Thursday, August 22, 2013

In Georgia (The U. S. State, Not the Asian One) The Contrasts of a New Emerging America – Spectacular New High School and Xenophobic Reaction to Immigration

The American Divide Illustrated

Two stories in the New York Times illustrate the growing split in America between those who work for progress and those who fight to keep basic human liberties from people because they are Hispanic.  The first story is that of a new high school opening in Atlanta, which is normally not news but is because of this.

The new North Atlanta High School features amenities like a video production center and a cafeteria resembling a mall food court.
Dustin Chambers for The New York Times
The new North Atlanta High School features amenities like a video 
production center and a cafeteria resembling a mall food court.

The most expensive public high school ever built in Georgia opens Wednesday in an old I.B.M. office building.  With 11 stories, a 900-car parking deck and views fit for a corporate executive, the school, North Atlanta High, looks very much like the fancy office buildings and glittery shopping strips that populate its Buckhead community.

The school is an attempt by a public school system to compete, to provide great education for public school students regardless of their income or status.  And it seems to have the support of the community and to be likely to achieve its goals.

“We have a special obligation here,” said Howard E. Taylor, the new principal. “The district is digging out of a historic crisis.”

He and other educators say that the new school building is an opportunity to show that a large, urban public high school can be a viable alternative to the rising tide of charter schools, voucher systems and private education.

Some of the 1,400 students who will attend the school this year come from the wealthiest families in the region, but others, Mr. Taylor said, are homeless. Nearly half are black. About 27 percent are white and 20 percent are Hispanic. They speak more than 40 languages.

“If there was ever a model for an urban high school, this is it,” he said.

The goal is to move the school from its graduation rate of about 61 percent — a rate so low it helped lead to the ouster of top administrators last fall — to 90 percent.

There is a lot at stake here, because if this school is successful it demonstrates that public education, education that takes care of everyone, is a viable system even in a conservative state.

And speaking of conservatives, the other story about Georgia illustrates the dark side of America.  This story is about one man’s crusade against Hispanics.

D. A. King, who quit his job as an insurance agent a decade ago to wage a full-time campaign against illegal immigration in Georgia, is one reason this state rivals Arizona for the toughest legal crackdown in the country. With his Southern manners and seersucker jackets, he works the halls of the gold-domed statehouse, familiar to all, polite and uncompromising.

Mr. King’s motivation is personal, based on experiences he had in interacting with the Hispanic population.  And he is dedicated, strongly dedicated to his cause.  And yes he is colored by prejudice however much he might protest.

In Georgia, Mr. King has not been afraid to take on many adversaries, including the farmers and growers, business organizations, labor unions and Latinos. A big-shouldered former Marine, he often shows up with his own placards at rallies called by his opponents — just to let them know he is watching.

“I was taught that we have an American culture to which immigrants will assimilate,” Mr. King said. “And I am incredibly resentful that’s not what’s happening anymore.”

The history of the United States is filled with people like Mr. King, people who said the same thing he says when they talked about the Irish, or the Italians or the Jewish people or the Chinese and just about every other group that has come to America and made the nation the great success that it is today.  And history will largely discard Mr. King the way it has discarded those other critics.  History will only remember their bitter, ugly, losing fight and how North Atlanta High School was a true multi-cultural success.

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