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An Impossible Task

Around the time that we moved to Indiana from Michigan, I went on a mission trip to the nation of Haiti. Haiti remains for me the only foreign nation other than Canada I have visited. When I got back home, I was quietly deeply in despair. The need there was overwhelming. If I spent my entire life working and sending every penny that I could spare to the work in Haiti, it wouldn’t even be a drop in the ocean. In more recent years I have come to a place where I recognize an uncomfortable truth: You can’t fix Haiti because the problems are not economic or cultural. The problem with Haiti is it is full of Haitians. Haiti is a problem without a solution.
That grim determination is not restricted to third world nations but is happening right here. 
Last week Fox 45 in Baltimore ran a story that got a ton of coverage on /ourside/. The headline tells the story:
This 17 year old black student at Baltimore’s Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts should be getting ready to graduate soon but has managed to only complete 2.5 credits of schoolwork in four years but even still he is far from the worst student in the school:
In his four years at Augusta Fells, France’s son earned a GPA of 0.13. He only passed three classes, but his transcripts show his class rank is 62 out of 120. This means, nearly half his classmates, 58 of them, have a 0.13 grade point average or lower.
58 kids have a GPA lower than 0.13. I can’t find a breakdown of the school demographics but it is safe to assume that the vast majority of kids are black since Baltimore itself is 2/3 black and West Baltimore is even more so, along with being a haven for violent crime. The school district annual report seems to reflect this, most schools I saw were 95%+ black.
The story also reports that he was “was late or absent 272 days” which works out to an average of 68 times per school year. You might think that his mother would have some responsibility for making sure her kid was actually showing up to school but she apparently has no idea that he was missing a huge chunk of the school year and that is all the fault of the school. 
This raises the question. How many tens or hundreds of thousands of kids just like this one are in America’s inner city schools? I have referenced this before in my post The Dumbing Down Of America : the story of Marqell McClendon, the valedictorian of Detroit’s Cody High School who arrived at Michigan State University incapable of completing basic math. When even the top student in a school can’t do basic math, isn’t it time to start rethinking the notion that evert high school graduate must go to college?
Who do we blame for this? Do we blame the teachers or the school system? Perhaps to an extent, there are plenty of mediocre and incompetent teachers and administrators who are just punching the clock each year until summer break and counting down the years until they can draw a full pension. What is more accurate is to realize that these inner city schools are a problem without a solution, just like Haiti. 
There isn’t a policy solution, at least not one that stands a chance in hell of being adopted. There isn’t a magical level of funding that will turn things around. Literally no amount of spending will be enough. You cannot spend enough or care enough or invest enough resources to fix an unfixable problem. As long as we assume that every school district is comprised of students with identical ability levels things won’t change. 
What should be done is to focus inner-city schools almost exclusively on vocational training so the kids who show up at least have a marketable skill when they graduate. Truly high ability students should be identified early and pulled out of the mainstream schools and be placed on a learning track that is challenging and prepares them for college. Those who refuse to show up? Well there is a solution for that too but it won’t be popular.
By definition, half of all children are of below average intelligence but that distribution is not evenly distributed in every school district. Before we moved to Indiana we lived in a very affluent suburb of Lansing. The graduating class from the local high school the year we left had literally two kids not go to college and the ones who did go were probably significantly smarter than anyone at any given Baltimore city school. Also not coincidentally, the school district was overwhelmingly White with a very large percentage of East Asians.
The task of educating inner city kids to become college ready is an impossible one. You can’t teach students who miss 70 days in a school year and have well below average IQs the same way you do kids from intact homes with higher IQs. Those movies about dedicated teachers who break through the tough guy exteriors and turn those kids into scholars? They are just movies. In the real world the inner-city high school is a violent place full of kids who are poor and from broken homes lacking the basic cognitive ability to succeed in an educational system aimed to forcing every kid to go to college. No amount of hand-wringing and soul-searching will change this. 
Some tasks are just impossible and it is time to recognize this.


  1. Anonymous

    When the biggest problem facing your community is crime, and your community-wide mantra is "snitches get stitches", and you refuse to help the police (which is the institution charged with dealing with crime), and then compound that with de-funding them, you have set yourself up for failure.
    When 85% of the violent crime in your community is perpetrated by your own community members, (which is an over-representation of SEVEN TIMES!) and you refuse to call that out, you have set yourself up for failure.
    When you label the successful in your community as "Uncle Toms" and castigate them, thus discouraging others to do the same, you have set yourself up for failure.
    It has already been pointed out many places that some of the most unsuccessful inner-city schools have some of the greatest amount of money spent per student. It isn't a money problem.
    "The problem with Haiti is it is full of Haitians. Haiti is a problem without a solution."

