What message are we sending to black children when we tell them only integration will save them?
December 11, 2017

A story ran last week from the Associated Press about segregation in charter schools, and, right on cue a lot of my reform-loving friends rushed to their keyboards to bang out rebuttals and register complaints.

While I think most of the article was a wandering fiat against data and common sense, there is one important takeaway to seize.

Please excuse me while I now turn my attention to black parents for a moment. Black folks, it’s time you had the talk with your children.

Not the how-babies-are-born talk or the how-to-stay-alive-when-stop-by-police-officers talk, but the one life-changing talk about race black parents need to have with their children early in childhood.

It won’t be easy, so let me help you with it.

First, sit your child down, make eye contact with her, and then make sure she’s comfortable because what you’re about to say might strike at the core of her humanity.

Start with this: “you know how we always tell you that you can be and do whatever you set your mind to being or doing?

When she answers in the affirmative, hit her with this:  “Well, that’s only true if you attend school with white people. Otherwise, you’re doomed.”

There. Job done.

You’ve told your child the truth known by teachers, professors, New York Times writers, and various esteemed thinkers of America’s lettered bourgeoisie.

Now your child can proceed with the knowledge that whiteness is her goal, because, of course, black excellence is a myth and all-black things are inherently inferior.

White water is wetter,. White ice is colder. Vanilla Ice is a rapper.

Absurd? I think so too.

Yet, the media can’t get enough of splashy “new” research blaming poor education results for black and brown children on their “segregation” from white people. The damning deceit in that claim is that it 1) exculpates public education from interrogating its pedagogy, practice, and performance, and 2) it only purports an obstacle to learning only when people of color are huddled together, but never when whites build enclaves and generate exclusive social capital.

When white schools fail school workers rethink everything, including their staffing, budget, curriculum, daily schedule, and so on. They reform. If white kids aren’t learning it’s assumed there is something wrong with the system and expected the system reconfigure.

With black students, the attack is different. If we aren’t learning there is something wrong with us, our culture, our parents, and our neighborhoods. It’s funny that many people who charge Teach For America with acting like white saviors are the same people proposing we suck down the apogee of all white saviorism: the idea that we are incapable of educational worth without comingling ourselves with whites.

I’m simplifying a complex thing.  I may be an unfair audience to the large body of social science that show positive outcomes for racially and economically diverse schools. It’s not because I doubt there are certifiable lifelong benefits to racially balanced schools (those that are truly balanced and aren’t merely former white havens that take in a few kids of color and then quickly quarantine them to inferior classrooms in their “integrated” schools).

My question is why would we prioritize research on integration (which leads to an improbable solution: a massive involuntary reordering of the races) over the research on the importance of fixable issues like effective school leadership, quality teaching, and culturally affirming classrooms?

If we care to listen to research it tells us there are red light problems in school systems, including implicit bias against our black studentslow expectationsharsher discipline, too few teachers of color, and generally abysmal outcomes that get worse the longer our students stay in the system.

The violent reality before us is this: the teachers are racist, the curriculum is junk food, and the schools are criminalization centers that expedite that path to prison.

With all of that beating back the potential of our babies, why would anyone train our eyes toward the glimmer of illusory and failed promises of integration while asking us to ignore the fixable issues entrapping our school-aged children right now?

I’m not sure, but integration fundamentalists ask us a different question: “Why are we fiddling around with all these other reforms when we know there has only been one thing that has worked at scale [integration]”?

One answer should be obvious. Integration didn’t work at scale. It was a failure. Had it succeeded we wouldn’t be talking about it 60 years after Brown v. Brown. Face facts, forced integration lost the social war and more importantly a series of famous court cases. And, the oft-touted voluntary integration plans that did “work” are still challenged by racialized gaps in achievement like everyone else.

At the same time, charter schools show positive gains with urban black and brown students.

A Brookings Institute report puts it this way: “high-poverty, high-minority [charter] schools produce achievement gains that are substantially greater than the traditional public schools in the same catchment areas. This is further evidence that school quality is a primary mediator of academic achievement rather than the racial or economic makeup of a school’s student body.”

Sadly, they have to constantly defend themselves against institutional attacks on their existence. Their success is a casualty to the idea that school effects are no match for black deficiency.

Where you land on this is a function of belief, not fact. We can argue about the validity of this or that research, or the integrity of the researchers, but that will never overcome your ideas about the potential of black intelligence.

While some believe us unsavable without integration, I think our better investment is made in teacher preparation, induction, evaluation, and retention; the use of data to understand gaps, drive instruction, and foster accountability; and enabling parent-driven enrollment decisions.

And, regardless of whatever is written in the Associated Press, or spoken in the keynotes of idealogues, fundamentalists, and associations representing the “workers” in old world factory schools, we should never deflate our children with the gross message that their ability to learn is tied to their proximity to white people.

God made them good on their own merit, and the devil is a lie.

 

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