Today, ProPublica released a special report on their website dedicated to the re-segregation of America’s public schools. With the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision on May 17th approaching, ProPublica has focused this special section on Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where three separate and equally devastating stories will be told as case studies to highlight the effects of “letting” dreams of integration die on their own.
Unfortunately, progress never just dies on its own, and in this case, it’s not completely unintentional.
In fact, I also believe we’ve made the race problem in our public schools far too distant from us to truly to see it as a local as well as a national problem. For instance, if you took a guess as to which states had the highest rates of segregation in the country, you might assume it would be somewhere in the Southeast. The stigma about the Southeast works for both liberals and conservatives alike, who can point to our country’s history with slavery and eventual secessions during the US Civil War and say, “Well, that’s just the way it is over there.”
The problem is: it’s not just there. New York, Illinois, and Michigan that round out the top 3 states with the highest rate of school segregation (defined in this study as “the number of black students in schools where 90 percent or more of the student population are minorities”), all three blue states as per the 2012 election.
Therefore, it’s safe to assume that this isn’t just a “liberal” or “conservative” problem, but an “all public schools” problem. The Supreme Court, ruling in favor of Oliver Brown, et. al., said, in part:
Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system…
These days, people say things like “Well, not every child appreciates a good education” or “We should privatize the entire public school system, separate from the jurisdiction of government.” Yet, as we’ve seen in history, even the whiff of equity scares folks in power. School closures, redlining, and the advent of public schools forced the US government’s hand on promoting integration.
One only needs to read Linda Darling-Hammond’s The Flat World and Education to see how integration decreases the achievement gap AND the opportunity gap. Even if you’re not inclined to do so, please note: integration makes it so that all schools would have to be funded appropriately because all types of kids are in that building. Because kids of color are already seen as inferior, especially by people of color who’ve ingested the “white is better” doctrine, they tend to get a certain type of education that wouldn’t be acceptable in more affluent and whiter neighborhoods. Studies after rigorous studies endorse this.
But if you’re still not convinced, that’s OK. Just know that our current segregated system moonwalks us back to a point where “separate and unequal” wasn’t just de facto, but de jure. All of our students deserve better.