  2. Darren

    I went to Honduras many times a decade or so ago for business. Every trip, without fail, the plane would be loaded with "missionaries" and church youth groups. A more naïve group of people I have never met, especially those of the "prosperity gospel" variety. They were all convinced that they were actually helping the poor and improving the country. They had no idea that the system was set against them from the very top of the government. People in power will not willingly divest themselves of it regardless of what God or man may think. For the mission trip folks I guess it came down to "if it makes you feel better(holier) then do it" but for my part I knew they would bring no lasting change.

    As an aside…I need to ponder on this thought that just came to me. Is the "prosperity gospel" really any different than socialism wrapped in swaddling clothes?

  3. Arthur Sido

    When I went to Haiti, the plane was packed and everyone on the plane was a White mission group participant except for a pair of Haitian businessmen. We spent combined more than ten thousand dollars on the trip and didn't do anything especially useful. But I did get lots of pictures of me with Haitian kids for social media.

  4. Darren

    LOL…those pics are good for humble brags! And if things go the way it seems they are headed they may buy you a day pass or conjugal visits when the gulags open! All in all money very well spent.

  5. Anonymous

    I belonged to a church once that was big into that African missionary crap. One summer they sent 8 kids down to some sh*thole country to install $500 of solar panels. It probably cost the parents of each of those kids $1000 in round trip air fare apiece to sent their kid down there. $8,000 spent to install $500 of solar panels because the Mensa candidates down there couldn't do it. Let's do a cost analysis on this project, shall we?

  6. jl

    Here is something you might find interesting, a little long, so please bear with me… My wife (and now also my adult daughter) are school teachers at a small K-8 private school in a part of town that was rated the Murder Capital of the US for a couple years during the crack "epidemic". The school was started by a wealthy, yet socially conscious LDS couple back in the 80's and the student body was 95% black. When my wife started working there 14 years back, it was 50/50 black/mestizo. Now, being that this school is in a poor area and is a non-profit, the parents that can't pay tuition have opportunities to work off the tuition with labor hours. And you know what? Having the parents around makes all the difference. Now, the graduating classes are small, usually only about 20 kids, but half or more go on to prestigious private high schools (many on full scholarship). The school overall has a pretty high percentage of kids that go on to college. But 3 blocks away, the PUBLIC elementary and Middle Schools?!?! Holy crap! There is no way in hell Id let any child related to me attend those zoos. Now, I dont have any hard data to share, but Id be willing to bet the Public teachers make more in wages and have far better benefits. (My wife works part time so get nothing by way of benefits, but my daughter is a full time 5th grade teacher, but gets no dental insurance or retirement, just a bare-minimum health insurance, that's it.) My point being, you can take two kids from equally squalid conditions, same racial background and have VERY different outcomes based almost entirely on the parent. When the parent takes education seriously and makes a commitment to their children's education, wonderful things are possible,regardless of race or immigration status. When the parents dont give a crap and school is nothing more than a free babysitter, you get illiterate, aggressive morons and the Prison Industrial Complex raking in record profits! The other thing I find interesting is the the 1st gen Mestizo kids that only speak/hear Spanish at home are drastically outperforming the black kids academically. Kind of blows a big hole in the "my kid is failing 'cuz racisms!" argument, doesn't it? They can roll dump trucks full of $100 bills into B'more schools (and the like) but they will never be "equal" without any kind of aspiration to improve for the sake of improving. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him thirsty! So much easier to blame others for your problems and then demand other's monies to fix said problems…

  7. Arthur Sido

    A big reason for the mission trips is to get people hooked on the idea so that after they get back they will keep contributing and get their churches to do the same. It is sort of a multi-level marketing scheme.

  8. Mike Guenther

    Your idea of vocational training is a better idea for these school systems. If the various shop instructors can make the classes somewhat interesting, maybe more students would have better attendance.

    My first inclination is to blame the parent/s for not instilling in their kids a modicum of discipline to stay in school and do the work, but I guess a single parent working two or three jobs, if they're in the work force and not collecting welfare, is too much to ask.

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