A Letter to the Public Officials in the City of Detroit

Will Street

To Whom it May Concern:

It may seem strange that I’m writing to you from the comfort of South Lawn on my boarding school campus about the schooling of my peers who are in public school, but I ask that you hear me out and consider my sentiments seriously.

Growing up, I moved around the state of Michigan a lot, though I spent most my years in Detroit. For kindergarten and first grade, I went to the Nataki Taliba Schoolhouse of Detroit, but I later had to depart to a small town in northern Michigan by the name of Chesterfield. My father had been jailed, and my mother was just starting to seek help for her alcohol addiction. Beginning in the second grade, I was (quite literally) the only African-American student in the entire school, but after I hinted thatI hated the color of my skin, my grandmother withdrew me and put me in a more diverse school than the one I had been previously in.

At that school, I was with Hispanic, white, and black students alike. At that school, I was exposed to immigrants. At that school, I interacted with the wealthy and the not so wealthy. At that school, it was an experience that I would do over if I had the chance. However, because of complications in keeping our house, my family and I had to move to Farmington Hills, but I still resided in a comfortable condominium and went to a relatively diverse school for my third and fourth grade years. Then, my mother, having recovered from her addiction, took me and my sister to the East Side and I attended a large charter school in one of the most dangerous area codes in the city, though none of us knew that fact at the time.

At this time, I would be exposed to my own culture, an experience that I had only had somedays when I played baseball for my team, but still that had been on a smaller scale. At this school, I was surrounded by hundreds of kids who looked exactly like me. I truly enjoyed this, albeit I faced a huge culture shock in the beginning. I stayed at this school for my fifth and sixth grade years.

Then my mother had a change of heart about where we were staying. She and my father had reconciled after a lengthy divorce, so we decided to move to the West Side to an area only a stone’s throw away from downtown. Then, a blessing that continues to bear its fruits today came along and I started to attend a private school, specifically Friends’ School in Detroit, an institution that has since shut down. And now I am in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Pennsylvania, at a boarding school that I love and enjoy. I am lucky.

Unfortunately, not many children with my upbringing can be as lucky as me.

Now I strongly believe that the blame for this lies with the local government, particularly the school board and some of Detroit’s state officials. Recently, Detroit Democrats railed against a largely Republican deal that gifted the Detroit Public School System (DPS) about $600 million, allowing money gained by the district, not to go to the debt that DPS owes, but instead to the district itself. This deal was heavily rejected by the Democrats.

The foul stench of partisanship reeked in these debates.

I consider myself the progressive’s progressive. However, I do recognize that with a minority in our state house, this was, perhaps, the best deal we could have gained. I only say, perhaps, because of the militancy of my own party against this bill. If that militancy had been regulated, a better deal may have been reached.

If you will allow me, I’d like to rewind my sentiments to a debate that I had with a school board member and a high-ranking member of the NAACP. I was at a high school graduation and I was curious to hear their views on the DPS deal. They — not to my surprise — did not like the deal. They wanted more money, which is an argument that I agree with, but their primary “beef” (please pardon my colloquial) lay with the fact that teachers would not need state certification in order to teach inside of a DPS classroom.

I argued that this was helpful, instead of harmful.

My primary argument in favor of this particular piece of the law is that, at my present school, I’ve had teachers that are not yet certified by the state. My history teacher has taught at several colleges and lectured at multiple history conferences, yet has no certification. A math teacher that currently instructs at my school worked for NASA for several years before being called to high school education. These teachers have invaluable experience that only enhances my learning.

However, it would be inappropriate of me not to acknowledge that I do go to a private school, where the average class size is fourteen, while a standard class size for a DPS class ranges from 21-30 and classroom management may be a skill that teachers should learn. So have them learn, but I do think it’s rather extraneous for them to have to take a test that tests basic reading and writing skills, especially if they have reached heights in their careers and in academia.

After presenting my argument, I was immediately dismissed as an “outsider” by the two people with whom I had been arguing, but after telling them I was from and lived in Detroit, their demeanor quickly changed and instead said they wanted the same rules that suburban schools have. I conceded and left the room.

What I wanted to do was scream, shout and kick in frustration. Have we not been trying to reach those standards for years and never even come close to attaining the same levels of success that these “suburban schools” have? Please forgive me if this piece turns into a rant, but to continue to do the exact same thing we’ve been doing for years is completely regressive for Detroit’s education system. Yet, we still fight for the exact same thing. We still elect and support the exact same people who continue to defend a failed system.

So this is my request to the newly elected school board, future candidates and current representatives for state and local office: switch it up. Make things different. Don’t stand for the same old policies that establishment Democrats in the city of Detroit and the state have been pushing since time immemorial. Though it’s a cliché, we need to “out with the old and in with the new”.

And lastly, be angry and fight for causes for the right reasons. I do truly believe that we could’ve gotten a better deal had we cut our losses and focused on the smaller victories and for god sakes fight to get rid of the Common Core. It’s painful enough that there’s a sheer lack of thought-provoking readings that are required by the system, but it makes the pain much worse when you have to learn complicated, unnecessary operations in math.

My request to the current voter: accept the new and reject the old. Though it sounds appealing to vote for someone based on name recognition, do your research, because their opponent may be able to offer something different. Think of the city schools that you want your children and grandchildren to attend. The lot of us are younger than eighteen and lack sufficient age to hire and fire who we would like. Be our representatives at the ballot box.

Lastly, to my generation: fight for the education you want. We’re infamous for complaining about the uselessness of what we learn in school. Stop complaining and do something. If your parents don’t vote, make them. If your friends don’t vote, prod them. Pull out every stop possible.

As a conclusion, many apologies if this letter came off as a rant or reactionary in any way. I just find myself profoundly frustrated at the current state of my city’s schools. The blame is going towards everything other than the people who are directly in charge. Instead of blaming rap music, the media, or anything else, take some responsibility.

With love,

William Street


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Filed under Student Work, The Curious George

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