In case you missed it, yesterday was the 56th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision (1954), which ruled that racial segregation in Topeka, Kansas schools was unconstitutional. So 56 years later, I have some questions:
- Are we better off now than we were before the ruling?
- Why have we allowed some districts to re-segregate?
- Do Black and Latino/Hispanic kids do better in segregated schools?
I was actually working on a grant proposal yesterday and I needed to gather some demographic data on the two school clusters (zones) in my community: South Gwinnett and Shiloh, both located in the Gwinnett County Public Schools district. Before I started compiling the data, I had a sense of the impact of ‘white flight’ in my community because I had studied similar data before. For some reason, it really hit me yesterday: Some White people really do believe that when Blacks or Latinos move into a community, it all goes to hell. That’s a sad commentary on the state of race relations and perceptions. Fortunately, I know better. I have White friends who assure me that there are White people that they don’t even want to live next to! I think it’s a fair assumption to say there are bad apples in every group. But how and why do we let those assumptions speak for an entire race?
So what does the data show? There are eight elementary schools between those two clusters mentioned above. Seven of those eight schools have more than 50% African American students and 53-69% of students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch. Approximately 5-7 years ago, all of the schools had either a White majority or a more balanced racial make-up. In their haste to leave get the hell out of dodge, many people failed to recognize that, despite the changing racial and economic demographics, the schools still made AYP. That’s right: The kids still made the grade. Despite skin color, zip code, and household income, we did it-my kids included. I am certain that seven of those eight schools will be designated Title I schools at the end of this year. I guess the data could argue that some Black and Latino kids are slightly better off in segregated schools.
But are we, all of us, really better off now, especially considering that many urban schools have become resegregated? I guess that depends on which metrics one uses to measure improvement. Personally, I moved to Gwinnett County 5 years ago because I was under the impression that my kids would receive a better quality education and attend schools with a diverse student body. I was wrong. Dead wrong. My kids’ school is no more diverse than the one they attended in DeKalb County. To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement. Before anyone goes into some diatribe about me not wanting to be around my own people, let explain my disappointment. I have never attended an all-anything school, ever. I did, however, attend a predominantly White elementary, middle, high school, and university. Why? Not because we had money, but because some state were a little more compliant with the 1980 Desegregation Orders. My sister, cousins, and I were ‘bused’ to the suburbs in the early 80s. And we stayed there until we graduated from high school. Do I think I received a better quality education because of those circumstances? A little, but I think the fact that I was either the only (or one of two) Black(s) in most classes pushed forced me to work harder and be as good as, if not better, than my White classmates. I never told any of my (mostly) White friends that though. Oddly enough, none of them ever made me feel as though I was inferior. Same for all of my former teachers, who were mostly White. Now I say all of this because, as a parent, I know that there are things missing from my kids’ school experiences. I would say that diversity and the arts tie for 1st place.
Don’t you find it odd that many White people run from diversity, yet middle-class Blacks strive to give their kids that experience? Add that to the other questions I have about where we are 56 years later. Looks like I have more questions than answers. I can only hope that something, other than demographics, changes shifts while my kids are still developing and building friendships.