Author tackles why Black kids aren’t learning

Author and journalist Debra Dickerson investigated the racial disparities in Lower Marion High School as part of her latest article, ‘What if Bill Cosby is Right?’

By Bobbi Booker

Tribune Staff Writer

African-American students located in the Lower Marion school district are failing in one of the country’s richest, highest achieving school systems. Most of the district’s 500 Black students (out of a total 6,684) are failing, with an estimated one-in-four Black students enrolled in special education programs. Author and journalist Debra Dickerson investigated the racial disparities in Lower Marion High School when she spent a week there last May researching for her latest article, “What if Bill Cosby is Right?” which appeared in Philadelphia magazine as part of the “Tales of Two Cites” series. The series is an ongoing examination of race as it is lived in and around Philadelphia.

Even though NBA All Star Kobe Bryant is regaled as a shining example of what Lower Marion High School can produce, the results for other Black students looked grim and Dickerson was curious as to why.

Dickerson charged that instead of consulting with education specialists, the Black parent student advocacy organization brought in protest specialists whose biggest concern was race, not education. “So what is it that they’re really trying to do? Are they trying to educate their kids or are they just trying to beat white people up?”

Dickerson admitted that she had not witnessed a racial living situation as strained as the conditions of the Main Linewhere many of the Black residents are not as wealthy as their white neighbors, and in fact, were historically situated in the area for the convenience of serving the white households they worked for. Yet, Dickerson felt that many of the parents were misguided in the educational demands they made for their children.

“If you think this situation is so bad, why would you subject your own kids to it?” asked Dickerson. “There seems to be a wonderful vindication that’s going on. You get no argument from me that racism is a continuing problem. You can’t fix racism, but you can ensure that your child learns.

“This is a district where they spend $19,000 per student,” said Larry Platt, Editor, Philadelphia magazine. “What’s interesting about doing a piece about Lower Marion is it takes the issue of economic outlay – what the district is spending – off the table. A lot of times when you talk about the racial achievement gap in academics, the typical response is these kids are not getting their fair share of investment from the school district. Well, that’s not the case here.”

In May, comedian Bill Cosby upbraided some Blacks for their grammar and accused them of squandering opportunities the Civil Rights Movement gave them. Cosby also chastised certain members of the African-American community for their lack of commitment to education. His comments have drawn both praise and criticism, and Cosby has since taken on his detractors and their attempts, as he labeled them, to hide the Black community’s “dirty laundry.”

“Other people get it,” Cosby said earlier during a July radio interview. “Some of our people are sitting there in a trough blaming the white man and not getting up out of the trough. There are Black people coming from other countries, and they get it. They know that this is the land where you can get education for your children.”

Dickerson concurs, saying that being a non-resident has no bearings on her observations. “I don’t have a horse in this race, except for the education of all kids, and especially Black kids. I came (to Lower Marion High School) to report on why Black kids aren’t learning. I think that’s the point here and what’s going on in white people’s hearts and minds, that’s too hard. But what’s going on in the classroom, we can do something about. I wrote about what I saw.”

Author Debra Dickerson and editor Larry Platt will discuss the racial achievement gap in Philadelphia area schools as an ongoing part of the “Tale of Two Cities” series today at 6 p.m. at The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, 6361 Lancaster Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. Dickerson will also sign copies of her new book, “The End of Blackness” after the forum.

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