Afro-American high school senior: “Why do I have to go to a white school to get a good education?”

The Board of Regents was sponsoring a My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) conference, high profile speakers including former Chancellor and current President of Medger Evers College Rudy Crew. A panel of high school students, one of whom asked, “Why do I have to go to a white school to get a good education?”

Was he unknowingly supporting Plessy v Ferguson (1896), or, have we moved beyond Brown v Board of Education (1954)?

The unanimous decision of the Warren Court has become civil rights scripture. The Court decision,

[D]oes segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does. …

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The effect is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.” …

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

 Sixty years after Brown the Civil Rights Project at UCLA reviewed integration in schools across the nation, and, surprisingly found that New York State schools are among the most segregated in the nation.

Gentrification, implicit bias, purposeful funding disparities, white privilege,

Last year two schools, only blocks apart on the Upper West Side of Manhattan; one all-white, overcrowded and high achieving and another all-Afro-American, underutilized and low achieving. Efforts to “integrate” the schools were met with vitriolic opposition by the parents in the white school and after months of argument on the school board the schools remained racially separate. The months long debate was closely followed by the media,

The Department of Education appointed a blue ribbon Diversity Task Force and a plan, “Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools a plan that was immediately panned by the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School, “No Heavy Lifting Required: New York City’s Unambitious School Diversity Plan.

 The Board of Regents formed an Integration, Diversity and Equity Work Group that has met each month over this school year laying out goals  and timelines.

At the last meeting the Work Group viewed a re-creation of the Clark’s Doll Study  that was referenced in the Brown decision.

Young Afro-American children saw white dolls as prettier than black dolls.

Skin color is an extremely controversial topic in the Afro-American community,

Spike Lee, in his 1988 movie School Daze exposes the controversy,

Folks who are of African descent but are visibly more fair-skinned are assumed to have a superiority complex, due to their complexion being closer to white, reflecting the internalized notion of white supremacy. Inversely, those of a darker hue are looked down upon and ridiculed for possessing features that are more African in nature, again a product of white supremacy, suggesting that anything black is naturally inferior.

If you have female African-American friends of a certain age ask them about the “paper bag test.” (“Dark Girls: Getting Past the Paper Bag Test”)

Supporters of aggressive school integration argue that white schools are better resourced, have more experienced teachers and the instruction is at a higher level.

Joe Rogers, supports parental choice, parents of children of color having the option of any school, on an even playing field, and wonders whether the currently discussed integration plans should be at the top of the progressive agenda. In an essay, “Getting Our Priorities Straight: True Racial and Socioeconomic Justice Over White-Center Integration,” Rogers asks,

Does Black Lives Matter encourage Black and Brown people living in poverty to flee their predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods for Whiter communities?

  Does it seek to recruit White families to Black and Brown communities in hopes that the White folks will serve as magnets for better housing, services, and treatment?

  Or does it confront the power structure to demand justice in Black and Brown neighborhoods?

 Rogers challenges the trope, the rhetoric of integration, that “White-centered diversity” should be a goal of public policy  Rogers doesn’t oppose

Those who care about racial and socioeconomic justice and the educational rights of Black and Brown children living in poverty should be deeply troubled by the rhetoric of integration. They should challenge advocates of any color who place the lack of White-centered “diversity” — the White-supremacist notion that a school isn’t good or “diverse” enough unless it includes plenty of White students …..

Honestly, the most important educational-justice concern in New York City today isn’t families sending their children to schools where most children look like them. Not even close. It is not the quest to get a few thousand more Black and Brown children into the handful of predominantly White and/or Asian schools — the so-called exam schools. Those are all side issues.

The greatest barriers to true equity, unaddressed while we squabble over lesser issues: the severe under-resourcing, institutional neglect, and underestimation of New York City’s predominantly Black and Brown schools. Those are the very factors that drive families of all colors and income levels to believe that enrolling their children in schools with few students of color and few students living in poverty is the only way to prepare our children for college, career, and civic success.

 The deficit-angle lenses of White-centered integrationists conveniently point away from the strengths and potential in predominantly Black or Brown schools. They wax poetic about the benefits that they say well-resourced White schools confer upon children of color, and then have little to nothing to say about the value that many Black and Brown children and families derive from predominantly Black and Brown schools.

 Roger references the Historic Black Colleges (HBC’s) as well as a number of predominantly black high schools in the city, high quality schools; can’t we create more high quality schools in neighborhoods of color?

The essay concludes with number of specific recommendations,

It’s not enough to simply critique and challenge racist and classist ideas and policies. One must advance alternatives. Below are four racially and socioeconomically just proposals that prioritize our city and state governments’ legal and moral obligations to our children.

(1) Ensure that all Black and Brown families, particularly those living in poverty, are fully informed about — and are able to use their power to hold the government accountable for honoring — their educational rights.

 (2) Demand that our state government finally fulfill its responsibility to create a transparent system of monitoring, reporting, and enforcing students’ school-level access to the specific learning opportunities and supports required by law.

 (3) Stop holding up predominantly White schools as holy grails for Black and Brown families. And stop framing and treating predominantly Black and Brown schools — and other predominantly Black and Brown institutions and neighborhoods, for that matter — as inferior and in desperate need of White children and White parents.

 (4) Prioritize racial and socioeconomic justice over white-centered integration

 I am not diminishing the importance of resolving the test-based segregation at the specialized high schools; however, we’re talking about a miniscule number of students. If you live in a community of color: Harlem, Brownsville, East New York, Soundview or South Jamaica there must be a wide range of options, from screened programs to Career and Technical Education to Arts schools. Too many of the four hundred plus small high schools struggle to graduate students who are not college and career ready. Too skim off the “best and the brightest” to “White” schools is demeaning. We can do better.










One response to “Afro-American high school senior: “Why do I have to go to a white school to get a good education?”

  1. I agree. This is a complex question and it deserves outcome-centered solutions. I can say that when I taught at Prospect Heights High School in the seventies it was a school with many challenges but real solutions, too. The population was quite diverse: native born black students, students from many Caribbean islands, students from West Africa, Hispanic students from different countries, Asian students, and a handful of immigrant white students. New York City was just beginning to place black principals in its high schools. Robert Couch was one. He had a strong vision for Prospect Heights, which had just gone co-ed after having been Girls Commercial HS. The boys who initially came to PHHS were those Wingate and Boys High wouldn’t take. Many were very rough and tough. Principal Couch had his work cut out for him. This is what he did:
    1. He insisted that every assistant principal have on file a course outline from every teacher. They had thumbnail sketch lesson plans for the week in their offices so that if a teacher were to be absent, the substitute (me) could pick up where the regular teacher left off. The A.P.s had work sheets and materials ready for us. When I was appointed to PHHS I knew I was held to a standard but that I had the support of the administrator.
    2. He had uplifting quotes written on signs all over the building to inspire the students and show that they were expected to achieve.
    3. He held regular assemblies to expose the students to all kinds of enriching experiences that they might not have had otherwise.
    4. He had a Spark club where tudents knew they had the ear of an aadult who cared as well as a cohort of student friends.
    This was at a time when class sizes were up to 43 students, some of whom were new arrivals, some of whom had never been to school in their native countries. There was a locked hallway called the Mini School where the most violent emotionally disturbed students were taught in very small classes with two teachers. Yet students achieved. They graduated and went on to college and/or careers. In the following years I occasionally ran in to PHHS graduates. One was a baker and owner of his own bakery. Another was an anesthesiologist at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
    It is possible to achieve excellence in education in even some very difficult circumstances with vision, commitment, and cooperation.

    Liked by 2 people

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