Posts tagged ‘Brown v. Board’

May 31, 2012

Some Thoughts on Public Schooling and Segregated Cities

Cities cleave along racial and ethnic lines, and every city I’ve ever lived in proves it. When I grew up in Manhattan, there was Harlem, which was black. And East Harlem, which was Hispanic. And the Upper East and Upper West sides, which was where I and most of my friends lived. I’m white and they were, too. Over the years, I watched the formerly Jewish Lower East Side, where my grandpa used to own a textile shop with a handful of his brothers, turn Chinese. Later on I lived in Oakland, where the hills were white. There’s a Chinatown there, too.

In Baltimore the racial divide feels more extreme. Small numbers of young Jews are moving back to town, but the Jewish community at large worships outside the beltway. The Spanish speaking population is growing but per the 2010 U.S. Census only 4.2 percent of Baltimoreans are of Hispanic or Latino origin. The racial split is almost purely Black and White, 63.7 to 29.6 percent. And a fifth of people here live below the poverty line.

Baltimore City School demographics are another indication of how segregated and poor this city has become. This school year, 2011-2012, the public school student population is 86 percent black, though there are still individual neighborhood public schools – like the one in Hampden – where the racial breakdown looks more like that of a New England liberal arts college than of an HBCU. That is, the percentage of students of color in Baltimore’s predominantly white public schools is large enough that an elite college with similar numbers would tout itself as highly diverse. (Everything’s relative.) The big difference: 84 percent of kids in Baltimore City Schools come from low income backgrounds.

Given my private school background, my thoughts on public schooling are skewed. My thoughts on  integrated elementary schooling are just as funky. I was born in Israel. Before my first birthday, my mother took me from Tel Aviv to New York, where I attended a yeshiva from kindergarten through sixth grade. I learned all the things most public school students would learn. I also learned about my cultural heritage and Jewish identity.

My background colored my thinking about the reports and opinions in the New York Times a few weeks ago – they came out around the time of the May 17 anniversary of the decision in Brown v. Board – about what is effectively segregated public schooling in New York City schools. My thoughts went something like this: If the de facto segregation in predominantly Black or Latino or Asian elementary schools included curricula that engaged students in learning about their heritage and grappling with the meaning of their identity as Black or Latino or Chinese, wouldn’t our pluralistic society be better off? Is it enough to prepare students for “democratic citizenship” (if that is what public schools are doing) by teaching them about the Declaration of Independence and Constitution? Maybe we would have a more vibrant political culture if we also prepared students by teaching them about themselves.*

Learning about where I came from when I was young shaped my thinking for life. Is there a better place to do that than in school? Is whitewashing personal and cultural history part of the tragic legacy of the separate but equal logic that led to forced and legally enforced desegregation?

Can public schools teach us about our complex identities? Should they? Do they?** Can it be done in schools where integration is forced?*** I have many questions and few answers. So I read.

* Baltimore-based writer Stacey Patton’s piece on Black studies in the Chronicle of Higher Education also got me thinking about disciplined approaches to teaching identity. The piece kindled a well contained conflagration of controversy when a blogger for the CHE not only questioned the merit of dissertations in the field but outright ridiculed them based on their titles. She was fired.

** Hebrew charter schools are ruffling feathers in the private Jewish day school world. I attended a panel at the Project for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) conference in 2010 that included the founder of the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School in Brooklyn. The school cannot teach prayers or engage students in religious study. They can teach Hebrew and cover topics such as Israeli independence. (Nevertheless, I found it online by searching “Jewish charter school.”) Washington D.C. approved a Hebrew language charter school on April 25, 2012.

*** In thinking about all this, I returned to the 20th century political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s controversial essay, “Reflections on Little Rock.” It’s difficult to make sense of her thinking without knowing something about her allegiance to distinctions between the private and public realms and her critique of the rise of the murky region she calls “the social,” but it’s worth a look.

Up next, some curated links to posts on and around these issues.

November 30, 2011

In the Baltimore Fishbowl with Morgan State’s Ray Winbush – Outtakes

I hadn’t much thought about the racial dimensions of education reform before October 20, 2011, when I went to the Enoch Pratt Free Library for an event put together by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore. They have been running a series of discussions called “Talking About Race.” The twelfth – on educating black boys – seemed tangentially relevant to me, a person who blogs about education. I wrote up my notes here and promised to follow up with more from Ray Winbush.

