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The Complicated ‘Sh*thole’ Debate

Andrew Sullivan’s old blog had a recurring feature called “It’s So Personal,” in which he published reader stories about controversial issues — accounts that challenged easy answers. I’m starting to see the comments and e-mails I’m getting about the “shithole” controversy, and related themes (e.g., gentrification, immigration, housing) as being of this genre — though I would term it, “It’s So Complicated.” This blog has had some good “It’s So Complicated” e-mails and comments from people on different sides of this discussion. Thank you.

A reader named Gaius Gracchus just posted this:

I recently moved. My prior residence was in what had been a very nice suburban community, with good schools.

But then post Katrina, the government bought a brand-new large apartment complex (designed for upper middle class) and turned it into Section 8, for the Katrina refugees, mostly. I visited it with church outreach and it quickly became slums, dangerous slums, with lots of police activity. It was just a few miles away.

Then the nearby neighborhoods became increasingly Section 8. The schools declined. The crime, including murders, increased. SWAT would be on my street once a year. Friends kept moving away.

Another new apartment complex opened, much closer. It was a luxury complex with high rates. But it didn’t fill, so it went 25% Section 8. Then 50%. Then 100%. Today it a slum, with massive police interaction every day.

We talked with our elementary school principal not long before we moved, about helping our kindergarten daughter be challenged more. He talked a long time about the challenges created by demographic change. He does outreach to the newer and now 100% Section 8 complex. The children there have never had someone read to them at home. They have never had a book to read at home.

He apologized profusely about ill-serving our daughter, even though she was in a designed advanced class. They are prohibited from separating students based upon cognitive ability. And he said most of the students did not live with 2 parents, but were with grandparents or foster parents.

Our elementary school had been 10% black, 10% Asian, 10% Hispanic, and 70% white a decade earlier. Now it is 43% black, 23% Hispanic, 24% white, and 10% Asian.

The principal mentioned that another elementary school moved to Spanish-English immersion. This led to it becoming a more “elite” school, due to changing demographics.

Anyway, issues of class, race, and culture are complicated, especially when it isn’t politically correct to mention demographics associated with education outcomes and crime, independent of poverty.

We didn’t move due to demographics, but we are now a thousand miles away with very different demographics. My 6th grader is no longer talking like he lives in a slum or wishing he had hair like the other kids. My children safely walk to and from school. We don’t worry as much about crime.

Anyway, poverty isn’t as much a problem as cultures that have high rates of single parenthood and crime, which often correlate to other, less politically correct factors.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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