School diversity not just a Southern issue

The N&O's Steve Ford pens a great editorial on Northern influence over Southern education trends:

If you moved here from the Northeast, you might have brought your own set of progressive values. But you would have seen racial tensions in your former home that were a corrosive force many communities were ill-equipped to deal with.

The tendency back there was for municipalities to wall themselves off, typically on the basis of income. Inner-city riots, crime and general social dysfunction made the cities and their residents seem threatening. With school systems tied to municipalities, not counties, residents of affluent towns didn't (and still don't) need to think about having poor kids in their children's classrooms.

It's not surprising that folks moving to Wake County from such places would bring with them a certain set of attitudes and expectations. And that when they got here, many would settle in the newer suburbs of Cary, Apex, Holly Springs and Wake Forest, if not the sprawling stretches of North Raleigh.

During my second hitch in the Army, I came up on orders assigning me to recruiting duty. Leaving my beloved Ft. Bragg, I was trained and then assigned to a post in a near-West suburb of Chicago. A suburb that turned out to be one of the most racist I'd ever encountered, and I've encountered quite a few in my time.

If anyone reading this is familiar with military recruiting, you know that high schools are considered the primary source for recruitment. Recent graduates and high school seniors are your target market, and school annuals are one of the tools of the trade. So when I got myself situated at my desk and flipped through the most recent annual for the high school I'd been assigned, I soon noticed something missing: brown faces. Not a single one in the entire school.

I would come to find out later that race was a city-wide issue, with landlords and police and city council members all acting in concert to keep blacks and hispanics out, and merely driving through the city was enough to get a minority pulled over by the cops. It was, in a word, unsettling. And because I was a white male Southerner, they thought I was the greatest thing since sliced (white)bread, until I told them just how backwards they were. Then I just "didn't understand" the situation, because I came from a different background.

You know, I really do wish racism was limited to the South, because it would be much easier to deal with. But it's not.

Comments

This is all so true

I grew up in the New York suburbs in the 1970s. My suburban high school was unusually diverse, but the town was segregated by neighborhood. The segregation was enforced among real estate agents by a strong and unspoken redlining code. I don't know if it's still the case. In my class in high school, there was only one black kid who got assigned to the honors track. He was a nice guy, but I felt badly for him - what must that have been like? I never asked him. Maybe I will -- I learned recently that he lives in North Carolina now.

If you look at zoning in New York City, and the history of siting industrial and waste facilities, you'll notice a strong tendency to site dirty industry in the South Bronx. I used to wonder, driving through and noticing the burned out buildings, how the area got so awful; it wasn't til much later that I learned that the area had long been a dumping ground for the city. What would it be like to grow up in a neighborhood that smelled awful, had terrible air quality, and had no parks or green space of any kind?

Real estate sales and rental

When I went apartment shopping in my new town, none of the rental prices were listed (or revealed over the phone), you had to show up at the office to find out. Which I thought was weird, until I realized they wanted to see the applicants first.

The core issue: not distance, not money, but race

If I was still on the fence about this issue (and I wasn't)...

Just had lunch with someone telling me that their child was enrolling in a private school which is a greater distance from their home than the elementary school that sits right next to their subdivision.

Of course, this private school will cost thousands more than the public school that is literally next door to them.

It's not about the distance.

It's not about the money.

It's not about the education (because the private school hasn't been open long enough to have an educational track record).

It's plainly about the "other" and getting away from it.

 

I disagree

Although there may be a few who it is about race, my studies show it is not, many people do not even consider busing a civil rights issue. When I was in college in the 1980's I was part of a study to look at issues in which Democratic party activist, who are many who blog here against folks who regularly vote in Democratic Primaries but are not activist. When the results came in several issues stood out as regional. Abortion was an issue in which those Democrats who came from Catholic area tended to be more prolife. In North Carolina issues such as opposition to gun control, favoring of the death penalty and anti-union opinions ran much higher here and in the South in general amoung Democratic voters than with activist. But two issues in which Democratic voters nation wide ran contrary to the party activist were voluntary prayer in school and busing. There was no region divide on those two issues but the party voters and party activist were clearly on different sides of those two issues and race was not a factor either the black comminity was only slightly more favorable to busing and as well as prayer in school. It sould be said that by then the ERA was dead and gay rights were not even on the radar screen so those two issues were not brought up. That was in 1988 so things may have changed, but it would be interesting to see current polls between those two groups.

It is not always about race

I tend to agree with MODERATE here. Bussing originally was set in place (what seems like so many years ago) in an effort to desegregate schools in large part, no doubt. Truth is, though, a very large part of the black community was not in favor of that. There are exceptions and yes I know there were black leaders that gave the thumbs up to this, but there really was then and really is now more to what the bussing advocates wanted.

