It had been a long, hot and muggy Chicago summer. I was the principal of a private school that had decided to move to a new building, and I had spent countless hours...
Are There Skyboxes in Your School?
The first was an article written by columnist Thomas Friedman. In his column, entitled This Column is Not Sponsored by Anyone, Friedman reflects on Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel’s new book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.” Sandel points to the fact that we have drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society. He explains that:
“A market economy is a tool — a valuable and effective tool — for organizing productive activity. But a ‘market society’ is a place where everything is up for sale. It is a way of life where market values govern every sphere of life.”
“Why worry about this trend? Because, Sandel argues, market values are crowding out civic practices. When public schools are plastered with commercial advertising, they teach students to be consumers rather than citizens. When we outsource war to private military contractors, and when we have separate, shorter lines for airport security for those who can afford them, the result is that the affluent and those of modest means live increasingly separate lives, and the class-mixing institutions and public spaces that forge a sense of common experience and shared citizenship get eroded… Throughout our society, we ar losing the places and institutions that used to bring people together from different walks of life. Sandel calls this the “skyboxification of American life,” and it is troubling. Unless the rich and poor encounter one another in everyday life, it is hard to think of ourselves as engaged in a common project.”
A second article, authored by Andrew Martin and Andrew Lehren, entitled A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College, bemoans the financial burden college tuitions have placed upon families and students. They report that according to the Department of Education ninety-four percent of students who earn a bachelor’s degree borrow to pay for higher education. The article also relates that if current trends continue, the cost of a public college will have doubled over the past 15 years. The unasked question seems to be, “Who will be able to afford a college education?” Skyboxification indeed.
As I pondered the above, a third article caught my attention. The essay ‘Why Don’t We Have Any White Kids?’ authored by N.R. Kleinfield, reported the following:
In the broad resegregation of the nation’s schools that has transpired over recent decades, New York’s public-school system looms as one of the most segregated. While the city’s public-school population looks diverse — 40.3 percent Hispanic, 32 percent black, 14.9 percent white and 13.7 percent Asian — many of its schools are nothing of the sort. About 650 of the nearly 1,700 schools in the system have populations that are 70 percent a single race, a New York Times analysis of schools data for the 2009-10 school year found; more than half the city’s schools are at least 90 percent black and Hispanic.
What is possibly more troubling in the above article is the fact that the divide is not necessarily cultural in nature. Referring to a particular school Kleinfield writes:
There is a good deal of cultural diversity, with students, for instance, of Haitian, Guyanese and Nigerian heritage. But not of class. Nearly 80 percent of the students qualify for subsidized lunch, a mark of poverty.
While Kleinfied’s intention was to focus attention on the damage such segregation inflicts on the minorities involved, I could not help but wonder if the minorities were the only parties who will suffer. If even in our public schools the rich and the poor do not meet to jointly consider a shared American destiny have we not again divided our house, and thus weakened its very foundations?
And finally, will our market society create a new segregated reality in which man will not be judged by the color of his skin, or by the content of his character, but by the contents of his wallet?