I’ve kept my promise. A short thread from what was around a 6,000 word interview featured yesterday on the homepage of Baltimore Fishbowl. 

What else happens when you get a white mom living in Hampden together with a black professor from Morgan State for a little interview on race, education, and the future of public schooling in Baltimore? This.

Your 140-character-or-less Twitter profile describes you as “a person attempting to replace white supremacy with justice.” What do you mean by that? And how does education fit into that personal mission?

I believe – and it’s not just me believing, it’s not a religion, but – there is a system of white supremacy. And what we want to do is just analyze people who are victims of that system. So it’s easier to say ‘there’s something wrong with black boys’ rather than look at the entire system of white supremacy.

I believe that the worst thing a person can experience on earth is injustice. What I try to do is bring out the issues of racism, of white supremacy, that are impacting the individual or the institution. And hopefully people will be motivated to do something about it.

I mean, Dr. King replaced white supremacy with justice. Rosa Parks did it. I’m putting more fancy words to it, but Malcolm X did that. So did John Brown. And I think wherever there’s racial injustice it should be replaced. That’s the one white people often find difficult to do and black people often times are reluctant to do.

Right. So, what do you think we can replace it with? What does that look like?

With justice. Justice means that everybody literally is treated fairly and equal. The European symbol of justice in this country at least – is a woman that is blind with a balance in her hand meaning that she doesn’t see who’s in front of her. She just weighs it the way the evidence is. I know it sounds simple but how it looks is that everyone is simply treated equally. Fairly. That no one is judged by his or her skin color. And that’s difficult to do. A tangible example is that the jury that is deliberating right now with Conrad Murray [pop star Michael Jackson’s doctor] consists of seven whites, four Hispanics, and one black person. The Constitution of the United States says that you should be judged by a jury of your peers. Clearly the Constitution didn’t take into consideration black people, but only in rare instances will you find a white male being judged in the reverse – like seven blacks – I can’t imagine a white male being in a jury that only has one white person on it.

There are imbalances in our society. Rosa Parks shouldn’t have had to have sat in the back of the bus. So she replaced white supremacy with justice.

So it can be just a moment.

It can be the moment, exactly. When Gandhi was thrown off the train in South Africa, simply because he was Indian and he was dark he was thrown off the train. In that moment Gandhi says, we’re not gonna do this anymore. So oftentimes, the movement to replace white supremacy with justice it comes in a moment. Or it can be planned. The ones that tend to be the most impactful are the ones that occur in a moment.

I had tweeted at you about segregation and the desegregation of schools…

I’m a psychologist by trade. One famous psychologist who I’m sure you’ve heard of, Alfred Adler, –  he was the one who coined the term inferiority and superiority complex – He had another term that was just as intriguing as far as I’m concerned, and it was known as fictional finalism. And he says that human beings tend to put out lofty ideals in their personal lives and in their public lives, which sound so wonderful but in reality it’s impossible to achieve.

One could argue that even what I just said – replacing white supremacy with justice – is a fictional finalism. The idea that Adler has that we put these ideals up there and we strive for them even though we know it’s not gonna happen 100 percent.

So to desegregate Baltimore City Public Schools could be classified as a “fictional finalism.” It sounds good. It sounds wonderful. So did “to desegregate the public schools of the United States of America with all deliberate speed” in Brown v. Board. It happened and it didn’t happen.

Because as we know when Brown was issued in 1954  - and one of my colleagues at Harvard talks about this all the time – there were two seemingly unrelated events that occurred at the same time. Brown went down in 1954 and the building up of the interstate highways expanded under Eisenhower. So whites then had access to the suburbs, and that’s when you see suburbs growing. Towson in 1950 – it was like nothing. It was just nothing! White people fled the inner city because of desegregation and they fled even faster after the urban rebellions of the 1960s. And the interstate system facilitated that.

[The conversation turns to teaching teachers to educate African-American children.]

When I taught at Vanderbilt it was so common for me – Vanderbilt as you know is called like “the Harvard of the South” – you know, and I taught there for fourteen years. True story – one of the girls in my class told me I was the first black professor she’d had and it was her sophomore year. It is impossible for a black person or a Latino to grow up in America and go to their sophomore year of college go to a class and never ever have a white teacher. It’s impossible.

Right. Right.

And if it does happen it’s so incredibly rare that it’s like a sighting of the abominable snowman.

