Fixing the Problem We All Live With

(In 500 words) Please describe your idea for a Praxis Lab. You can visit our Praxis Lab Webpage to take a look at previous ideas. Tell us what community or social problem you would focus on, why this problem is critical to address, and what role collaboration must play in development of a concrete solution.

In 1964, Norman Rockwell produced his famous painting, The Problem We All Live With. This iconic Civil Rights Era piece depicts six-year-old Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to attend an all-white elementary school, being escorted by U.S. Marshals on her way to school. She is seen walking close behind the marshals for protection, while the remains of a tomato thrown against the wall behind Ruby’s head drips to the ground. A degrading racial slur and the letters “KKK” are written on the wall.

Today, Norman Rockwell paintings are seen as relics from a bygone era- they are quaint, capturing americana at its best, and in this case, its most poignant. His pieces carry with them a sense of the past, representing a nostalgic reminder of what many Americans have experienced and overcome. Yet, to what extent have the issues captured in The Problem We All Live With been resolved? Public education is a fundamentally essential institution in our society, advancing opportunities for all Americans regardless of race, gender, economic status, and political persuasion. This promise is not universally achieved in practice, and the failure to do so lessens the sustainability of our most cherished traditions, values, and institutions. It is only upon a level playing field that our society can advance and develop. Lawful segregation ended in 1954, when the Supreme Court decided in Brown vs. Board of Education that separate is inherently unequal. In the half century since that ruling, great gains have been made towards integrating our education system.

Yet there is a barrier, in that de-facto segregation has replaced the lawful segregation of the pre-Civil Rights Era. The demand for equal academic opportunities requires attention from people from all different areas of study to attack issues that advance integration and multiple opportunities for all. While many integration measures have been successful and the disparity between black and white students has lessened, startling similarities still exist between the problems from the past and the problems that we face with regards to segregation. Components of this modern “de-facto” segregation include economic and geographical barriers. Across the Salt Lake valley, schools in areas of higher property values have higher test scores, whereas schools in poorer neighborhoods struggle with graduation rates and lower teacher retention and dismal test scores. This ensures that many impoverished children, many of whom are children of color, will progress through the education system, under-educated and poorly equipped to achieve further success in education.

This cycle must be consciously disrupted in order to see a change in equal education in Utah. A Praxis lab would be an interesting place to explore our racially disparate education system. Collaboration from students in fields of education, social science, economics, business, and political science will lend viewpoints regarding effective measures to create integrated, and therefore equal learning environments for Utah’s students.

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