It seems that every day there is a new article highlighting the environmental disgrace of Philadelphia’s aging public schools. Lead in the drinking water is reminiscent of Flint but rather unbelievable in the city that was essentially a 19th century leader in water sanitation.
On the surface, aging infrastructure is the culprit. The drinking water is clean however it travels through lead pipes so contaminated water comes out of the faucet. The Philadelphia Water Department stands by its water quality so the onerous task is on our city, state, and school district to address what is perceived to be an insurmountable task of upgrading plumbing fixtures, particularly given the lead paint, asbestos, and mold remediation that is needed in schools throughout the district.
While the efforts of the Green Futures Health Schools committee fostered the 2016-17 installation of “hydration stations” in SDP schools, partly to comply with the National School Lunch program protocols; this has clearly, and inexplicably, not been extended to charters occupying SDP buildings.
On the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, the environmental movement ushered in legislation about water quality, toxics, and other pollutants in the 1970s. While these protections are currently being unraveled for the sake of profit; the hazards to human health remain.
Marginalized people in the developing world contend with a range of exposures in their daily life – be it water quality, chemicals, or treatable diseases. This is largely a byproduct of racist policies and willful neglect of urban infrastructure. How then do we explain why this is occurring in post-industrial cities in the most developed nation on earth?
The correlations between infant mortality, maternal death, and other health disparities between urban areas and the global south is, in itself, enough to make you sick. The lack of access to basic rights such as food, education, and political participation that is grounded in the structural inequality and economic exploitation is astounding.
I posit that we add the physical plant as another layer to Freire’s Pedagogy and Anyon’s Hidden Curriculum so we have a full understanding of the myriad of challenges facing urban youth with limited options for school choice.
As evidenced from the Benjamin Franklin/Science Leadership Academy asbestos debacle; race and class matters when mobilizing around environmental injustices.