Getting real about school segregation 

Concept, american flag on cracked background

 

The articles in this month’s Kappan provide clear-eyed analyses of the stubborn realities of segregation. 

 

Over the last several decades, Kappan has published dozens of articles on school segregation, approaching the topic from any number of directions. For example, and as Teresa Preston recounts in this month’s A Look Back column, our authors have debated whether separate can ever be equal, scrutinized the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Brown v. Board of Education, reported on the benefits of integration, argued the pros and cons of forced busing, and documented the recent trend toward resegregation. We’ve also published pieces on segregation’s origins, its civic and cultural implications, its effects on individuals and communities, its potential solutions (from legal remedies to school choice to the redrawing of attendance boundaries), and on and on. In short, the magazine has covered school segregation very extensively. 

And yet, the topic remains so thorny, so complex, and so urgent that even after all these years, it inspires contributors to find new ways to approach it. For example, this month’s issue features pieces on two episodes in civil rights history that have received little, if any, coverage in the magazine and that, we suspect, will be new to many readers: Rubén Donato and Jarrod Hanson’s article on Mexican-
American legal challenges to school segregation and an interview with Vanessa Siddle Walker on the political power and influence of Black educational organizations in the years leading up to the Brown decision (as well as the tragic loss of that power and influence as a result of desegregation).  

Other articles in this issue provide new research findings and insights into subjects that are likely to be more familiar to readers, including the influence of housing segregation on school enrollments, the effectiveness of voluntary approaches to school integration, and efforts to promote educational equity within stubbornly segregated schools and districts.  

But even these articles seem new and qualitatively different, in a sense, from those we’ve previously published. From their skeptical reading of past approaches to desegregation to the muted tone of their recommendations for policy and practice, it’s clear these authors are speaking from within a particularly difficult historical moment, marked by pessimism (or “racial realism,” as Jerry Rosiek puts it in his article, borrowing a phrase from Derrick Bell) about the options for fighting school segregation.  

That is, there’s no sunny hopefulness to be found in these articles — and it’s not just because they were written in late 2018, when the news was full of neo-Nazi rallies, attacks on churches and synagogues, and racially motivated hate crimes. More to the point, these authors have sifted through the research literature and concluded that most of our past strategies for fighting segregation have come up short, while the few promising ones have been blocked: The Brown decision was undermined by Southern politicians and school boards, the public turned against busing, the Supreme Court ruled against mandatory cross-district integration and even restricted the voluntary use of race in school assignments, and school choice programs have tended more often than not to amplify segregation. 

If they don’t offer sunny optimism, though, neither do these articles preach despondence. Rather, this is a time, they argue, to seek small victories where possible, whether that means ramping up student services and supports in segregated districts, designing voluntary integration programs that go as far as the law permits, recruiting greater numbers of Black and Latinx teachers, or preparing legal arguments that might persuade the courts to rethink what Richard Rothstein, in his article, calls “the myth of de facto segregation.”  

In May 1964, Kappan Editor-in-Chief Stanley Elam called on the profession to take the lead in the fight for civil rights. The articles in this issue encourage us all to continue taking up that work, as individuals and as a community. The solutions may not be obvious or easy to implement, but we must keep extending this conversation.  

 

Citation: Heller, R. (2019). The editor’s note: Getting real about school segregation. Phi Delta Kappan, 100 (5), 4. 

RAFAEL HELLER (rheller@pdkintl.org) is Editor-in-Chief of Kappan magazine.

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MORE ON THIS TOPIC

Mexican-American resistance to school segregation


Segregation and secession 


The myth of de facto segregation 


Confronting our beliefs about poverty and discipline 


For professors, segregation begins at home 


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