Separate St. Louis education is not equal

By Tom Murphy VII (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Old book bindings at the Merton College library, by Tom Murphy VIILicensed under Creative Commons
The racial division of St. Louis is clearly illustrated by young families in St. Louis. Young families close to having kids leave their brick bungelows in the city for homes nestled in suburban school districts. The usual targets are Lindbergh, Parkway, or Rockwood, the bigger, well-funded of the area. Brentwood, Kirkwood, Ladue, and Webster Groves, smaller, but still well-funded, also make the list.

The house hunt for these families goes something like this: 3 bedroom, maybe 4, 2 bathroom, big backyard for junior, 2 car garage. Older, charming cottage? Oh, yes! But only after we complete the St. Louis County lead-abatement program.

For the families who stay, their children mostly attend private schools or better-funded charter or magnet schools over the neighborhood schools. There are the families who choose to have their kids attend the neighborhood schools. But that’s just it. They have a choice.

Choice is a privilege many people forget they have. Others are acutely aware that they don’t have that privilege.

The other families who have to stay, usually their kids have to attend their neighborhood schools. They have to. There is no choice. They don’t get that privilege.

Why is this a problem? Public schools rely on property taxes for funding. If you live in, say, Ladue, your property taxes are higher than those of Webster Groves, and those are higher than those of Fenton, and those, while lower, generate more income than those property taxes in St. Louis City.

Here are some examples. These are actual property tax figures from 2015. All the homes used were approximately the same size:

Fenton:                   $7572.27
St. Louis City:         $8159.71
Webster Groves:     $9329.12
Ladue:                     $15,961.37

Ladue arguably comes out on top. St. Louis City is near the bottom, but population, household income, etc. affect paid property taxes thus affect school funding.

St. Louis City is pretty small. People usually work there and go home to the suburbs. Our night life isn’t huge. Many properties are vacant, or the families have trouble paying for groceries, so why would they be able to paid their annual taxes? Only property tax funding that gets paid gets paid to the schools.

Read more about how school funding’s reliance on property taxes fails children from NPR and how your own school stacks up. Find out how Brittany Packnett is tackling the education problem here in St. Louis from all angles.

There are children in our community not receiving the education the St. Louis community can afford. We are failing them. We are failing our future.

On top of the lack of funding, the SLPS students are being poisoned with IQ-robbing lead in the drinking water. This is all happening while the children a 20-minute drive away are getting decadence added to their Fiji-water education: the water fountain returns as a metaphor for division in St. Louis.

We treat city and county as separate. They are very unequal. It’s no wonder why education inequality thrives here.

My question is, why wouldn’t the people who can afford to donate to education want to donate somewhere where the funds can make a huge difference? Wouldn’t they want to be that kind of a hero?

What are you willing to give up?

We’re fickle. Something catches our attention and our attention is fleeting. The important issues we need to keep alive. For me, those are gun violence and equality.

I was listening to the newest Macklemore and Ryan Lewis album this weekend. A couple weeks ago I heard Macklemore on NPR discussing his collaboration with Jamila Woods, “White Privilege II.”

About a year ago now I watched our favorite young tribute, and fiercely smart young woman, Amandla Stenberg speak about how white people appropriate whatever they want from black culture, and usually with no appreciation for the black people and their experiences in their everyday lives.

How many white people do you see actually doing something about this inequality? Just tweeting about it doesn’t count. It’s good, but you can’t just tweet and change the world.

I really relate to the Macklemore and Jamila Woods song. I worry that being white that I wouldn’t be welcome protesting or speaking out. I don’t know all of the discrimination black people face, but I know some. And what I hear about is bullshit. No, it’s not the responsibility of the black people to educate us white people about it. But some of this stuff I hear is so unbelievable that some other person would do to another person – my mind just doesn’t go there. I just cannot image a person hating another person so much. But it happens.

Read about Structural Inequality.

I keep hearing the question, “What are we willing to give up for equality?” ‘Giving up’ is a funny phrase to use here. I don’t think of equality like this. I’d be gaining colleagues, friends, neighbors, students. I’d lose seeing suffering. I’d lose the sadness I feel for people being treated unfairly. I’d lose what I feel because I know just being born black means a whole other set of hurdles to mount. You think separate but equal went away with Brown v. Board of Education? We are still separate. We never were equal. And just because of what?

Stupidity. Ignorance. Silence.

A bystander is just as guilty as the perpetrator. If you don’t believe in inequality, don’t let inequality happen. Stand up for your friend. Stand up for your neighbor. Stand up for your fellow human.

Book Review: We Should All Be Feminists

Reading for pleasure is a cherished pastime for the Ph.D. student, so I have taken to consuming short works and collections of essays. These I can read in the coveted hour I might find each week or easily pick back up if my read is interrupted.


My latest book I read was We Should All Be FeministsChimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes from her experiences in Nigeria as a woman in a culture that does not view women as capable or equal to men. Her insight into typical social situations in which sexism rears its ugly head provides affirmation for those who might be feeling the same frustrations as well as awareness for those who might not yet see the inequalities in such interactions.

The author calls to all people regardless of gender to be feminists as feminism is not just for the rights of one gender, but rather equal rights. She also points out why human rights is not a appropriate term for feminism.

Beyond being a strong supporter of equal rights, she is a brilliant writer. Check out her other works as well, which very likely might be at your local library.

