'Failing schools. Underprivileged schools. Just plain bad schools.' Rooting her exploration in the historic African American neighborhood of Bronzeville, Ewing reveals that this issue is about much more than just schools.
Eve L. Ewing...takes on big issues of education, race and democracy in her book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. But Ewing, a sociologist in the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, a poet, and a former schoolteacher, takes a very different tack, focusing on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2013 proposal to close a large number of public schools, most of them in African American communities ... Ewing’s stunning account of...recent history underlines the staggering challenge we face in creating the schools necessary to sustain our democracy. We have moved so far away from the concept of equal opportunity for disadvantaged African American students that parents are no longer just fighting for high-quality integrated schools, or even high-quality segregated schools. They are fighting for the right to preserve mediocre schools because what they are likely to be provided in the event of school closure is even worse ... At a time when our democracy is under stress, Ewing...outlines...important paths for strengthening America’s commitment to democratic values.
In 2013, Chicago closed 49 public schools, 90-percent of them majority black. The city declared these schools underutilized and failing. But when the closures were announced, teachers, students, parents, and community members protested. If these schools were as awful as the city said, then why the fight to keep them? This question drives Ghosts in the Schoolyard ... Ewing is a Harvard-trained sociologist as well as a poet and an educator (among other things), and this comes through in her lively and accessible writing.
Ewing discounts the 'quantitative reality' put forth by [Mayor Rahm] Emanuel and other reformers. She instead endorses community critics who pointed to 'another reality' to explain why their schools were closed: racism. But she isn’t shy about invoking her own quantitative statistics in the case against school closings: for example, she notes that test scores plummeted in schools after districts announced plans to close them, and that students’ scores didn’t rise when they relocated afterward. Ewing is deeply attuned to differences across races in Chicago, but she’s much less concerned with differences within them, and she doesn’t seriously examine diverse perceptions about schools within the black community ... She also tends to take her subjects’ observations about racism at face value. Everyone who perceives racism is assumed to be a victim of it, no matter what other forces are in play. And everyone charged with racism is viewed as a perpetrator of it ... So, if another scholar were to show that students’ test scores rose after their schools closed, would Ewing temper her claim about the racism of the policy? I doubt it. Despite her insistence that racism isn’t a question of belief, her argument that the school closings were racist ultimately rests on the beliefs of African-Americans on the South Side of Chicago. The people she interviews think that the school closings were racist, and we should listen closely to them. But we condescend to them when we place their beliefs beyond critique, as if the victims of Chicago’s wrongful educational history can never be wrong themselves.