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Askwith Essentials: Still Separate and Unequal

At the Askwith Forums on February 27, a panel of political thinkers, educators, historians, and economists will explore where we are and how far we need to go reducing poverty, inequality, and racial injustice in the U.S.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019, 5:30-7 p.m.
Longfellow Hall, 13 Appian Way
This event will be live-streamed here, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Just over 50 years ago, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders — known as the Kerner Commission, after its chairman, Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois — issued a bracing report on the state of race relations in the United States. The commission, established by President Lyndon Johnson in the wake of civil unrest and violence across major cities in the late 1960s, found that America was on the verge of becoming “two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”

Did the nation heed this call to action — and if so, have we made progress toward reducing poverty, inequality, and racial injustice?

In 2018, the Eisenhower Foundation revisited the Kerner Commission report to explore these questions. In a 50th-anniversary publication called Healing Our Divided Society, the foundation reveals the stubborn persistence of inequality in America: Schools remain segregated (or have grown more segregated), income inequality persists on a larger scale, incarceration rates have risen, and opportunity eludes many young Americans. Communities across the country struggle with racial tensions and inequities, fanned by politics and policies that reinforce divisions; egregious forms of racism seem sadly common.

But one thing has changed over the last 50 years, according to the Eisenhower Foundation’s report: Today, we know what can work to meet these challenges. We just have to summon the will to do it.

At the Askwith Forums on Wednesday, February 27, an all-star panel of political thinkers, educators, historians, and economists will explore where we are and where we need to go. HGSE professor and political theorist Danielle Allen, former Massachusetts Secretary of Education and founding director of HGSE’s Education Redesign Lab Paul Reville, and Howard University professor and chief economist to the AFL-CIO William E. Spriggs will convene to discuss what works and what doesn’t work in scaling positive systemic change. The forum will be moderated by E.J. Dionne, Washington Post columnist, Georgetown professor, and senior fellow at The Brookings Institute. Dean Bridget Terry Long and Alan Curtis, president of the Eisenhower Foundation, will also provide introductory remarks and commentary.

In order to move forward, schools need to think about how students make connections with other people and other communities. “I think every major institution and sector whose purposes are intellectual and cultural needs to pursue a project of bridging,” Allen told Usable Knowledge after the 2016 election. “I think we need to make that sort of self-consciousness part of our curriculum. The challenge is how to give young people the chance to practice those bridging ties.”

One of the differences between 1968 and the present is a great body of research. Practitioners have knowledge about what sustainable practices, like building bridging relationships, could look like. Reville’s work at the Education Redesign Lab has focused on reimagining what schools need to look like and what community partnerships need to be established in order to truly educate all children. “To make educational equity systemic and enduring, we must do more than engage our schools; we must redesign, align, and integrate all the community services that support children and families… . We must ensure comparable access for all children to various forms of out-of-school enrichment and learning opportunities. Only after doing all of this will we begin to ensure that all children can come to school genuinely, and equally, ready to learn and succeed,” wrote Reville in Usable Knowledge

These educational inequalities both in and outside of school are heightened along the lines of race, ethnicity, and income, much as they were in 1968. “When you look at these unemployment gaps and these earning gaps, blacks have to have more education to make the same amount of money or get the same unemployment rate as whites who are less educated,” Spriggs told the Los Angeles Times in 2018.

While these economic and educational disparities may be acknowledged to a greater extent today, the issues surrounding inequality and school systems remain incredibly complex and interwoven. “I do think if you care about inequality, you have to care about family and social structure,” Dionne said in an interview with NPR, “But if you care about family and social structure, you have to care about inequality, because our inequalities are part of what is harming American families.”

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019
5:30-7:00 pm
Longfellow Hall
13 Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138