Sadly, our call last week for Durham to heal itself hasn’t yet taken hold. While much of the discussion at recent forums has been conciliatory, with vows to fight racism in the wake of the public burning of three crosses, there still is too much anger, mostly over the Durham school board. Even the Durham City Council has gotten into the act.

Unfortunately, the Independent didn’t help matters with a mistake made in quoting African American activist Anita Keith-Foust as she told the story of how, as a child, she could get no help from authorities to end racial confrontations on school buses and her mother gave her a box cutter to protect herself. She went on to commend parents today for not getting out box cutters in their disputes with Durham school Supt. Ann Denlinger.

We all should be as outraged as Ms. Keith-Foust that in 2005 we still have an education system in which white students routinely do better than blacks, that such a vestige of slavery and segregation has been allowed to persist, that a national emergency hasn’t been declared. We’ve declared war on terror, we’ve spent more than $200 billion to fight an unnecessary war in Iraq, but we haven’t granted the same emergency status to our own children. It is reprehensible.

But the words and actions of some school critics in Durham have been counterproductive–as evidenced by Ms. Keith-Foust’s comments. It doesn’t help to use rhetoric that even mentions box cutters in the same sentence as the superintendent’s name. And it obscures the real problem–that many in the black community believe deeply that Denlinger hasn’t reached out to them, doesn’t really care about their children, and should be fired. But vicious rhetoric has drowned out any discussion of a resolution. (In our case, Ms. Keith-Foust asserts that writer Carl Kenney misquoted her on purpose; he says he didn’t, and I don’t believe he did. We both sincerely regret having made the error.)

And there are many who believe Denlinger has been dedicated and effective with her aggressive program to close the achievement gap by 2007. Their points should be heard, as well. In 1997, 49 percent of African-American elementary students in Durham were doing math at grade level; by 2004 that had risen to 78 percent, reducing the achievement gap by more than half, from 39 to 17 percentage points.

Is it enough? Of course not. But as Rev. Kenney wrote last week, and we hope hasn’t been lost in the turmoil, “we need communication that serves a purpose. The purpose is to hear the truth coming from the other side.”