June 2, 2002-
Dear Friends/Friends of the Institute including:
Senator Robert C. Byrd and Staff
New York State Assembly
New York State Education Department
Educational Leaders from several colleges and universities
Teachers and Administrators
Students and Parents
Web site visitors from 34 countries
Family and Friends:
The International Peace Meditation has been held the first Sunday of every month since January 1995. We invite you to participate with us in prayer/meditation, at any time and from any place, during the 24 hours of June 2, 2002.
Each month there is a brief meditation/reflection upon which we contemplate and pray together. The meditation for June 2, 2002, is about the issue of equality. In many geographical locations worldwide, we may see instances of inequality which breed anger and, often, social disruption. It is up to each of us to share in the goodness of the universe so that each person may have the opportunity to give their gifts and talents to the world. By reflecting on educational inequalities, we can begin to look for root causes in order to begin the change process.
We must care, for not caring enough has brought us to the inequalities expressed below. It is our challenge to change those underlying beliefs, attitudes, and resultant laws, regulations, and policies that continue discrimination, and subsequent pain and suffering.
We have the ability. Do we have the will?
“Separate and Unequal”
The need for equal opportunity in a democratic society.
Each year we in the United States celebrate Black History Month, and the birthdate of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. And as we are reminded of the painful Civil Rights struggle, we are challenged to ask, “How far have we come?”
No longer do Blacks have to drink from separate water fountains, ride the back of the bus, wait on Whites, and remain in ignorance due to lack of education. Now many live in separate areas of cities, attend segregated schools, receive inadequate healthcare, and attend schools with fewer resources than their White counterparts. Poor urban schools in unsafe neighborhoods, with students armed for protection, and without adequate libraries and properly certified teachers, cannot provide the environment essential for healthy development and learning. The “savage inequalities” described by Jonathan Kozol continue years later.
Roosevelt Union Free School District on Long Island in New York State is an example the whole country should note. The school district consists of three elementary schools, and a Jr.-Sr. High School. At this time, the New York State Education Department is in the process of taking over this failing school district.
For the past several years the New York State Education Department has intervened with failed results. The Board of Education was removed; a State oversight panel was created and continues to function; and months after the removal of the Board of Education, a new Board of Education was elected. Officials from the Education Department have monitored the district’s activities to little avail. Now, the Legislature has decided that it wants to eliminate the locally elected officials in Roosevelt, and take over the district by eliminating the Board of Education for a period of at least ten years. During that time an appointed governing body will have the power to levy taxes, issue bonds, and approve budgets without a democratic vote, creating a situation that citizens of Roosevelt believe amounts to ‘taxation without representation’. While citizens challenge the legal authority of the Commissioner of Education to take this action, the Legislature takes what it believes to be the necessary action to protect the children.
The entire country, indeed the world, can learn from the lessons of the Roosevelt Union Free School District. Supporting education by property tax has a liability which can be clearly seen when Roosevelt School District must support its educational program without a retail tax base, while surrounding suburban neighborhoods pay fewer taxes for larger and more expensive properties.
State Officials have long considered the challenge of underperforming students, but may be blind to the root causes, or unable to address them. The State Education Department requires the development of school district education plans, and monitors implementation. When students continue to fail, the State Legislature seeks to take over the school district, instead of alleviating the underlying fiscal issues that allow the situation to flourish. Are we, then, saying that the people of Roosevelt are incapable of self-governance? We must stop blaming the victim.
The New York State Legislature and New York State Education Department do not say that the children of Roosevelt are challenged by unequal fiscal practices. They do not recommend that the property line that separates the district from any possibility of tax relief be moved. Officials threatened to dissolve the Jr.-Sr. High School, causing a political response when the neighboring school districts did not want to include these students of color. Thus, the failure of the students of Roosevelt appears to be a self-fulfilling prophesy, in effect supported by the very government created to protect them.
The challenge for New York State and the country is not to condemn the victims of academic failure. The challenge is to address the root causes of underperforming schools, provide equitable distribution of resources, and ensure that all children receive an adequate education. If we’re going to raise the bar with new standards and assessments, don’t we have a responsibility to provide an equal opportunity to achieve the intended results? The State’s unequal system of funding, and the segregation of its children, is unconscionable.
If we believe that all children can learn, we will act to protect their right. All children can learn, and deserve equal protection under the law to achieve the American dream. The future of this country depends upon it. And the world is watching.
Please join in prayer/meditation as, together, we seek equitable solutions and opportunities for all our children.
Sue Kidd Shipe, President
International Institute For Human Empowerment, Inc.
P. O. Box 3920
Albany, New York 12203 USA