PuLSE Institute: Race, Illiteracy, and Poverty

With a new state administration on the horizon, The PuLSE Institute held a forum on Race, Illiteracy, and Poverty to flush out the issues surrounding the connection between these social ills, their effects on education, and what the incoming state administration must do to resolve the failures of Detroit public schools.

Titled Race, Illiteracy, and Poverty, the forum took place Wednesday, November 14 at Denby High School on Detroit’s east side, and occurred as Detroit school children find themselves in a battle against the State of Michigan to declare they have the right to access literacy as part of their public education.

On the panel were Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) Superintendent, Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Attorney Mark Rosenbaum, lead counsel of the Detroit school children suing the State of Michigan for the right to literacy, and the Institute’s President and Director of Research, Attorney Tina Patterson, who led The Douglass Project of the Institute in filing an amicus brief to the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the right to literacy for Detroit schoolchildren.

With a crowd of hundreds watching, the event moderated by Bankole Thompson, editor-in-chief of The PuLSE Institute, produced substantive dialogue, honest perspectives on the state of education in Detroit, and concrete and equitable solutions to implement in the coming years.

Dr. Vitti presented his vision plan for third grade reading, linked education to poverty, noting that parental issues such as long commutes for work, evictions, and struggles to pay utility bills effect a child’s socio-emotional state to focus on learning. He also commented that some in leadership positions, being largely members of the middle class, may not realize the hardships of survival for poor families.

In describing the right to literacy suit, Attorney Rosenbaum noted that Detroit has the lowest literacy rate of any district in the United States, with a literacy rate over 90% below proficiency in reading and a shameful 97% below proficiency in math. However, he stressed an acknowledgment that this was not the result of kids, teachers or the community, but rather a deliberate result on part of the state, and that it must remove the stigma surrounding the district to move forward.

Patterson added the need for bold approaches and innovative leadership, linking the problems at home to learning and attention of children in schools through creative solutions. Finally, she stated Detroit public schools is the epicenter of the interconnection of race, poverty, and illiteracy, and that the new administration has the opportunity to transform lives for generations to come.

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