Education in Segregation
Why America’s public school system is rich with inequality
Education in America didn’t start out with the intent to educate everyone equally, and that seems to still not be the intent to this day.
A Short History of Ed. in America
Prior to 1838 “public education” was only for the elite (white, rich, male land owners), who were not even educated in America, but were shipped back to England to learn about the world.
In 1896 in America the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case upheld state racial segregation laws for public schools and facilities under the doctrine, “Separate but Equal.”
In 1954 the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, school desegregation was mandated and integration began, kicking off the Civil Rights movement of the 60s and 70s.
And here we are today, in 2017, supposedly with equal education for all. Is that true? No, of course not. Everyone knows this, but no one is doing anything about it. Why?
In my own home city (Kansas City), the history of education is messy, like most cities. In 1986 a judge mandated the Kansas City schools desegregate. The way that the city did this was to bring in “magnet schools,” or schools with enough funding and accessories that would bring in white kids from the suburbs. The idea was to make the inner city not something to avoid, but a hot spot to go to school in instead. By bringing in white students, the school district would desegregate and also bring the money from “white flight” back to the inner city. This was part of the “choice movement.”
A few years later, a black Kansas City school board official decided that magnet schools were insulting to the black community. The community didn’t need to “bring white people into the city” to make the city wealthy again, it needed to embrace the already there demographics. Thus, the charter school system was born in Kansas City. A charter school is basically a private school that the city contracts out from another city, and brings to one’s own city and paid for by public funds. Charter schools are not for everyone, and generally you must have certain grades to get in. Even with these high standards for charter school participants, only 30% of charter schools are functioning above the city’s standards.
So what’s the deal? Well, a big part of the deal is simply that white people are not comfortable being the minority and going to a predominantly black school. White people have built society for their own comfort and any time they are asked to step outside of that comfort they tend to get defensive and scared. Yet, the only way to productively reconfigure urban spaces in a true try at intergration would demand that white people begin to practice giving up this island of refuge, comfort and privilege that they have grown up existing in.
Diversity and Standard Assessment
Inner city public schools in Kansas City are already some of the most diverse in the area. There are more than 150 languages being used in the classrooms due to high refugee and immigrant populations. Yet, standardized testing begins to take a non-native English speaker’s scores into the average only a year after they have arrived in the school district. This means that students that are just beginning to learn English are taking high school level tests in a language they don’t know, and those scores are going to rate the school. In suburban schools were the population is almost homogenously white people who grew up speaking English, this causes a disconnect in assessing the achievement of schools. This is only one of the reasons why white people who are able to send their kids to a “high performing school” move out to the suburbs.
Ideas of Superiority
It’s common knowledge that the idea of superiority and prejudice just doesn’t hold up as well when you are constantly meeting people from different backgrounds. The American school district system is a way to isolate people into groups of people from similar backgrounds as them, and thus helps to perpetuate these stereotypes. When you are in a diverse and truly integrated school, you can’t help but notice that people who you might have thought to be below you are getting better grades than you. And how can you explain superiority at that point? There is value in diverse learning environments, if not only to crush prejudice, but also to learn how to participate actively live in a diverse society- something that most adults still have not figured out how to do.
Post Education- Jobs
An equal education will get you equal access to jobs in theory, and what we have right now gets us basically as far away from equal access to jobs as we can get. To break it down, there are four basic educational systems.
- The first educational system is a “learn and follow the rules” approach, and is generally used in schools in impoverished areas. There is a lot of discipline, and thus probably quite a bit of rebellion. Students are given no autonomy or decision making skills, and are thus primed for the manual labor field.
- This second educational system doesn’t necessarily require all the rules to be followed, but it asks you to “get the answer right.”
- The third educational system lets you know there is more than one way to get an answer right, and students are given room to find their own paths and directions.
- The elite educational system asks the students to “question the question.” These are our politicians, our CEOs, the people who have made it to the top because they realize that the rules are only there to hold the majority of people in place, and they are above the rules. They make the rules.
You can see then why education is not merely about access to jobs, but also filters into every aspect of life. It’s about how we are socialized, and about how we learn about who we can be in life. It’s about self esteem or lack thereof, it’s about pride or resentment. It’s about keep inequality in place.
The Big Question
So then what do you do, as a parent? What do you do, specifically, as a white parent with access to send your child to a “good” school? Do you stay true to your principles and use your kid as a instrument in the revolution, by stating that your child deserves no better than those that cannot afford a choice? Or do you take care of your own, ship your kids out to predominately white schools, and try to teach them when they get home that the system is racist? And then how do you explain to that kid when they get older and they ask you why you participated in the racist system and sent them to a homogenous white school so they could “succeed”?
This is the question, and it’s a question that most white progressives are having a hard time answering. As stated above, white people live in a culture in America that has been carefully sculpted and built for their comfort and success. Asking them to step off course a little bit, or god forbid asking them to take their kids off course a bit doesn’t seem to be working. So what do we do?
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