Pardon me for getting personal but this has been a distressful week. Barack Obama gave what I thought was a very brave speech before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He broke ranks with the Democrats and the teachers' unions by advocating merit pay for teachers. Then the very next day, he signed a bill that contained a provision inserted by Dick Durbin (D-Ill) that eliminated school vouchers for children in the District of Columbia. I was appalled. How could he embrace merit pay and then condemn black kids to purgatory the same week? Please would someone tell me why Democrats hate black children? When I was younger I argued that once blacks took over the cities, elected their own leaders and took over the boards of education, then the educational achievement levels of black kids would rise. I was wrong. The opposite happened. Black educational levels plummeted, drop out rates, soared, and illiteracy increased among black youth. What happened? Let us return to those days of yesteryear. When I grew up in urban Atlanta, society was so segregated that I never talked to a white person before I went to college at the University of Georgia. I was educated in all black schools with all black teachers. Back in those days, being a teacher was a very good job because educated blacks either had to work for the government or be self employed entrepreneurs. Teachers took pride in their work and I got a great education. How do I know it was great? Well when I went to the University of Georgia in September 1962, hardly any of my classmates had ever had a class with a black student. The University had said that in its history it had never discriminated against blacks, they had simply never gotten an application for any blacks who were qualified. Since we were there by court order, it naturally followed that except for the courts, we would have been rejected as well as being not qualified. So imagine the surprise of my classmates and my professors when the main challenge was to see if there were any students in any of my classes who were smarter than me. Sure there were a handful in my four years at Georgia who were as smart but I never met anyone I considered smarter. This changed when I went to Ohio State for graduate school. However, my great education was in spite of the all white Atlanta board of education. We got hand-me-down textbooks that were older editions that were discarded by the white schools. If we had lab equipment, it was out of date and old. Teachers provided supplies out of their own pockets. My parents were teachers and I know how much of their salaries they spent on supplies for their students. So I thought that once the blacks took over, we would still get a great education, only now we would have new books and new stuff for the labs. I also thought that we would have access to the public libraries rather than to the dinky branch that we were allowed to patronize. Boy was I wrong. Instead of getting an education in urban schools, its just enough to maintain order. It has been demonstrated again and again that vouchers work. Yet they are rejected by the democrats and the teachers' unions. The educational system clearly doesn't work. Urban black kids are not dumb. Any kid who knows the lyrics of some rap song after only two hearings could learn Tolstoy if there were a War and Peace rap. I have suggested in the past that we take the money currently being spent per student and contract education out to the Catholic church or to private schools. Black urban education is a national disgrace. Any black leader who ignores the problem is not a leader and should be dismissed out of hand - and this includes Barack Obama.
Harold A. Black is professor emeritus in the Department of Finance, University of Tennessee, Knoxville having retired after 24 years of service. He has served on the faculties of American University, Howard University, the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and the University of Florida. His government service includes the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and as a Board Member of the National Credit Union Administration. He also has served on the boards of directors Home Savings of America and its parent company, H. F. Ahmanson & Co., Irwindale, California prior to its merger with Washington Mutual Savings Bank, on the board of New Century Financial Corporation, Irvine, California, then the nation’s largest real estate investment trust and as director and later chairman of the Nashville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. He writes an occasional article for the Knoxville News-Sentinel at http://www.knoxnews.com/staff/dr-harold-black/. His web page is haroldablackphd.com