Why I am Wary of Geoffrey Canada As a Social Commentator
Dr Mark Naison
I have been wary of Geoffrey Canada as a social commentator ever since he published a book called "Fist,Knife, Stick Gun" whose first section describes the Morrisania section of the South Bronx in the 1950's and 1960's as a hell hole, a place plagued with violence and negativity. Violence and negativity there certainly was, but there were also great neighborhood sports programs, vibrant churches, great music and arts programs in the public schools, and many mentors and "old heads" who helped guide young people away from trouble. Canada's grim vision of this predominantly Black section of the Bronx, contradicted by liiterally scores of interviews I did with people who lived in the same community, was a disturbing example of literary "tunnel vision"- an author's propensity to make his personal experience universal. By contrast, read Allen Jones "The Rat That Got Away: a Bronx Memoir", set South Bronx housing projects and neighborhoods in the same time period, whch recognizes that the same community could contain hustlers, political activists, striving students, gang leaders, protective parents, drug dealers and inspired teachers and mentors.
Today, Canada's seems to apply the same tunnel vision to education when he views failing schools as the bane of struggling neighborhoods and says that private business would never tolerate such failures. But such a comment could only be made by someone who doesn't examine the role of the private sector in America's inner city neighborhoods,, which was to shut down operations, and move out when neighborhood conditions and global economic trends made them unprofitable. While public schools in these communities remained open,, factories shut own, banks closed their doors,,insurance companies and banks redlined the areas, landlords abandoned and burned properties, and whole business districts disappeared.. In many cases, it was neighorhood public schools, hardpressed and occasionally disorderly as they were ( read Janet Mayer's wonderful book "As Bad As They Say: Three Decades of Teaching in the Bronx") were the one place where young people could find support and inspiration when they were abanoned by private capital, and savage by government cutbacks.
To now hold them up to scrutiny as failures in an otherwise successful society can only be done by erasing what has happened in inner city America in the last 40 years. Global economic trends, coupled with government policies which siphoned wealth upward, destabilized and in some instances destroyed inner city neighborhoods, not teachers unions and poorly run public schools.