The point is that whites who negotiate, who sincerely, sincerely – There’s a story in my book, I talk about a white teacher – this is a true story – it happened when I was teaching at Vanderbilt – she just simply could not teach black kids. She didn’t know how!

Johns Hopkins School of Education is not gonna teach you a damn thing – and I can be quoted on that – not a damn thing about really educating black inner city kids. It really isn’t.

Morgan will. And I’m not saying that as a biased participant. It’s just a fact that Morgan knows how to teach teachers to teach black students better than at Johns Hopkins or the University of Maryland or whatever.

So do you think Teach for America students should be getting their M.A.T.s at Morgan rather than at Johns Hopkins?

In my opinion, yes! You know, if, IF, they’re going to be teaching black, red, or brown children. You see, if they’re going to teach Hampden kids – and there’s nothing wrong with Hampden kids – they can keep it, you know, at Johns Hopkins.

You would be surprised by how many emails I get in a given month, about ten a month, from white kids and black kids who have been in the city schools and they said my entire education has been totally irrelevant, has been totally irrelevant. And Dr. Winbush I’ve read your book, tell me what to do. Ivory [Toldson] gets the same kind of emails. Most of us who write – it’s just the way it is. Schools of education – they don’t change easy.

Mortimer Adler – I did my doctorate at the University of Chicago and Mortimer Adler, who taught there for many, many years – said ‘Changing a university is like moving a graveyard.’ And I thought that simple sentence is so true. The oldest institutions in the western world are universities. Oxford, Cambridge, the Sorbonne, Harvard is one of the oldest institutions in this country, in fact. And universities outlast and outlive everything. But they’re very reluctant to change. Schools of Education are part of universities. And even though we see the browning of America, the blackening of America – we are still teaching stuff like this is “father knows best,” you know, 2.5 kids with a picket fence in the inner city. It doesn’t make any sense. But universities don’t change.

[Conversation veers in many directions. We talk about race blindness. Teaching kids about race. The intersections of race and class. I end with some word associations.]

Black.

White.

White.

Black.

Gray.

Neutral.

African American.

American African.

Achievement gap.

Racism.

Charter school.

(pause) Better than nothing.

Vouchers.

(pause) Could be racist.

Accountability.

Overused word.

Standardized tests.

Racist.

Common Core.

Racist.

Neighborhood school.

Great idea.

Segregation.

Apartheid.

Integration.

Two-edged sword.

Privatization.

Two-edged sword.

 “The soft bigotry of low expectations.”

One of my favorite expressions.

Really?

Yeah.

You know that comes out of George W. Bush.

That’s the only thing I ever quote from him.

So John Legend, and a bunch of other people, mostly white guys, talk about education reform as “the civil rights issue of our time.”

Rhetoric. Of course it is, but it always has been a civil rights issue. It’s just that now because whites are seeing the increasing deterioration of the public school system and the economy is bad now we gotta say, we gotta make some money, we gotta get something outta this thing.

[Correction: I'd originally said Usher was among the celebrities who claimed education reform was the civil rights issue of our time. It was John Legend.]

September 8, 2011

Flashback: Candidate Barack Obama on Segregated Schools

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Barack Obama, “A More Perfect Union” (March 18, 2008)

*

Related Post

Who Says Education Reform Is the ‘Civil Rights Issue of Our Time’? 

August 31, 2011

Who Says Education Reform Is the ‘Civil Rights Issue of Our Time’?

Little Rock, August 20, 1959. Rally at state capitol, protesting the integration of Central High School. (Image via Oxford African American Studies Center, courtesy of the Library of Congress)

“The civil rights issue of our time.” “The civil rights issue of this generation.” “The civil rights issue of this era.” You’d have to be living in a soundproof booth to avoid the echo of civil rights talk these days. Only it isn’t coming from civil rights leaders. (Just as the language of “choice” isn’t coming from liberal feminists anymore.) It’s coming from Juan Williams (watch) and Steve Brill (listen) around issues of education reform – particularly school choice and, per Slate, “breaking unions’ grip on public education.” 

John McCain made the very same claim about education during his presidential campaign. Here’s a little Q&A from the Saddleback Church Civil Forum on the Presidency hosted by evangelical pastor Rick Warren in August 2008, the first forum held with the candidates after they’d become their parties’ presumptive nominees:

WARREN: Let’s talk about education. America ranks 19th in high school graduations, but we’re first in incarcerations. Everybody says they want more accountability in schools.