Gaming Girls for God’s Sake

I fell in love with games when I was little playing on my parents’ Apple II and the coveted computer time at school.  I was not allowed to have any game systems when I was little because they were expensive and my parents would rather I spent my time with my imagination and studying.  When visiting my cousins, I would just want to play Duck Hunt and games from the Mario franchise nonstop.  Then when I had my first boyfriend when I was 15, I discovered PlayStation.  Now I kind of wonder if I didn’t just continue to go out with him even after our relationship lapsed to continue my affair with Bushido Blade, Gran Turismo and Grand Theft Auto.

Enter the college years:  Chris and I moved in together after I graduated high school.  He had a PlayStation 2.  Growing up without games, my learning curve was high, and I felt embarrassed to play in front of Chris, who could get me through crazy jumps in Ico on the first try.  I binged if you will on games.  While at the time, I would not admit to skipping my feminist theory class a few times to stay home playing Jak and Daxer, I will now.  You will find the irony in this later.

Chris bought me my first Gameboy (Gameboy Color in Teal) when they came out.  Then I became a Pokemon nut and dappled in Animal Crossing, Kirby, Wario, and Mario Kart.  Then he got me an SP, then a Pink DS in 2007, and last year he bought me a 3DS after finding an admittedly amazing deal on Craigslist (and, no, it was not a stolen one sold on Craigslist – I wondered that myself).

Enter Kari:  Chris and I were very cautious about introducing television and video games with Kari. We were the parents who followed the rule book.  Then, we thought maybe at 3 or 4 she could start playing games with us.  As expected, she loved games just like us.

Now that she is getting older, the games she sees are appealing to her; however, being her parents, Chris and I have to look at how balanced that game is. We continue to be very choosy about what she sees us play and what she is able to play based upon themes and handling of gender roles.  Earlier this year we went to PAX East and Kari was totally into it.  She loved playing new games and giving suggestions to the developers.  Kari is currently big into Animal Crossing, Pokemon and Style Savvy.

Going back for a minute to when Kari was 3 or 4 playing on the Wii.  She used to love to look at the Mii Plaza then graduated into playing games herself.  I remember one time when she kept scrolling back and forth through the available characters.  She was frustrated and said she wanted to play the girl one.  Well, in video games there are not many girl heroes or protagonists.  Just like preschoolers said, “Where’s the camera?!” about the iPad, they nail it with video games too.

While I know Anita Sarkeesian received a lot of flack for her role in exposing gaming for what it has been and still kind of is, I connect a lot with her videos.  Why do we have to sit back and have the female stereotypes perpetuated in front of us, others and our children over and over and over again? Simple. We shouldn’t.

Recent examples of female stereotypes being perpetuated in video games include Chase’s character in Uncharted: Golden Abyss (released in 2012) and how the script was written.  Many of the focus group found her character to be annoying.  Maybe a more active Chase would have rendered her less annoying.  Then the design for the Comic ConQuest featuring Cosplayers.  I hope the traditional exaggeration of the feminine form is not an indication of the game play traditional to female characters in video games we might witness.

I truly hope once Kari is old enough to play more mature RPGs, there is more opportunity for female characters than to be Peached.

A Scholar’s Struggle

Tomorrow starts another semester.  In preparation for the oncoming hours of study and various activities related to my dissertation, I decided to clean out the email and finally read the backlogged copies of scholarly news I ignored over holiday.

I opened the most recent one: Inside Higher Ed:  Parents, Tuition and Grades / Academe Reacts to Aaron Swartz’s Suicide – January 14, 2013

I just stared.  That is the extent of it.  Just staring at my laptop.  One thing I have learned along the road to becoming educated is that the more aware I am, the angrier I am.  Hence the adage: ignorance is bliss.  This man died because he was smarter than people could see.  They misunderstood the message in his work and threatened his freedom because they simply did not understand.  Information is not to be coveted, but to be shared.  That was the whole point – the whole point of his activism!

We just lost an intelligent ally.  He made the leaps in thought his prosecutors apparently could not make.  They were blinded by the laws designed to prosecute malicious Internet criminals, not thinkers. Aaron did not want the gain for himself.  He was promoting awareness and open distribution of knowledge.

His activism has been always something I have loved to see in action.  And now I don’t get to see the next chapter.  It is now a book with missing pages.  Someone can write another ending, but it will still be missing something.

I am saddened by this.  Aaron’s death. The way institutions for education treat creative thinkers. The way our democracy responds to freedom differently when on the Internet. And finally how education is still very limited to the elite few.

For these reasons, and perhaps for many more I will discover later, I am making a decision today to provide PDFs (or whatever the future evolution) of my publications, current and future, openly to anyone who would like copies.  My research is not for myself.  It is done for the masses.  I just ask for credit where credit is due.

By coveting our knowledge, we will stunt our growth as a people.  The movement of several higher education institutions and other groups to offer free courses excites me.  It excites me beyond belief.  I love learning and always have and to have everyone be able to learn as I – no, even better than I have – is absolutely encouraging.

For more information about Aaron, see the wikipedia page about him.  Also, while there, consider writing an article or editing one.  Contribute to the collective.  (See also Cognitive Surplus, or at the moment, the skim NYT review for a brief overview).

Also see:
edX Course Listings
Khan Academy