Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Supreme Court Versus Brown Part Infinity

The fallout from the recent Supreme Court decisions concerning school desegregation is starting to surface in many communities now embolden to return to the segregated past. I recently read about the situation in Tuscaloosa, AL; where the majority white school board and the white superintendent have drawn up a rezoning plan that looks dangerously close to a return to segregation to many observers.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After white parents in this racially mixed city complained about school overcrowding, school authorities set out to draw up a sweeping rezoning plan. The results: all but a handful of the hundreds of students required to move this fall were black — and many were sent to virtually all-black, low-performing schools.

Black parents have been battling the rezoning for weeks, calling it resegregation. And in a new twist for an integration fight, they are wielding an unusual weapon: the federal No Child Left Behind law, which gives students in schools deemed failing the right to move to better ones.[1]

It is already difficult for most inner-city school districts to desegregate due to white flight and the private school dodge of many white parents. I have to acknowledge that as a parent I understand the desire to have your kids in a safe environment where they are getting a quality education. The problem I have is that instead of complaining about or laying blame why more parents don’t become involved to upgrade and change the existing public education system. It is to all of our benefits that we raise the level of education for all of our children.

Sometimes I just don’t get it; this country could have been the greatest experiment of human interaction in the history of the planet. We could have become the beacon for other nations by demonstrating that people of diverse backgrounds could in fact live together in peace and harmony. I guess alas it is not to be, because all we have done is to further illustrate how fear and divisiveness even among people of the same nation still trumps everything else. Either we are going to try and live together or we are not. It is time for those of us black and white who have a desire to make this thing work to overcome ourselves and come together. I am not advocating that we become one big melting pot, although I don’t have a problem with that, I am suggesting that we are able to atleast have a nation of mutual respect, honesty, and fairness.

We have so much abundance in this land and yet to look at the behaviors of many it would appear that we were in some third world nation struggling to survive on subsistent resources. I couldn’t imagine what this nation would be like if we really had to scramble for survival on a day to day basis. The level of racial animosity would be off the scale. As I have written before, because of our history we have to be compelled within the boundaries of our laws to integrate. I am speaking of integration in the sense of learning to accept our differences and our similarities with empathy and understanding for one another. I don’t expect to someday have us all standing holding hands singing, “We shall overcome” but why are we unable to live together as equals is beyond me. Why must one man dominate another man?

The plan in Tuscaloosa involved redrawing the lines of the district to place more minority students in the lower performing schools. The white parents had complained of overcrowding in the white schools, because so many of the black students wanted to go to the schools where they could get a quality education, go figure. Here is my question, why can’t all the parents come together in the district and raise the level of all the schools? Why must everything in this country be an either/or proposition? If you spread around the students and the resources evenly couldn’t you over time raise the level at all the schools?

Months later, the school board commissioned a demographic study to draft the rezoning plan. J. Russell Gibson III, the board’s lawyer, said the plan drawn up used school buildings more efficiently, freeing classroom space equivalent to an entire elementary school and saving potential construction costs of $10 million to $14 million. “That’s a significant savings,” Mr. Gibson said, “and we relieved overcrowding and placed most students in a school near their home. That’s been lost in all the rhetoric.”

Others see the matter differently. Gerald Rosiek, an education professor at the University of Alabama, studied the Tuscaloosa school district’s recent evolution. “This is a case study in resegregation,” said Dr. Rosiek, now at the University of Oregon.

In his research, he said, he found disappointment among some white parents that Northridge, the high school created in the northern enclave, was a majority-black school, and he said he believed the rezoning was in part an attempt to reduce its black enrollment.[2]

What good is saving money if you are not educating all of your children? No, Mr. Gibson, the cost savings have not been lost in the rhetoric, what has been lost in your calculations is that separate but equal has always been a cheaper way to educate. The way to alleviate the overcrowding in the white schools would have been to raise the level of performance in all the schools, but that would require hard work and commitment which the school board obviously didn’t want to pursue.

In a bizarre twist to the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation the parents of the black students are requesting transfers from the lower performing schools based on the criteria of that legislation. In the rhetoric of Mr. Bush, this was one of the goals of the legislation, but let’s wait to see their reaction to it being used as a tool of integration. I have a feeling we are going to see more of these cases as more school districts begin to remove race as a criteria of equal opportunity.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/17/education/17schools.html?hp
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/17/education/17schools.html?pagewanted=2&hp

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