We Already Have a Wall, and It’s in Our Education System
After starting and ending the longest government shutdown in American history, President Donald Trump, a business tycoon-turned-politician, declared a national emergency to address the “invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country.”
Despite his persistent claims regarding the level of criminality around the United States’ southern border, a 2018 report provided by US Customs and Border Protection tells a different story. While Trump has publicly stated on multiple occasions the increasing need for border security, US Customs reported just three murders (compared to eight in 2016), 68 sex-related offenses (a sharp decline from 155 in 2016) and 816 arrests for illegal drug trafficking (down from 1,797 in 2016). What the Trump administration fails to tell Americans is that most arrests that occur at the border are for non-violent crimes, such as illegal re-entry and driving while under the influence. So, if the rates of crime are significantly decreasing rather than increasing as the media conveys to public spectators, why do we need to sacrifice $8 billion for a wall?
Trump is most known for his interest in real estate, primarily in his hometown of New York City. While emerging as a businessman in the late 1970’s, Trump was sued for discriminatory housing policies. He openly discouraged tenants of color from residing in his buildings stating in an interview once “you wouldn’t want to live with them either.” After being forced to allow diversity in his properties, Trump took a loss and presented it as a victory (a pattern that has been prevalent throughout his presidency) claiming he always supported minority communities. He has shown us time and again that his priorities, his actions align directly with his beliefs.
It is no secret that what Trump declared an emergency is no emergency at all, but a red herring to lure public attention away from many pressing issues, one of them being disparities in the nation’s education system.
For a long time in this nation, public education has been a detrimental and demanding problem. It was only under President Obama that policies such as the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (signed December 10th, 2015) addressed the nation’s growing educational disparity, shining a light on a problem that if solved could increase both the literacy and success of millions of Americans. However, shortly after the farewell of our 44th president, the spotlight was shone on a topic that everyone knew was not imperative: border security. The US military has always been stationed at these borders, and not a single president before him put this nation in turmoil over such a political controversy. The bait that stole the nation’s attention, also ensured that the plan to improve America’s public schools was delayed (once again).
How do we know the education system is failing Black children? New York State test scores reveal that less than half of New York’s youth can proficiently read, write and do math. Think that’s disturbing? A 2018 report from New York’s Department of education shows that only African-American students (grades 3-8) are proficient in English Language Arts (compared to 51.8 percent for their white peers). When it comes to mathematics, the gap widens with only 29.3 percent of African-American students meeting standards (compared to 54.2 percent for white students). As one digs further, the Department of Education is allocated $68 billion a year to enrich and advance American education. Sadly, students of color are excluded from the benefits guaranteed by the ESSA, as low- income communities allow educators without proper credentials to teach students in need. The best performing public schools are located in wealthy areas with largely non-Black populations, while the worst can be found in economically disadvantaged communities where Black and brown children live.
Socioeconomic factors that usually come with living in underserved communities often restrict Black kids from services that should be “openly available” to all — thus, excluding them from enriching, impactful educational experiences. With that, they are left to struggle with unqualified teachers, outdated textbooks, few academic extracurriculars (that serve to challenge and prepare them for higher education) as well as school administrators who prioritize athletics and largely ignore educational needs. Although public schools receive funding, the environment in which students are pressured to succeed, compounded with the lack of sufficient academic resources, deepens the disparity between white and Black children.
For example, enrollment data for East Side middle school (Lower East Side, Manhattan) show that 68 percent of students are white and a shocking 4 percent are Black. If one turns to P.S.150 Christopher (Brooklyn, New York), the trend reverses as the school consists of 65 percent black students and only 2 percent white. Unsurprisingly, the East Side Middle School has been deemed one of the best ELA performance schools, while more diverse school such as P.S.150 fall under the worst-performing schools.
As long as attention and funds are pulled for a new border wall, the children who are affected by the inefficient education and inherent bias will grow up less able to succeed in a constantly changing world. If Trump doesn’t like the idea of housing people of color, who’s to say he’s actually for upholding a law that helps minority communities learn as well he his children did? If the future of tomorrow lies in the hands of today’s youth, addressing this country’s public school crisis is a more pressing “national emergency.”