By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
I don't want to get too lyrical here about the value of white people and start sounding like some kind of neo-confederate. Many of the white people I have known in my own life have been more trouble than they were worth. And the origin of school desegregation was not a racially neutral pursuit of equal opportunity for everybody: It was a campaign to force white people to stop actively harming black kids.
In this day and age, deseg does run in both directions or in all directions. Correct me—I know you will—if I am wrong, but I believe the values of the nation still favor diversity over one-race rule.
Sadly, a lot of what I thought I was hearing from the audience at the last school board meeting sounded more ethnically triumphal than inclusive. Adelfa Callejo, the grand dame of Dallas Hispanic politics, rose from the audience to denounce the basic rationale behind spending money on special schools to redress past wrongs.
"As a matter of fact, we all know that the court's reason for ordering their creation also no longer exists," she said. "The demographics have changed. The ethnic student populations are completely different today."
So, now that the district is majority Hispanic, diversity is no longer a worthwhile goal? Now it's a bad idea to spend money to attract and retain white or black people?
Callejo is deservedly a respected spokesperson for her community, but at the school board meeting she clearly was part of a claque that had come to express a party line, couched as support for superintendent Michael Hinojosa.
A Hispanic mother rose from the audience right after Callejo and expressed the view that extra money spent on magnet schools and learning centers is money taken away from her own children. In fact, she said, the existence of the magnets and learning centers rendered her children "a second-class or a second kind of citizen."
She said, "Some kids can go to one school, and they can receive more money than our kids."
I'm sure the speeches by parents and kids in support of magnets and learning centers last Thursday night were somewhat rehearsed and coordinated. But clearly the speeches in support of Hinojosa all contained the same carefully rehearsed and pernicious theme of envy—the idea that centers of success in the district work an injury on all who are not in them.
A student from W.T. White High School asked, "Why should they get more?"
I wish I had already done my spreadsheet by then. I might have been able to reassure her that she's getting more money spent on her at W.T. White than the students at Skyline Magnet, Science and Engineering Magnet, the Education Magnet, the Health Magnet or the Law Magnet. Pity the kids at the Business Magnet, who get a little better than half the money spent on them that kids at W.T. White receive.
After the board meeting I spoke with longtime community activist, organizer, thinker and playwright John Fullinwider, who expressed empathy for both sides—the ones who want to keep the magnets and learning centers intact and the kids and parents who came to defend the regular neighborhood schools.
"It's terrible that somebody is trying to set one group against the other," he said.
The district is always described as beleaguered. I'm guilty of describing it that way myself. It's not an inaccurate description, but it's notably incomplete. DISD also has seen great successes in the last few years under Hinojosa's leadership in student achievement and test scores.
Look around South Dallas, West Dallas and East Dallas where most of the city's working class and people of color live, and you can't help seeing signs of upward mobility and achievement—not the dismal downward spiral that characterized most American inner cities only a decade ago.
Something is in the air—something good and hopeful. It's still more a potential than a reality, more of a chance at opportunity than an actual opportunity. But certainly part of the reason for even that chance to exist is the historic struggle to desegregate the public schools, including the hard-fought fight for magnets and learning centers.
"That money wasn't taken from the other schools," Fullinwider said. "This money was won through four decades of legal and political struggle."
There still are great imbalances, he suggested, but the way to fix them is not by pulling someone else back down the hill. "There are two ways to fix an imbalance," he said. "One is to bring up the other side."
Maybe before this battle over magnets and learning centers is over we will find our way to a mutual salvation, as opposed to the suicide pact the school district seems to be pursuing now.