The schools in the urban areas and some surrounding areas have historically been (in large part) behind other schools in NC (exceptions noted). I do not have figures or links or sites. I do and have always followed the news and I did have children in public schools and I am not ignorant to many of the actual facts here. Many that wanted bussing wanted to get more equality within the entire school system in the way of quality of education for all students (a fine endeavor, indeed). To do that, getting students of all learning levels with parents with all levels of education and kids with varying home situations all spread out within the entire system rather than having one school area predominantly in one "category" and another school area in some other "category". This was not necessarily about race as white kids AND black kids are and have been raised in questionable learning atmospheres and questionable family structures that see education as more of a nusance than a prerequisite to success.

Having said all of that, I wonder if there was the successes the proponents of bussing wanted to see. I sometimes think that our education system would be better served with money and effort pointed in the direction of community efforts rather than taking our kids away from their neighborhoods.

I know I am rambling, but do wonder if there can be a better way to promote good education for our children rather than with bussing.

Perspective and perception

The issue can be really hard to grasp in the year 2010, after decades of efforts to solve these problems have (at least partially) succeeded. It's tempting to conclude either "It didn't work" or "It worked so well we don't need it anymore", but the truth lies between those two.

As far as blacks not (fully) supporting busing, keep in mind what they saw during the early days of desegregation. They saw a handful of very brave black college students screamed at by crowds of whites and threatened by police in the South, they saw angry white parents in Northern cities like Boston yelling at black kids and taking their white children out of schools, and numerous other indications of what their children would have to endure to access better education. As a parent, I would have been worried, too.

If you want to get a glimpse at what things were like back in the day, take the time to read Jonothan Kozol's Death At An Early Age. When I first moved to NC back in the early 70's, I really didn't know what all the hubbub was about, so I asked a (white) librarian, and she recommended I read this book. It was an eye-opener, to put it mildly.

Yeah, I get that scharrison

Yes, I know what you have presented here is true, of course. And, hopefully you see what I have presented is also true but is not speaking about the truths and facts or even the perspective you are sharing.

In any case, today is today. Yesterday was yesterday. We must and should do what is best for our kids, today. I truly believe that education is the key to resolving just SO many of our ills in today's America. If government is involved in that effort, it should be in programs to give our kids neighborhoods that they can grow up in that see achievement as the way out of poverty and despair. School teachers cannot be charged with that task. They have enough problems just trying to educate our young. This is a systemic problem that needs dedicated involvement both in the way of dollars and in activism by the communities themselves.

diversity

I don't think too many primary school children even know what diversity is. No one has ever explained to me why a child should not go to the school across the street. I grew up in neighborhood schools and went through 12 years with the same classmates. I feel the same about gerrymandered school districts the same as I do about gerrymandered voting districts. I live in a county that is so cut up that very few know who represents them. Leave the small kids out of school board politics.

The bullshit bus argument

If bus ride times or distance was really an issue for folks, they would have been screaming long ago to save rural kids from long bus rides across NC's rural counties.

I was one of them.

Even better, in my native rural county there were three (3) school systems to serve just four (4) high schools. Only in the past decade did they merge them -- and it wasn't because of distance and ride times.

In fact, I went K-4 to one school (which was a K-6 school), was reassigned to another school for grade 5, was reassigned back to the previous school for grade 6. Then we were sent up to what was then known as junior high.

This was in a rural county many years ago. My parents were told it was a facilities issue. Take a look around Wake County. They've got "facilities issues" too.

Such reassignments didn't hamper my education as I was a Morehead nominee for a full ride at UNC. So, by some measure, I did OK despite the reassignments.

This bus/distance argument is a whole bunch of bullshit.

My original post just emphasizes the point. My lunch partner has a school right beside their subdivision, but won't use it.

It ain't about distance or a bus ride.

 

No, it is not

Good point user. I do want to point out that there will be exceptions, such as yourself, that did not end up having any problems in your education efforts because of moving from school to school. That is not always the case, of course. It may not be the case in many cases.

The "distance and bus ride" argument is, as you say, BS. But, there are other, more pressing and important issues with bussing and reassigning not associated with just some inconvenience like distance and bus ride etc.

Thanks.

I was reassigned, and I'm glad

My town in the Northeast (that I mentioned above) had five elementary schools. I started at the "best" one (lily white), my parents having chosen that district when they moved to town. After first grade the town integrated the schools and bused me over to a different elementary school for two years, then to another for grades 4-6.

My parents fought it, but it was a good thing. I learned to be comfortable with all sorts of people at a young age. That has served me very well all these years. And my education was fine. I'm grateful for my background.

Plusses and minuses

I am happy that your experience with bussing and reassignment made you who you are today. That is a very good thing. I have read and heard a number of people say the same as you have.

But, for everyone that has had the positive experience you had and for everyone that came out for the better because of what you went through as a child in schools, there is someone with a negative experience and stories of how people's lives turned out in a bad way supposedly because of their experiences in this regard.

