In honor of Martin Luther King, I would like to revisit a post I did about public schools and race relations after I first started blogging. A democratic public school system has great potential to bring children of all colors and from every background together. This would ultimately create a better world. But in order to do this we need to have a plan and make a concerted effort to unite our children.
It has been two years since I wrote the following post, and I still see little in the way of progress for this togetherness to occur. Where in the new Every Student Achieves Act do we speak of ending the racial separation of children? What is being done to create rich diversity in our public schools?
Make no mistake, public policy and court rulings matter to this effort.
In 2010, the UCLA Civil Rights Project determined charter schools isolated students by race and class. Still, federal, state and local education agencies continue to fund charter schools that do not foster diversity.
Along with this, in 2007, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. I, school district racial assignment plans were discontinued. No longer did public schools have to consider diversity in public schools as the 1980s and 1990s.
Consider too, North Carolina, which through the past Civil Rights Movement, had become one of the most successfully diverse public school systems in the nation. Not only was segregation diminished in schools, but residential divisions were also diminished. How has that changed in North Carolina today? Please see Segregation Again: North Carolina’s Transition from Leading Desegregation Then to Accepting Segregation Now cited below.
Closing the achievement gap is only part of the equation, and closing the achievement gap does not mean rigid, segregated, militaristic curriculum for the poor.
Closing the achievement gap means providing for children of color, and the poorest among us, the kind of education we would give all children.
Acclaimed educator and founder of the small schools movement Deborah Meier says in regard to schools, What was good for the rich was best for the poor too—only more so.
It is with this in mind that I re-post my experience in a middle school during the mid-eighties, where real effort was made to bring children and families together.
It was not perfect, but at least it was an attempt. Where is the effort to bring children together now when it comes to America’s public schools?
Here is my old post written in 2013.
As an educator, I look at civil rights progress through the lens of a teacher, and I see little to be happy about when it comes to public schools and race relations. I think we’ve gone backwards. Which reform groups address this issue authentically? With all the “achievement gap” talk how are we pulling together as people—to help one another?
I am old enough to remember when efforts to pull the races together in our public schools meant something. Brown v. the Board of Education had teeth. In the 80s and 90s they had race counts. State and federal workers would actually visit the classroom. There were regulations. It mattered.
I recall the uproar when my middle school in Tallahassee was “rezoned,” turned from an almost all black school to “mixed.” We were lucky to have a sensitive PTA who understood students and education. Lovely moms and cool dads supported the teachers. They asked what we needed to help our students adjust. We were in it together.
Were there problems? Sure. I once entered the cafeteria and spotted only segregated student groups. What’s the point? I wondered. Sometimes there were fights—especially in the spring. White and black students would get hauled to the office to work it out. Looking back, even that meant something. Mediating disagreements can matter. It can matter in the long run.
The more we worked together, white, black, and brown, faculty and parents, changes occurred. Some were small, others big. It wasn’t perfect—but noticeably better. Before I moved away, I remember chaperoning a dance, surprised to see students mixing it up a bit. And then two fellows developed a friendship. The white student whose dad drove a Trailways bus became friends with the black student whose dad drove the Greyhound bus! They were smart young men and funny too—colorblind. They set the example and we all learned by watching.
Eventually, more and more white girls strolled down the hall with their black girlfriends, chomping gum and chattering about the boys. And black guys got together with white guys, gossiping about girls, and worrying more about the next football game than who wore which skin color. Not all parents were onboard, but it was those who were that made the difference.
After I moved away from my middle school I often thought about how it had changed for the better. Now? We still have poor black schools. And we have black charter schools and an increasing number of white charter schools. Hispanic schools exist too. Don’t forget religious charter schools and charter schools that leave out the disabled. Many in ALL races and ethnic groups embrace these separations. I wonder why. In all the testing, competition, leaving no children behind and racing to the top, there doesn’t seem to be any real coming together at all. But then I guess I’m still looking through the lens of a teacher…and who likes them anymore?
Frankenberg, Erica, Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, and Jia Wang. Choice without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards. Los Angeles, CA: The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA. January 2010.
Ayscue, Jennifer and Brian Woodward. Segregation Again: North Carolina’s Transition from Leading Desegregation Then to Accepting Segregation Now. The Civil Rights Project. May 14, 2014. Available online as a PDF File.
Meier, Deborah. In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), 142.