Be Superman…support North High

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Last week there was a lot of talk regarding North High School and Bernadia Johnson’s plan to recommend its closure to the School Board. It makes me happy that folks are talking about such an important issue. However, the discourse itself has left me very disturbed (see the comment section of the original Star Tribune Story from Wednesday), hence this writing.

Let me be clear who I am writing this for. It is not those that are passionate about this issue in either direction, but rather those that are somewhere in the middle. The ones that pride themselves on seeing “both sides” of the issue, the ones that want to see education be the force for good that it should and think maybe shutting down North is a necessary reform measure. You are the people I hope read this and consider what I have to say; mainly – the closing of North is a civil and human rights issue rooted in a history of systemic racism. Rather than shut the doors and wipe our hands, we should see this as an opportunity to move towards equality.

I know right about now many of you are skeptical and think I am drawing some drastic conclusions. Allow me to expand. The foundation for the rationale behind Johnson’s recommendation is that it is economic insanity to keep North open, as there are simply not enough students. At face value the decision seems like a no-brainer. It is true strictly speaking in terms of money, as keeping North open is not economically viable.

However, face value is hardly ever the most honest, and that is indeed the case here. There is context that cannot be ignored, mainly the racism that is underlying this entire conversation. We cannot view North, or make decisions regarding its future, without considering the history of racism that has shaped both the school and surrounding community. It is naive to think that North has existed in a vacuum free from the racism that has marked education – from lack of culturally responsible curriculum, to diversity of the faculty and staff, to biased standardized tests, to funding. There is no shortage of racism in public education, and North has been a victim of it.

On top of these race-specific obstacles faced by North the school board has not been the ally it should have been. For proof of this we need to look no further than the elimination of a home zone for North, the closure of five elementary and middle schools on the north side since 2007, and the complete lack of promotion for the school coupled with the utter failure to push back from the perceptions of North High and the entire north side perpetuated by the media. Not to mention the Choice is Yours program, which essentially siphoned off North’s top students capitalizing on the racist perceptions and stereotypes of the community.

The reality of North High is that it is far from the worst school in the district. It produces well- educated, well-prepared for college, critical-thinking youth that are passionate about their community, and the teachers and staff are among the best in the district.

Beyond this it is necessary to think about the impact of closing North High. If accepted, the closure of North will leave the north side with one public high school and solidify the status of north side students as MTS bound, which I think is generally understood not to be the ideal path. When MCP moves into North’s building (which will be fall of 2011) we will see an even greater stratification. This cannot be acceptable to anybody who is concerned with equality and believes in quality public education FOR ALL.

The good news is while concerned people acted late, they acted and delayed the seemingly inevitable. I ask that you – the middle ground – join those concerned people in saying, No! We will not allow for this to happen; there is simply too much history and hurt for us to add onto.

This stance does not require that North continue to operate with 40 freshman and be an economic liability. The Board and Johnson need to reinstate North’s home zone, highlight the many North High successes, and tell the truth about why the situation became so dire. There is little doubt that these things will result in a significant increase in North’s enrollment.

For some this is not a convincing enough argument, so in that case let’s examine one other aspect. This decision, like so many before it, has been made with little to no input from the community. There has been no impact statement done, nothing. This is the latest of a long line of things to happen TO the north side as opposed to WITH the north side. This is racist. Period.

We have a chance to take real anti-racist action. Rather than consider life-altering decisions through only an economic lens, we can send the statement that more things matter than simply the bottom line, and we will not continue to exploit and capitalize off a legacy of oppression and inequality. Yes, it will take work and dedication but I’m sure we are up to the task.