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Our human capital

Urban schools are often imagined as inadequate or failing and the children in them as young people with little opportunity who can barely read (according to an oft-cited and incorrect illiteracy rate in Detroit.)

Detroit students have continually had to challenge this stigma by excelling in their academic accomplishments as individuals or protesting the circumstances that create “failing” and “illiterate” environments as a collective.

This week, children at Western and Southwestern High Schools walked out of class in protest of their schools being closed. Last week, students from the Detroit School of Arts learned they would have to reapply to their school to return next year, even if they are juniors. Mumford and Frederick Douglass Academy students walked out earlier this month.

These young people are sending a message to the administration, Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and Gov. Rick Snyder: We aren’t getting an adequate education in your schools. You are harming our community and mismanaging our resources.

These young people are fighting not just for their right to an education, but for their vision of community.

When students walked out of Western and Southwestern, they carried signs that read “Save Our Schools” and “We Demand Respect.” At the protest, young people criticized the “abuse” in the schools — the excessive policing and invasive pat-downs. Despite a notorious rivalry that many adults fear could be violent, Western and Southwestern coordinated their protest and worked in solidarity to oppose their school closures.

During a school meeting at DSA, students (and their parents) voiced concerns regarding the recent announcement that, as of this fall, their school (and nine other DPS schools) will become “autonomous.” This new structure will mirror that of a charter, giving each school its own nine-member board, but will continue to receive DPS funds. DSA juniors spoke volumes when they told Doug Ross, who has been appointed to oversee the new charter-like institutions, that they were “tired” of the changes being made in their school and that all the changes have caused disruption in their education. They expressed their concerns that a new governing structure will further interfere with their last year in high school.

The students are saying they aren’t prepared and communities are being negatively impacted. Why aren’t adults listening?

Next school year, 15 Detroit schools will be absorbed into the statewide EAS district. The newly formed district, announced just last March, for “low-performing” schools so far is only made up of Detroit schools/students. To date, the start-up funds needed for the district to open in the fall — over $25 million dollars — have not been met and an educational plan/curriculum has not been drafted.

Detroit is reeling from more than 10 years of state intervention in its schools. The state initially interceded inDPS because of low student achievement. In that time not only has student performance results worsened, but the district has lost more than 100,000 kids. The new initiatives will further fragment the district and, as a result, the communities and the lives of these young people.

More often than not, this feels like an intentional state-led experiment that will most negatively impact Black and Latino students. Education is supposed to create paths to opportunity. A good education serves as an equalizer in society. It should not be a mechanism to further diminish and disregard the already underserved.

Sen. Bert Johnson has said students and children are the community’s human capital. In a city with few capital assets, the children become important for our future and survival. Despite efforts to further disenfranchise us, through school closures and 10 years of mismanagement — that could be seen as putting Detroit back a generation — Detroit’s children are responding.

One 11th grade student at DSA asked Ross, “What will happen to our family?” At a time when many young people appear overly concerned with their newest material items, we have a group of dedicated youth who are espousing other values.

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