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American schools: Still separate, still unequal

05.15.14 | Learning on the EDge | 0 Comments

By Anindya Kundu

May 17 marks the 60th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, and one of our nation’s greatest triumphs: the victory over explicit racial segregation by integrating our public schools. In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court almost sacredly set precedent that here in the namesaked “United States”, our children should go to school together.

We seem to be taking our deliberate time when it comes to social integration and building awareness.

So how far have we come in honoring that commitment and implementing the Court’s vision?

While great achievements have come in the name of civil rights, some schools today are as racially segregated as they were more than six decades ago. A new report from the Civil Rights Project of UCLA indicates that many newly created charter schools are the least diverse of all New York schools, with less than 1% of white students enrolled in 73% of them. In New York City, many minority students attend school without a single white classmate.

This is a tragedy because it prevents us from celebrating the multicultural nature of our country with integrity but even more for the implications that inequality has on student outcomes.

Black and Latino students who attend schools with less diverse student bodies have worse chances for success in their lives. In 2009-10, the average black New York student attended a school where only 17.7% of other students were white. In California, the figure was 18.9%; in Illinois, 18.8%.

“The demographics of our nation are changing rapidly. If diversity is to serve as a source of strength, our children will need to learn to live together. That will be more easily accomplished if they are learning together,” says Pedro Noguera, sociologist and professor of education at New York University.

We would benefit through more integrative policies that encourage children to become citizens with broader worldviews.

By 2041, demographers predict that whites will become a minority population in America. When that day comes, will we be better integrated, representing members of the same human race, or will isolation worsen, along with disparity?

As classifications go, race was constructed to be tied to separation and to be political in nature. The arbitrary nature of racial separation dates to the Jim Crow era and is evidenced by the fact that in certain states “black” was defined by being one-eighth black, whereas in others it was defined as being one-sixteenth black, or less. Noam Chomsky once likened attributing academic success to differences in race to attributing academic success to differences in height.

Brown affirmed that finally our laws would no longer perpetuate ideological backwardness on topics of race. Today, the logic of Justice Earl Warren’s court still holds. Over the last 60 years, separation has not somehow become equal.

Brown heeded district courts to desegregate their schools “with all deliberate speed.” 60 years later, we seem to be taking our deliberate time when it comes to social integration and building awareness.

That’s fine as long as we aim to do right by all children and serve as good examples for them to follow.

 

About Anindya Kundu

ANINDYA KUNDU is a doctoral candidate in the sociology of education at New York University. His first Kappan article will appear in the September 2014 edition of the magazine.

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