I coached a Debate Team for eleven years when I taught in the Bronx. We were a poor school, in one of the poorest zip codes in America. Our population was 65% Latino and 35% African American; both groups could be further categorized, but that is not of import here. If you wanted to see segregation at its worst, this school would have been the one to look at since most times the only Caucasian in the room was me. They were kids from the projects and the different projects fought. They were gang kids and the gangs fought. Fight, fight, fight: you’d think that was all the kids knew. But it wasn’t. One thing street kids know very well is simple logic. One true pleasure with these kids was when you were telling the truth they listened and when you were giving BS they told you so straight to your face in no-holds-barred terms.
Over the years we produced some good teams and several times we made it into the quarter-finals of the Lincoln-Douglass Debates, a citywide competition in New York, where we came up against the top city schools, Stuyvesant High School and Bronx Science. We lost to those schools not because they were better or smarter or even because they actually beat us. We lost to those schools because of politics: it was not politically correct for a poor, ragamuffin school to outwit the best of the best. I’m not saying we always won, but surely we didn’t always lose, and sometimes the judging was downright outrageous and the score sheets so illogical it was humorous. I would ask the team members what they saw in the lopsided score sheets and they would point up the logical discrepancies. Then I’d ask them why we lost and they would tell me because of who they were. I’d ask for a clarification of that answer and they would tell me it wasn’t cool for a big name school to be beaten by a school from the South Bronx.
There wasn’t a single mind in my debate classes or any of my classes that I wouldn’t have put up against any similar grouping of kids from a different ethnic background. Or the only inferiority that was in my kids in that school was that which had been placed there by the disadvantage of their upbringing: the poverty, the uneducated parents, the breakdown of family structure, the gangs, drugs and exploitation they suffered on a daily basis from their own kind first since logically it was closer to them and by the society second since they were expendable and had no political voice and it could.
I did my Dissertation on these kids all grown up and why they didn’t graduate high school. My study group wasn’t the exact same kids but a similar group of them who had quickly come to the end of their short lives in one way or another by realizing they had squandered their youth and wasted their time since they could not go anywhere economically. Logic told them they had to do something to improve their economic lot. Logic told them they couldn’t make it as drug dealers (because even in that field only the best of the best make it and if you’re not one of those, they kill you, literally). Logic told them they weren’t going to the NBA or NFL or MLB. So they had to do something. Most of them were parents now, even the really young ones, and all of them were single parents. The guys wanted to support their kids and the ladies wanted to support their kids and welfare wasn’t doing it. Logic told them there was better out there and if they worked toward it they could get it. Logic told them they had been exploited. The girls recounted how they had been wooed by the older boys with flash-cash and cars and then lost their virginity or worse, gotten pregnant only to have to succumb to crooked caseworkers taking kickbacks and blow jobs for benefits. The boys told how many of their friends had died from drugs or bullets and how bosses didn’t pay them what they were supposed to get. If they were on probation or had a record (which was almost all of them) they had to grease the palms of their PO’s to get just the chance for an opportunity.
In the end, logic told them what they had been doing didn’t work and they had to do something that would work. Logic told them that no matter how messed up the system was—what the Debate teams had learned—you still had to work within in to get anywhere better than where they were at now.
My first father-in-law told me that by nature human beings were selfish and greedy. Logic told my kids and those kids in my dissertation group this same notion. But logic also told them they had to work around it within the system to get anywhere.
Maybe we should go back to listening to logic. Maybe our current leaders should take a good look at their logic and at the results of it, things like 22 trillion dollars has been spent on the war on poverty and the poverty rate hasn’t changed, and then reassess their logic. Maybe they should stop hurling statements like “You have to sign it to see what’s in it,” and start considering if they themselves would do that for a personal mortgage. I don’t think so. Isn’t it time we really look at logic and listen to it?