MCCAIN: Um-hum.

WARREN: About 80 percent of America says they support merit pay for the best teachers. Now, I don’t want to hear your stump speech on education.

MCCAIN: Yes, yes, and find bad teachers another line of work. (APPLAUSE).

WARREN: You know, we’re going to end this, you’re answering so quickly. You want to play a game of poker?

MCCAIN: Can I — choice and competition, choice and competition, home schooling, charter schools, vouchers, all the choice and competition. I want — look, I want every American family to have the same choice that Cindy and I made and Senator Obama and Mrs. Obama made as well, and that was, we wanted to send our children to the school of our choice. And charter schools work, my friends. Home schooling works. Vouchers in our nation’s capital works. We’ve got thousands of people in Washington, D.C., that are applying for a voucher system. New York City is reforming.

I go back to New Orleans. They were — as we know, the tragedy devastated them. They have over 30 charter schools in the city of New Orleans, and guess what? It’s all coming up. It’s all coming up. It’s a simple principle, but it’s going to take dedicated men and women, particularly in the teaching profession, to make it happen.

And by the way, here — I won’t go any further, but the point is… it is the civil rights issue of the 21st century

McCain said it again during his speech at the Republican National Convention. (Read.) And he said it again during the third and final presidential debate against Barack Obama. (Click.) It was one of the few ways in which McCain didn’t try to distance himself from George W. Bush in Election ’08. After all, it was Bush who first said it, in January 2002.

Now, I think it’s kind of awesome to hear Republicans talk about education as a civil right. And yet I can’t help feeling there’s some hoodwinking going on when Steve Brill starts attributing the notion to Democrats (by which he means Democrats for Education Reform) and President Barack Obama.

This is from the transcript of Brill’s appearance on the Diane Rhem Show, during which he responds to a 62-year-old black grandmother in Cleveland who says, “I know Republicans want our children back into separate and unequal”:

BRILL

11:30:49
The only thing I will say is that it’s not the Republicans now who are leading the reform movement. Barack Obama’s not a Republican, Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, is not a Republican. There are dozens of examples….
So it’s a much more mixed situation, you know, than just a bunch of Republicans, you know, trying to go after unions. And there are many very sincere people in the Civil Rights community, Barack Obama being one of them, who consider this to be the Civil Rights issue of our time, fixing the schools. (emphasis mine)

To be sure, Obama’s turn from the education plan he laid out in 2007-08, with advice from Stanford University education scholar Linda Darling-Hammond, to the one being put forward today, under the leadership of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has soured many public school teachers and parents on his administration. (They thought they’d elected Obama on education. But they got something more like candidate McCain.) The bait-and-switch pissed enough people off that thousands gathered on the White House Ellipse on July 30, 2011 for the Save Our Schools Rally and March.

I was there. One of the most passionate speeches I heard was made by Jonathan Kozol, the author of Savage Inequalities and Illiterate America. His was a fiery, fist-pounding show that hinged on a damning accusation aimed straight at Arne Duncan:

Secretary Duncan, Arne Duncan [CROWD BOOS] has turned his back entirely on the precious legacy of Brown v. Board of Education. [APPLAUSE] Instead, he’s very, very busy trying to do Plessy v. Ferguson. Mr. Duncan, listen to me. Mr. Duncan, separate and unequal has never been successful. It didn’t work in the century just passed and it will not work in the century ahead. And anyone who tells himself otherwise is lying to himself and to the people of America.”

According to Kozol, Arne Duncan is restoring a system of segregation to America’s public schools. Steve Brill would like to have Democratic voters believe that, too. (Especially the ones who belong to the politically omnipotent teachers’ unions.)

But it’s a far more serious accusation coming from Jonathan Kozol. Because if Obama’s base starts to believe that the resegregation of public schools is the doing of the Obama administration, boy, the Democrats are in big trouble in 2012.

So let’s dig a little deeper, for the sake of all my new friends in the SOS March twitterverse. This resegration problem didn’t start with Arne Duncan. We’d have it even if Obama had appointed Linda Darling-Hammond to the post of U.S. Secretary of Education. The problem is the Supreme Court.

Rewind to the 2007 NAACP Presidential Primary Forum, held July 12, 2007. The question is about the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down school integration plans put forth by school boards in Louisville, Ky. and Seattle, Wash. in June of that year. This Q&A is with then-candidate Barack Obama. The transcript is from OnTheIssues.org.

