the city limits, by scattering its rapidly diminishing white student population among the larger numbers of black children—a directive, according to Richard Kluger, author of Simple Justice, that was “certain” to accelerate white flight out of the city. “More troubling,” he writes, the court “denied the organic cohesiveness of metropolitan regions and the responsibility of satellites for the problems of the urban core around which they economically and often culturally revolved.” Chief Justice Warren Burger, writing the majority opinion, said that no official acts by the suburban districts had contributed to the discrimination faced by children in Detroit and that interdistrict plans would threaten local choice and local governance.

In his dissent, Justice Byron White observed that the majority had failed to state why remedies to racial segregation ought to stop at district lines. Nothing in Brown v. Board of Education had imposed such a constraint. “It was the state, after all,” writes Kluger, that was prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment from denial of equal protection to all citizens; and the Brown decision had established that school segregation constituted such denial. The courts, said Justice White, “must be free to devise workable remedies against the political entity with … effective power” and, in this case, that entity was not Detroit but Michigan. School districts, says Kluger, paraphrasing Justice White, “are not sovereign entities but merely creatures chartered by the state” and the state therefore should have been ordered to devise an interdistrict remedy.

Justice William Douglas, who dissented also, said that this decision, in conjunction with a Texas case decided two years earlier, in which the court refused to intervene to grant low-income districts fiscal equity, “means that there is no violation” of the Fourteenth Amendment even though “the schools are segregated” and “the black schools are not only ‘separate’ but ‘inferior.’ ” We are now, he said, “in a dramatic retreat” from Plessy v. Ferguson. The Texas case had approved unequal schools. The present case accepted segregated schools. Between the two decisions, blacks were now worse off than under Plessy.

Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had litigated Brown v. Board of Education 20 years before, expanded these points further. After “20 years of small, often difficult steps” toward equal justice, Marshall said, “the Court today takes a giant step backwards.… Our nation, I fear, will be ill-served by the Court’s refusal to remedy separate and unequal education.…” The majority’s decision, he said, was “a reflection of a perceived public mood that we have gone far enough in enforcing the Constitution’s guarantee of equal justice” rather than a product of neutral principles of law. “In the short run, it may seem to be the easier course to allow our great metropolitan areas to be divided up … into two cities—one white, the other black—but it is a course, I predict, our people will ultimately regret. I dissent.”

The combined effect of this decision and the finding in the Texas case two years before, both by the same five-to-four majority, was to lock black children in Detroit into the situation that we see today. If only one of the concurring justices had accepted the opinions of the four dissenting judges (the fourth dissenting voice was that of Justice William Brennan), an entire generation of black children in such cities as East Orange, Paterson, Detroit and East St. Louis might have had an opportunity for very different adult lives; but this was not to be.

Having successfully defended its suburban children against forced desegregation with the children of Detroit, Michigan set out in the next years to demonstrate that it could make the segregated schools a little less unequal by providing a per-pupil “minimum” of funding aid to every district; as has been the case in other states, however, Michigan pegged the minimum so low as to perpetuate the inequalities. In 1988 the average minimum guarantee was $2,800—less than half of what the richest districts had available. More important, however, was the fact that the state minimum, which was expected to be assured by legislative allocations, was dependent on the whim of legislators and on shifts in economic trends. While local revenues in wealthy towns like Birmingham and Grosse Pointe were secure, state assistance for the poorer districts wavered with state revenues; and the richer districts, well endowed with locally raised funds, had little stake in fighting to sustain state revenues. When recession hit the state from 1979 to 1983, school went on as normal in Grosse Pointe while poorer areas dependent on state aid were decimated. Some districts, according to the Free Press, “were threatened with virtual shutdown.”

This, again, is a familiar situation. In Massachusetts, in recent months, unexpected shortfalls in state revenues have forced administrators of one poorly funded system to project class size as high as 50. The low-middle-income town in which I live predicts class size of up to 40. In the neighboring city of Lawrence, where 200 eighth grade children are reduced to sharing 30 books, 280 of the system’s veteran teachers have been given notice. In low-income Malden, Massachusetts, where the student population is now heavily nonwhite, the Boston Globe reports the schools are “reeling” after 50 teachers were laid off and 25 high school courses cut—including AP classes. Fifteen children with special needs are crammed into a former bathroom while 200 children pack the gym to have “a motionless physical education class.” Seventh grade science classes, says the Globe, “study the earth’s atmosphere” in a room that has no sink or windows—or, as one boy puts it, “without basic elements.” Meanwhile, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, also heavily nonwhite, the schools have given notice to 120 teachers. Springfield has given notice to one quarter of its faculty—Worcester to one third of its schoolteachers.

Some of these teachers, we are told, will be rehired at the final moment in the fall. But nobody knows who they will be or whether they’ll be teaching the same subjects they teach now, or even whether they’ll be teaching in the same schools at the same grade levels. It isn’t surprising that morale is low among these teachers or that the best of them are looking for work elsewhere.

In Massachusetts as in Michigan, therefore, it is not so much the final numbers as the chaos that afflicts these systems in the interim that does the greatest damage to the state of mind of teachers and the operation of the schools. Even where the actual difference in per-pupil spending between districts is not vast, the poorer districts—waiting often up to the last minute to receive part of their budget from the state—find themselves repeatedly held hostage to decisions of suburban legislators who have no direct stake in the interests of low-income children. Typically, at the end of June, such districts find themselves unable to commit resources to the programs they intend to launch the following September. Supplies are not ordered. Teachers are left hanging without contracts. Summer workshops to prepare the academic team for a new program, a computer workshop for example, are postponed or canceled.

“We had executive-order cuts in school aid during the course of a school year,” a Detroit official says, leading to sudden staff cuts, class disruptions, bigger classes. Any notion that such problems have diminished is refuted by statistics offered by the Free Press: About 20 percent of Michigan’s general revenues went to aid the local schools from 1976 to 1981. Today, in the climate of retrenchment that has favored local self-reliance over state assistance, only 11 percent of tax-raised statewide revenue goes to the local schools. “Thus,” says the paper, “the spending gap [has] widened.…”

“You don’t step up to a problem by redistributing what’s there,” protests the superintendent of one of the better-funded districts. But it is hard to know what else there is to redistribute—other than “what’s there”—since residents of this district have opposed additional state taxes.

The Birmingham superintendent puts it this way: “The Detroit schools need more money. The solution is not to take it from Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills.” And, again, one wonders where else one would take it from if not from where it is.

The Ann Arbor superintendent ridicules what he describes as “simple-minded solutions [that attempt] to make things equal.”

But, of course, the need is not “to make things equal.” He would be correct to call this “simple-minded.” Funding and resources should be equal to the needs that children face. The children of Detroit have greater needs than those of children in Ann Arbor. They should get more than children in Ann Arbor, more than kids in Bloomfield Hills or Birmingham. Calling ethics “simple-minded” is consistent with the tendency to label obvious solutions, that might cost us something, unsophisticated and to favor more diffuse solutions that will cost us nothing and, in any case, will not be implemented.

Two years ago, George Bush felt prompted to address this issue. More spending on public education, said the president, isn’t “the best answer.” Mr. Bush went on to caution parents of poor children who see money “as a cure” for education problems. “A society that worships money …,” said the president, “is a society in peril.”

The president himself attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts—a school that spends $11,000 yearly on each pupil, not including costs of room and board. If money is a wise investment for the education of a future president at Andover, it is no less so for the child of poor people in Detroit. But the climate of the times does not encourage this belief, and the president’s words will surely reinforce that climate.

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