When Freeman students think about places that are close to their school, the answers are most commonly “Cookout,” “El Cap,” “Tuckahoe Middle,” and sometimes even “Short Pump Mall”. Yet, despite being in equal distance from the West End shopping mecca, students will rarely, if ever, say “Thomas Jefferson High School”
Thomas Jefferson High School, or TJ as it is more often called by its student, was founded in 1928, celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. To commemorate this anniversary, the alumni and staff of TJ have organized many events to honor the legacy of the school and all that it has accomplished.
One of these events was “A Conversation about the Educational Divide in Modern America,” a forum fronted by James Ryan, president of the University of Virginia and Dr. Susan Gooden, the dean of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University. It allowed students, parents, and teachers at both Thomas Jefferson and Freeman, as well as any other concerned community members, to voice their concerns and get their opinions heard.
This event was designed to discuss the deep economic, social, and political disparities between schools in the public school system, even sometimes if they are only five miles away.
As the author of “Five Miles Away, a World Apart”, a book that focuses on the inequities between Freeman and Thomas Jefferson in order to demonstrate institutional inequality, Mr. Ryan is familiar with the two schools that were being highlighted at the event, and was happy to answer students questions during the Q and A portion of the debate.
He, as well as Dr. Gooden, answered questions about the metal detectors at Thomas Jefferson, including why it is that they have them and Freeman does not and what impression they leave on visitors to the school.
They also discussed the fact that Freeman has a greater variety of choices when it comes to classes. One Thomas Jefferson student said, “we at TJ are very creative and want to have a ceramics class like we know so many other schools in the county do.”
While the questions and answers provided by both Mr. Ryan and Dr. Gooden often remained impartial and indirect, they did make it clear what they thought was absolutely necessary between our two schools: conversation.
“Inequality and race are a nervous area in our government. People are scared to talk about it,” said Dr. Gooden. But, in the opinions of both Dr. Gooden and of Mr. Ryan, it is essential to understand each other and work with each other to combat the inequalities that riddle the education system. Open-dialogues can work to create open-minds.