It is kind of like what we were all taught in school.."for every action, there is a reaction". Some are positive, some are negative.

My only point is that we are a better nation than to accept the negatives of our actions on our children so that we can point to positives we either hope for or succeed in achieving.

The bottom line is this.

The bottom line is this. When the school zones are drawn up there will be zones where almost everyone is well off and zones where almost everyone is poor as dirt. There will be other zones where poor and well off areas overlap. The well off zones will have everything they need between public funding and parent organizations. The mixed zones will be "okay" but not good enough for some parents. The poor zones will survive on public funding but little in the way of extras from the county since budgets are so tight. There will be white flight (and well off nonwhite flight) for those unlucky enough to fall into the poor zone and some of the mixed zones. The private schools will prosper, filling the void created just like they did when I was a kid. The number of home school kids will increase once again. There will be a huge mess in Wake County. Teachers will all try to get into the well off zone schools or at least the mixed zone schools. The poor zones will have new teachers that don't know any better or desperately need the job and teachers of the middlin' sort that are just trying to make it to retirement. There will be a few crusading teachers that will jump in at one of those schools and be an inspiration to everyone. They will last about two or three years until they do one of three things, 1. get married and start a family and have different priorities, 2. completely burn out or 3. write a book about how great they are and what a difference they made to the poor forgotten children, go on Oprah, have the book made into a movie, and quit teaching to tour the country as a motivational speaker raking in between 5 and 50k per engagement depending on how well the movie does.

Whatever way you want to paint it the truth is Wake Co. Schools will be segregated in about three to five years and everyone but the well off in the protected zones will suffer from it.

I'm a moderate Democrat.

Thanks

Thank you for explaining how you see this whole issue. I have to say that what you are saying does make sense. I will take a closer look at this with your angle on it.

I guess I am wishing for a more dedicated effort in the communities, with parents and with some activism to change those "poor as dirt" areas. It is hard to imagine shuffling kids around will make these schools so much better, but perhaps it will, or would if that were to come to pass. It seems that it is just painting over the root problem in the first place and that is the causes and needed solutions for the areas of disadvantage.

When you have 50 to 75

When you have 50 to 75 percent of the students in your classroom living in poverty you will have LARGE numbers of students that struggle academically because of their environment at home. When students fall behind academically they tend to become behavior problems as the achievement gap widens and they get older. What diversity did was put a few of these students in one classroom rather than a whole lot of them.

Behavior problems will overwhelm the teachers and little learning will take place. Imagine if your child (regardless of your economic status) were in one of these classes. Imagine if your job was to go into that classroom 180 days a year to struggle with those issues and try and find time to offer quality instruction. If you had the opportunity to put your child somewhere else would you? If you had the chance to transfer somewhere else where you could spend much more of your time teaching rather than disciplining would you? Now imagine if you had no alternative but to keep your child in that school or continue to teach in that school.

It will be a system of the haves and the have nots. Some students will graduate after receiving a very high quality education while others will receive a diploma that isn't worth the paper it is written on.

I'm a moderate Democrat.

So, your solution is

So, you truly believe that your solution is to weaken the "poor pool" or "problem children" pool and so forth in each school which will enable the teachers to somehow better teach those that are in greater numbers that have a decent home life and better parents and are more interested in being educated?

I don't know. It seems that spreading around the scourge in schools (regardless of reason they have become that way) will only minimally help in achieving higher educational achievement in NC.

But, you are in education, I think, so you may know what is better than I do. I still believe that government involvement in this very troublesome problem should be first and foremost at the community level.

No I believe that a reduction

No I believe that a reduction on the number of children with significant problems in each classroom will enable teachers to better teach ALL THE STUDENTS including and especially those with significant academic shortcomings. If you can do that there will be fewer behavior problems and leave time to work with students individually and address their particular needs. Students that experience real success in the classroom tend to behave in the classroom.

I'm all for students going to school as close to home as possible but that just may not always be possible. There are certain realities involved here and certain unintended consequences that will result if they implement zoning with a blind eye to economic diversity. Remember some schools in Wake had FRL numbers in the 60s and 70's despite the systems best efforts to achieve diversity. How were the students in those schools doing? Expect that sort of thing on a much grander scale with this plan.

I'm a moderate Democrat.

Reasonable

The more I hear people like you and others explaining the realities in this, the more I am seeing that in some ways, there needs to be some kind of diversity and/or economic equality mixing within some of the school districts.

I am a lot like many people that find it difficult to see those that have worked to have successful lives and lifestyles having to sacrifice their children for the betterment of the "better good" of all children in their region. Maybe this is just me seeing it from a parent's perspective and you seeing it from an educators perspective.

In any case, it is most certainly a dichotomy.