This is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning.
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
The Different Flavors of School Segregation by Steven Singer
I do this not because I am against public education. On the contrary, I am a public school teacher and consider myself a champion of what our system strives to be but has never yet realized. I do this because until we recognize what we are doing and what many in power are working hard to ensure we will continue doing and in fact exacerbate doing, we will never be able to rid ourselves of a racist, classist disease we are inflicting on ourselves and on our posterity.
America, the Segregated
It’s never been one monolithic program. It’s always been several co-existing parallel social structures functioning together in tandem that create the society in which we live.
I’m reminded of possibly the best description of American segregation on record, the words of the late great African American author James Baldwin who said the following on the Dick Cavett Show in 1968:
“I don’t know what most white people in this country feel. But I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know we have a Christian church that is white and a Christian church that is black. I know, as Malcolm X once put it, the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday.
That says a great deal for me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and I certainly cannot trust the Christian church.
“I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me — that doesn’t matter — but I know I’m not in their union. I don’t know whether the real estate lobby has anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobby is keeping me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to.
“Now this is the evidence. You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.”
As Baldwin states, there are many different ways to keep black people segregated. There are many different flavors of the same dish, many different strains of the same disease.
We can say we’re against it, but what we say doesn’t matter unless it is tied to action.
You can say you’re in favor of equity between black and white people all day long, but if the policies you support don’t accomplish these things, you might as well wear a white hood and burn a cross on a black person’s lawn. It would at least be more honest.
In terms of public education, which is the area I know most about and am most concerned with here, our schools are indeed set up to be segregated.
If there is one unstated axiom of our American Public School System it is this: the worst thing in the world would be black and white children learning together side-by-side.
They point to inequalities they, themselves, helped create and use them to push for a system that would create even worse inequality. They point to the segregation that they, themselves, helped install and use it as an excuse to push even more segregation.
And they do so by controlling the media and the narrative. They call themselves reformers when they’re really vandals and obstructionists looking to subvert the best in our system in order to maximize the worst.
School Segregation Today
Sure we don’t have very many all white or all black schools like we did before Brown v. Board. Instead we have schools that are just predominantly one race or another.
ALL kids are not divided by race. Just MOST of them.
White people and black people tend to live in different neighborhoods. Some of this is a choice. After a history of white oppression and racial strife, people on both sides of the divide would rather live among those with whom they identify.
Black people don’t want to deal with the possibility of further deprivations. White people fear retaliation.
However, white people generally enjoy a higher socio-economic status than black people, so there is some push back from black folks who can afford to live in whiter neighborhoods and thus enjoy the benefits of integration – bigger homes, less crowding, less crime, access to more green spaces, etc. But even when there is a desire, moving to a white neighborhood can be almost impossible.
State and federal laws, local ordinances, banking policies and persistent prejudice stand in the way.
In short, red lining still exists.
Real estate agents and landlords still divide up communities based on whom they’re willing to sell or rent to.
And this is just how white people want it.
They’re socialized to fear and despise blackness and to cherish a certain level of white privilege for themselves and their families.
And if we live apart, it follows that we learn apart.
The system is set up to make this easy. Yet it is not uncomplicated. There is more than one way to sort and separate children along racial and class lines in a school system.
There are several ways to accomplish school segregation. It comes in multiple varieties, a diversity of flavors, all of which achieve the same ends, just in different ways.
By my reckoning, there are at least three distinct paths to effectively segregate students. We shall look at each in turn:
Put the white neighborhoods in District A and the black ones in District B. It’s kind of like gerrymandering, but instead of hording political power for partisan lawmakers, you’re putting your finger on the scale to enable academic inequality.
However, sometimes you can’t do that. Sometimes you don’t have the power to determine the makeup for entire districts. Instead, you can do almost the same thing for schools within a single district.
That means the whiter districts get higher paid and more experienced teachers. It means they have broader curriculum, more extracurricular activities, a more robust library, more well-trained nursing staff, more advanced placement courses, etc.
Fewer funds mean fewer resources, fewer opportunities, more challenges to achieve at the same level that white students take for granted. A budget is often the strongest support for white supremacy in a given community or society as a whole. In fact, if you want to know how racist your community is, read its school budget. You want accountability? Start there.
The same holds even when segregation is instituted not at the district level but at the level of the school building.
It may sound ridiculous but this is exactly what happens much of the time. You have gorgeous new buildings with first class facilities in the suburban areas and run down crumbling facilities in the urban ones – even if the two are only separated geographically by a few miles.
Once again, this creates the opportunity for a resource gap. The charter and voucher schools suck away needed funds from the public schools and then are subsidized even further by white parents.
The quality of education provided at these institutions is sometimes better – it’s often worse. But that’s beside the point. It’s not about quality. It’s about kind. It’s about keeping the white kids separate and privileged. It’s about saving them from the taint of black culture and too close of an association with black people.
Second, the situation can work in reverse. Instead of dividing the whites from the blacks, it divides the blacks from the whites.
This happens most often in districts where the divide is closer to equal – let’s say 60% one race and 40% another. Charter and voucher schools often end up gobbling up the minority students and leaving the white ones in the public school. So instead of white privatized and black public schools, you get the opposite.
The result is a public school system unnaturally bleached of color and a privatized system where minority parents are tricked into putting their children at the mercy of big business.
But that’s not all. There is still another way to racially segregate children. Instead of putting them in different districts or different schools, you can just ensure they’ll be in different classes in the same school.
However, it most often results in further stratifying students socially, economically and racially.
Here’s how it works.
Often times when you have a large enough black minority in your school or district, the white majority does things to further horde resources even within an individual school building or academic department.
In such cases, the majority of the white population is miraculously given a “gifted” designation and enrolled in the advanced placement classes while the black children are left in the academic or remedial track.
It enables bleaching the advanced courses and melanin-izing the others. This means administration can justify giving more resources to white students than blacks – more field trips, more speakers, more STEAM programs, more extracurriculars, etc.
And if a white parent complains to the principal that her child has not been included in the gifted program, if her child has even a modicum of ability in the given subject, more often than not that white child is advanced forward to the preferential class.
Segregation is a deep problem in our public school system. But it cannot be solved by privatization.
In fact, privatization exacerbates it.
Nor is public education, itself, a panacea. Like any democratic practice, it requires participation and the economic and social mobility to be able to participate as equals.
Schools are the product of the societies that create them. An inequitable society will create inequitable schools.
Segregation has haunted us since before the foundation of our nation.
They don’t want their children to be educated among black students – maybe SOMEblack students, maybe the best of the best black students, but certainly not the average run of the mill brown-skinned child.
This has to stop.
There are plenty of benefits even for white students in an integrated education. It provides them a more accurate world-view and helps them become empathetic and prize difference.