In his trademarked series, “The Hinges of History,” Thomas Cahill tells the stories of what he calls “the great gift-givers,” by which he means those people in a moment of crisis who “provided for transition, transformation and even transfiguration, leaving us a world more varied and complex, more awesome and delightful, more beautiful and strong than the one they had found.” For example, one installment tells of Ireland’s heroic role after the fall of the Roman Empire.
It is too far a reach to compare that with where we are in Michigan’s history, but the image of the series title fits our times; for Michigan’s future does indeed hinge on the creativity and courage of those who step up to the challenges pressing upon us with urgency. And I believe Michigan’s rebound from a top ten to bottom ten state in just ten years is hinged to its major cities, and its cities to their neighborhood schools.
Our state cannot be strong unless its major cities are thriving; our major cities cannot be strong without a network of healthy neighborhoods; and our neighborhoods cannot be strong without excellent neighborhood schools.
Unfortunately, our state has undermined and re-segregated urban schools with legislation creating charter schools and “schools of choice,” which have combined to drain resources and responsibility from neighborhoods, and have gravely wounded our urban centers. These were good intentions, perhaps, but very bad consequences.
Those who are serious about facilitating a turnaround in Michigan must face up to the problems of our major cities and turn around the policies that helped cause those problems, including the possibility that it is the restoration of neighborhoods and their schools that will lead this recovery.
Good schools and a grocery store are neighborhood necessities, which are the building blocks of healthy cities. Our state won’t be great again until its cities are strong again.
(See michiganfuture.org and civilrightsproject.ucla.edu for facts supporting underlying assertions.)