Invisible Americans


The previous blog by Jonathan Kozol is an excellent example of politicians meddling in an area in which they have no qualifications. Politicians residing in their ivory towers are dabbling in a complicated program using popular words like accountability to evade the real problems in education. This approach searches for someone to blame.

Kosol’s involvement in the education of the underclass was very inspiring as he came from a well to do family and graduated from Harvard and was a Rhodes Scholar. He talks mostly about education in large cities. “If you grow up in the South Bronx or in south-central Los Angeles or Pittsburg or Philadelphia, you quickly come to understand that you are set apart and there’s no will in society to bring you back into the mainstream. The kids have eyes and can see and they can hear. Nobody says we’re going to make them less separate and more equal.” He came to these conclusions when in 1964 he became a teacher in a low income, predominantly black elementary school.

Jonathan Kosol’s discovery wasn’t new to me as had spent 10 years in a predominantly black school and 10 years in a mixed low income community prior to Kosol’s experience. That experience and living before and during the depression has had much to do with my outlook on the world and the tribal society we have lived in since the start of time.     

In the 1960s I spent a lot of time visiting the homes of students living in the Projects. The government closed an army camp from WW2 and converted each barrack into three 3 room apartments. I also spent time tutoring 2 pregnant girls in their last trimester and wanted to graduate with their class. Although not qualified in some of the subjects I obtained the teachers manuals and did a fair job. This also was a revelation of the hidden living conditions of an invisible group of humans.

These experiences plus my activist father instilled in me my concerns for those and others finding themselves ostracized from society. Even in the United States, where parity and equal opportunity are professed to be the backbone of society. I found the conditions these children lived under a disgrace to our country. These and other inhuman treatments of children are shameful. Many say; this isn’t a concern of the government. I am part of the government as in a republic the people we elect are just representing the people. The Negro didn’t migrate here voluntarily but brought here as slaves and we now have the obligation to integrate them and prepare them for an equal role in society. Children have no choice of who their parents are or the tribe they are assigned to.

It would be interesting to know how many of our politicians have spent much time in the homes and schools of these neighborhoods. Obama was a community organizer and I felt he would make some changes for these people, but has been silent. He, his wife and other politicians have photo shoots reading to a group of lower grade students which I find disgusting. Their visits are prearranged with cameras and secret service present. These visits would be more authentic reading, unannounced in a middle or high school class.

Not much will change for the hidden classes of society as a Japanese proverb that “We can stand the severest pain when someone else is suffering.” The economic system we live under is going to divide the middle class into an upstairs and downstairs class in a short time with the growth of the homeless.

Getting back to education, as long as we have segregation of the impoverished, government money could be better spent using a small stipend to hold classes for parents on creating a more educational environment in their homes. The parents I visited wanted their children to succeed in school, but needed help in their desire, but that’s too simple. 

A 1937 poem by Abel Meeropol titled “Bitter Fruit” and first recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939. A Bronx schoolteacher, Meeropol had written the poem after seeing the gruesome photograph of two lynched teenagers: Repeal of the Anti Lynching law was denied by congress during FDR’s Administration.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.



7 responses to “Upstairs–Downstairs

  1. Such a thought provoking article. Our government officials seem more concerned with lining their pockets then solving the problems of those that suffer. What happened to compassion for those without?

  2. Sad article. Sad lives. It’s everyone’s problem when hate abounds not the governments’. Government can’t legislate morality. They pass and enforce laws but unless the will of the people are behind change it is not enough.

  3. We are the government!

  4. Vicki Sue McKinnis

    Thanks for that interesting article. I can relate to your sense of concern when working in the projects and sensing the despair of those who felt trapped in a sub standard lifestyle. I was raised with the understanding that there are no simple answers to complex problems. It seems that integrating schools to help the “less fortunate” failed as it was too simple an answer to a very complex set of problems. I do hope that the day comes when everyone has an equal opportunity for a life of health and prosperity.

  5. Don,
    In reply to your comment, “We are the government”…well, yes and no. The people uphold and elect leaders true, and we all can play a part in the process but the government I was referring to was the laws, programs, offices, elected officials that we have. I was just talking with a person who works in the government who told me about some of the recent and current projects…riding stables built for the military officers, new buildings scraped because people intentionally skipped doing environmental tests and then the land was condemned. We have a problem of too much government and too much waste. We are trying to fix moral problems with more government and it can’t be done. Things will just keep getting bigger, more expensive and the problems still won’t be solved.
    But the brilliant Edmund Burke says it better:
    Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. . . . Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters. [The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, vol. 4 (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1889), pp. 51-52; emphasis added]

  6. Judith–I’m in complete agreement with you, but the waste in government is a product of the people we elect. One person has little power, but as a group they could have power. With the financial power of a few controlling congress and with the 60 vote majority in the Senate nothing can be accomplished by the President. If we had a group publishing these expenditures and the public reacted as a group in objecting, some changes could be made.

    Edmund Burke is correct that men can’t be left to act as they wish due to human nature. I will cover some of this in my next blog.

    My last few years in education I was in charge of obtaining Federal and State money for the school district and it would be difficult to share my experiences with the bureaucracy.

    Thanks for your comment.

  7. Don,
    I was think about what you said, “As a group we have power.” Maybe we have become so isolated that we don’t feel part of a group? I talk with people all the time that want the waste to stop and want better government. Maybe we don’t know how to organize. Maybe we just want other people to stop “wasting money” but we hold on to our special pet project. Maybe we have become so focused on our own lives and problems we don’t take the time to organize our groups.
    You have a great mind. Think about this for a while and write about how we can work together to make changes that will be meaningful. Give us a lesson on government change 101!

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