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Opinion: Desegregating NYC Schools

Language and the Chancellor

By Desmond M. Atkins, Crown Heights

I am not someone who never studied Latin or had the opportunity to. Needless to say, I have learned a handful of Latin phrases. There is “e pluribus unum,” one out of many; “ipso facto,” meaning by the very nature of the deed; “carpe diem” means “seize the day.” But one Latin phrase has always dazzled me with its simplicity and elegance. That phrase, “ipso locutor”– the thing speaks for itself. And this past week, there may have been an occasion for the creation of a new phrase, “video ipso locutor.”


Mr. Richard A. Carranza, the brand-new Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education, tweeted that a video taken at an upper Manhattan educational council meeting “spoke for itself.” And what Mr. Carranza wasn’t ashamed, bashful, inhibited or afraid to say was that the video evidenced the racism of the community that held the meeting. The parents at the meeting offered many reasons why they shouldn’t have to admit students from certain areas for any reasons. The outside students didn’t need to be added to the school(s) demographics; there was no need for (further) diversification; the school already had (enough) minority students. No one specified which minority was already existing and which minority they had no need of. But all of their words were “ipso facto,” leaning towards an exclusionary, selfish, illegal attempt to steer the populations of their schools. The parents used old seams of logic: they had worked hard to get where they were, the new students would cause irreparable harm to their already-existing student body, why should they bear the brunt of the failures of previous educators|parents|society (pick any or all).


Mr. Carranza noted that he had, as a person of color, had all these excuses used against him during his life’s journey to his present position. And, as a man of color, he would not abide with any of this language, behavior or methodology. Curiously, we are waiting for our mayor to weigh in on the situation. The possibility that the nuclear bomb of the word “racism” is much too dangerous for a politician to have placed on the CV (more Latin), meaning “curriculum vitae, or the “course of life.”


In “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein, the author cites statistical and historical facts that show that the present state of schools and housing are the result of decades leading to centuries of “de jure” segregation: segregation by law and public policy. He made the point that everyone wants to say that they are American, and therefore entitled to all the rights that that confers on them; he then makes the point that if you assume to load all of the benefits, then you also load on all of the failures and the responsibility as a citizen to rectify them, not respective to the time frame in which they occurred.


While my educational experience lacked the enrichment of a Latin class, the students who are possibly being excluded from a richer educational opportunity could in the course of their curriculum learn how to decipher each and every Latin phrase and come to a deeper understanding of language. Language is a tool when used with logic, wit, brevity and excitement creates for many new opportunities in life.


And that is exactly what these students are being denied: a life of excitement and logic and achievement.

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