Why Integration In New York Won’t Work

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

The New York Times has stepped up its race and class conversations in education, highlighted by this article from NYT’s Kate Taylor on the proposed rezoning of a school district in Brooklyn. While it makes sense to de-zone our schools in an effort to temper down the flurry of studies showing NYC as one of the most segregated school districts in the country, the resistance to integration has come from both white parents for the typical reasons and black parents for atypical reasons. Typically, the resistance against integration comes from a vocal set of white parents who don’t want their children matriculating with kids they view as uncouth or less intelligent. A faux-integration often takes place when a school creates a specialized or magnet program on the penthouse floor, not ironically letting the cream rise to the top.

This time, however, I’m curious about the black parents’ responses:

“We fought hard to build this school, and we’re not just going to let people come from outside when we worked so hard and dedicated ourselves,” Dolores Cheatom, a Farragut Houses resident, said at the meeting, holding her 1-year-old daughter on her hip … She said she had “no problem working with anybody, but I’m not going to let anybody take from my daughter.”

On the one end, I wonder what Ms. Cheatom and the community did to “build this school,” specifically what it looked like prior to white folks jogging through their neighborhoods in neon polyurethane. Why is this specific narrative not told in light of the deluge of school choice advocates spraying our morning newscasts with their ideologies? It’s also instructive in the ways well-meaning, tongue firmly in cheek, white progressives underestimate black resentment. After decades of redlining, state property taxes, private schooling, and coalitions that only secured wins for white families, perhaps these parents felt like their isolation in DUMBO is the solution to their ills. They can define the term “public” for themselves.

Good on them.I don’t have a dream, but I do have a belief system. I believe that, as long as children of different racial backgrounds occupy different schools, they will always be unequal. Our country’s foundation for schooling makes this so. Even if P.S. 8 and 307 had the same amount of students, same test scores, same color uniforms, similar teaching staff, and effective administrators, the perception of the student make-up would be enough to elevate or raze the school.

Here’s a bit from Jelani Cobb’s ode to the school formerly known as Jamaica High School:

In 1954, Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s arguments about the pernicious effects of racism on black children implicated white society. Sixty years later, arguments that black students associated studiousness with “acting white” were seen not as evidence of the negative effects of internalized racism but as indicators of pathological self-defeat among African-Americans. The onus shifted, and public policy followed. The current language of educational reform emphasizes racial “achievement gaps” and “underperforming schools” but also tends to approach education as if history had never happened. Integration was a flawed strategy, but it recognized the ties between racial history and educational outcomes.

Our current set of education reformers have found a way to shift the onus on integration as well, from a vaunted strategy used to close the achievement gap in the late ’70s to early ’80s to a flawed strategy that internalizes societal racism masked as stagnation. To use integration now is speak of dilution, misappropriation, and parents who send their kids to private school saying “Yeah, sounds like a plan, but I’m glad I have options.” Even advocates for public school need to see themselves as complicit in this as well. The original opt-out movement was neither the opt-out of standardized testing nor the opt-out into charter schools.

It was the opting out of publicly controlled schools and matriculation into private schools.

That’s why, when people ask me whether I believe in school choice, I’d love to say “Yes,” because why wouldn’t you want to choose? Except the choice should come down to a choice in pedagogical vision, not classroom resources or lack thereof. I doubt we’ll ever reach a point where a school with a predominantly white student body and a school with majority students of color will ever get equitable funding, but, if we do, the surest way is to make all administrators fully fund our schools.

This issue with two public schools may set precedent for integrating our schools without the ridiculous creation of magnet schools on either campus. Until all students in that district have an equal chance at educational attainment, the children of those schools will serve as another generation of educational neglect. But it’s much easier to pretend that separate public schools can be equal.

photo c/o