Do We ‘Demagogue By Demographics’ in School Debates?

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Why did the city shut down failing middle schools in mostly black neighborhoods in Ward 5, while parents in gentrifying Ward 6 successfully negotiated plans to improve and keep their schools open? Was it that working and middle class black parents gave up on these neighborhood schools and didn’t fight to improve them or keep them open?

Maria Jones, a black Ward 5 parent, says no; she argued during a  City Council roundtable on Wednesday that wealthier Ward 6 residents wielded their influence and power them in getting approval on a plan to improve and keep their schools open, the Washington Post reports. Meanwhile, Ward 5 still has no middle schools.

City Councilman Tommy Wells (Ward 6) said that Ward 5 deserves good schools, but the ones it had were failing students. “I don’t think it’s helpful when we demagogue by demographics each other’s wards” he told Jones, adding that Ward 6 has large segments of public housing and homeless families:

Outside the council chambers later, Jones scoffed at the idea that she’d demagogued the issue. She said it was highly unlikely that much of the more than $2 million Ward 6 families raised to upgrade elementary school libraries came from the pockets of the homeless or public housing residents.

“He’s ignoring the fact that the wealthy people in Ward 6 made that happen,” Jones said. “I’m not trying to demagogue. I’m just pointing out the history.”

Tensions in the D.C. middle school debate are seething with race and class undertones, and Jones isn’t alone in her sentiments that gentrifying neighborhoods get more resources. Natalie Hopkinson writes on The Root that increasingly in D.C., “progress is credited to white folks”:

When you’re white — maybe especially in a very black city like Washington, D.C. — people pay attention. Some of it is the sheer novelty of whites living in previously all-black neighborhoods. Some of it is historical, and the socioeconomic position of whites in relation to blacks.

Whatever the reasons, as the city continues to gentrify, getting whiter and richer, progress is credited to white folks. It’s as if they deserve gold stars for consenting to live among the Negroes and cleaning up the Negro mess. Never mind the complicated cocktail of race, class and history that has shaped the city’s fortunes over the years. If you’re black, well … just try to be more like white people!

What’s your take — is the middle school debate an example of those who “demagogue by demographics?”