Q: In light of the recent anti-integration Supreme Court decision, please tell us what would you do to promote an equal opportunity and integration in American public schools and how would you ensure that the courts would hand down more balanced opinions

A: The Supreme Court was wrong. These were local school districts that had voluntarily made a determination that all children would be better off if they learned together. The notion that this Supreme Court would equate that with the segregation as tasked would make Thurgood Marshall turn in his grave. Which is why I’m glad I voted against Alito & voted against Roberts. But let’s remember that we also have a crisis in all our schools that have to be fixed, whether they’re integrated or not. We’ve got to have early childhood education. We’ve got to fix crumbling schools. We’ve got to have an excellent teacher in front of every classroom. We’ve got to make college affordable. The Supreme Court doesn’t have to order that. We can do that ourselves.

Did you get that? Obama said, “whether they’re integrated or not.” This is the kind of progressive pragmatism that defines Barack Obama’s leadership. He is not an idealist. He never was. Idealists, like Jonathan Kozol and Martin Luther King, Jr., set out a vision of greatness – a dream – and measure the world against it. The world never measures up. Progressive pragmatists, like Barack Obama, deal in the world as it is, and figure out practical ways “of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a little bit better than the one we inhabit today.”

(There’s the finer line dividing groups like Parents Across America (PAA) from Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). There are other, fatter ones, of course. But if you get past DFER’s Whitney Tilson “ripping” people like Gary Orfield of the UCLA Civil Rights Project and dismissing Jonathan Kozol’s concurrence on the civil rights slant against charters as “dimwitted,” you see someone who believes he’s doing the right thing.)

Back to Obama’s response to the NAACP. Beyond expressing his own pragmatism, he’s saying we need to take responsibility. We need to correct the problem with our schools. We do. We can do it without the Supreme Court. Because the Supreme Court that made integration the civil rights issue of Martin Luther King’s time, and Vernon Jordan’s time, and Thurgood Marshall’s time? That’s not today’s Supreme Court. So – and this is me talking now – if the NAACP wants to take the fight against the segregating effects of the market segmentation that results from “choice and competition” to the Supreme Court, public education is finished. Game over. We’re going to keep getting the same 5-4 result. Just take a look at the mug shots in the justice lineup at the bottom of this Oyez piece on Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education. (Read and scroll.)

Here’s another twist. During the current Baltimore City mayoral campaign, candidate Frank Conaway has said on numerous occasions that he came out of segregated schools, and he came out pretty well. He said so again at the League of Women Voters debate at the Enoch Pratt Library last night. Some blacks look back fondly on the education they got before Brown v. Board. It’s odd, isn’t it? Independent schools trip over themselves to introduce diversity into their classrooms while parents in public schools have to fight to hold on to integrated classrooms. Baltimore-son Thurgood Marshall probably is rolling over in his grave. (Did you feel that earthquake?)

To sum up: In 2002, Republicans appropriated the language of civil rights for the purposes of radically changing public education as we know it. They kept doing it in 2007-08. Now the Right is telling the media that it’s not only the Right that feels education reform is a civil rights issue, but the Left feels school choice is a civil rights issue, too. If the Left feels that way, and we start fighting these battles through the courts, we’ll lose. And anyway, there are black Democrats who actually don’t much care to guard against the disintegration of Brown v. Board.

Here’s what I think: The Milton Friedman-inspired ideology of market-based competition that’s behind school choice is anathema to the whole idea of civil rights – which implies a great deal of the kind of government protection that the libertarian freedom fighters Juan Williams has been hanging out with feel are obstacles, if not shackles, to the American way.

I mentioned market segmentation. It’s a different animal from segregation. In injecting competition and choice into the public school ecosystem, we’re going to Social Darwinist route. Only the strong survive. But more than that, those who survive are those who find a niche. Competition and choice imply a free market, where there is no regulation. That means no affirmative action policies, no quotas, no demands by government for private or semi-private entities to address inequity. I know this is going to get me into trouble, but it means niched schools where white gentry moms and aspirational middle class black and brown moms strive to send their kids. And generic public schools where the weak and the poor wind up.

If we feel this country is in the midst of creating an educational landscape far from our highest ideals – and I do – the answer won’t come from the courts. And it won’t come from the White House. And it won’t come from corporate philanthropists or Democrat hedge fund managers. It won’t come from union leaders, either.

The power is idling at the grass roots. It’s time we rip it up.

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