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Magazine: Rethinking "Ghetto" Communities -- & Their Schools

This recent New Yorker article (There Goes the Neighborhood) raises a bunch of important questions about how we think about gentrification and low-income communities that used to be commonly called "ghettos" -- and, by extension, low-income (generally low-performing) schools.

Scholars have long been sympathetic towards these communities, according to the piece:

"Scholars who studied the ghetto tended to be motivated by sympathy for its residents, which often resulted in a complicated sort of sympathy for ghettos themselves."

It could be argued that some of the same emotions have been on display when it comes to the low-income, generally low-performing school.

However public opinion has changed dramatically.

"Where the ghetto once seemed a menace, threatening to swallow the city like an encroaching desert, now it often appears, in scholarly articles and the popular press, as an endangered habitat."

The reality may be, however, that displacements from gentrification are not be as widespread as is commonly thought. That's because underlying mobility rates are already relatively high in these communities, as evictions, better opportunities, and other shifts move families in and out of low-income areas.

In addition, "Gentrification needn’t be zero-sum, because gentrifying neighborhoods may become more densely populated, with new arrivals adding to, rather than supplanting, those currently resident. 

Sympathetic scholars, recent focus on gentrification, and questions about underlying mobility rates suggest that the common "gentrification = bad" construction that's prevalent right now might warrant some careful rethinking. Perhaps changes to neighborhood schools -- demographic, programmatic, etc. -- shouldn't necessarily be viewed with immediate suspicion. Perhaps gentrification isn't universally bad. 

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