Ever been to the school district where Brown v Board of Ed was decided?

I have. About 12 years ago I traveled to Topeka, Kansas with my debate team (yes I was on the debate team, c’mon now). I was a teenager from upstate NY and had experienced racism in schools already. I was really curious about this high school that was used as the symbol for one of the greatest victories for people of color and their rightful access to a fair and equitable education. The high school was empty when we were there, but for some reason, we sensed the tension that was clearly still plaguing the school. Posters demanding that one support diversity and multiculturalism were everywhere.
It was not until I was a MA student in Equity and Social Justice in Education that I read that 50 years later, things hadn’t really changed much at the Topeka School District. That state by state, throughout the country in “high risk” places, it was almost impossible to counter segregation policy that disguised itself with benign terminology and strategically (busing, shutting down schools) created policy used to keep certain children out and away from their constitutional right to a fair education.
A few years later, I became a school teacher and worked for a public school district for 5 years in predominantly black and Latino schools. The conditions were atrocious, the curriculum was demeaning, the wages deplorable and there was not a white child in sight (unless they were mentally or physically disabled or very very poor). In the land where every child is left behind, schools are segregated right now whether the Supreme Court says so or not. Whether they take another tool in placing some of these kids out of these schools or not. This country survives on the miseducation of brown and poor boys and girls, essentially to have a labor force that will not become doctors, engineers, scientists, lawyers, and business folk. Their failure is built into the system.
The policy, cultural mindset and economic racism has been in place for a long time, but today the Supreme Court made the few slightly effective attempts at desegregation, that much less possible. Despite any small scale recognition of the *positive* influence of diversity, the main staples of good old fashioned racism shine through. Helping a school out of the warped and fucked up history of injustice against black and brown people by modest proposals of “maybe we can help you out because you are brown, but ONLY if you are as qualified” crap is a drop in the bucket, when you are talking about a system that survives on the suppression of your voice.
Roberts weakly argues, that integration initiatives are somehow racist towards white children. I am so profoundly struck by the racism implicit in this statement and all I can ask is, when was the last time you stepped foot inside a school?
I did it, I taught in the trenches, I saw how bad it was, how bad it still is. Nobody listens to these teachers, to these communities, to these students, when their toilettes are overflowing and they are using history text books that still say “USSR.” Nobody gives a fuck about this nations children that go to school everyday and are afraid to walk down the street, afraid on the school yards and afraid of going home.
What these kids and communities do know is that no one wants them. No one wants to go to school with them, no one wants them in their schools and no one wants them in their communities.
So thank you, newly appointed SCOTUS, for doing so much worse than we thought you could. And for forgetting those of us in the schools and in the communities working so hard against years of racist and classist policy that has pushed us to the farthest points of our national imagination and rendered us invisible. Thank you for letting us know, we don’t need your help anymore. Because, quite frankly, we never noticed we were getting your help in the first place.

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61 Comments

  1. Kalisti!
    Posted June 29, 2007 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Ha, I went to a high school where the books still had the USSR on the maps, and the elementary school I went to only got rid of the old Windows 3.1 computers a few years ago (It was a predominantly white school, but in a poorish rural area where you were hardly expected to go beyond the local community college). People still threw a shit fit every time the board tried to increase the budget and would vote down a good budget if there wasn’t enough money for sports and things. Even in that uniform state of school crappiness, it was considered a miracle if the black students tested well, much less went to college–it was pretty much assumed that they would be poor, stupid wretches working fast food jobs for the rest of their lives. One of my dear friends (black, female, and brilliant) was treated as a freak of nature because she got high grades and cared about her future without acting “white” or abadoning her ethnicity to blend in. The guidance department was baffled that hip-hop and Shakespeare could coexist in her world.
    I don’t know how race would affect this (I’m white, and fully aware of my ignorance of a lot of racial issues–it’s something I’m working on) but I definitely concur that more funding=more opportunity for everyone, and maybe if there were some more funding equality in the public school districts we wouldn’t test so damn poorly. Ah, social reproduction at work–as long as there are enough poor people to do the dirty jobs, no one actually cares about these districts.
    Sickening.

  2. SarahMC
    Posted June 29, 2007 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Do you feel–as I do–that the current “minimum” offered by public schools is too low?
    Or are you more concerned with the disparity than the levels?

    I do think the minimum is too low. But as it stands, the government doesn’t give schools the tools they need to improve. Money is just taken AWAY when they underperform. That is a problem. And NCLB is a disaster.
    I simply think state taxes should be increased tremendously, and that the additional money should go towards funding schools. If individuals want to give additional help to the school(s) in their community, they can hold a bake sale – something they have to do now just to keep the doors open.

  3. Nicole
    Posted June 29, 2007 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think raising property taxes is the answer. I know several families who can barely pay them now. People are already overtaxed as it is. The fairest way IMO to tax to pay for education would be to impose a sales tax on certain luxury items. This won’t make it harder for people to live.

  4. Nicole
    Posted June 29, 2007 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think raising property taxes is the answer. I know several families who can barely pay them now. People are already overtaxed as it is. The fairest way IMO to tax to pay for education would be to impose a sales tax on certain luxury

  5. SarahMC
    Posted June 29, 2007 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Who said raising property taxes was the answer?
    A sales tax on certain luxury items? What if people simply stop buying those items? Good schools benefit everyone. Everyone. So paying for education shouldn’t be optional.

  6. Nicole
    Posted June 29, 2007 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think raising property taxes is the answer. I know several families who can barely pay them now. People are already overtaxed as it is. The fairest way IMO to tax to pay for education would be to impose a sales tax on certain luxury

  7. ShifterCat
    Posted July 1, 2007 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    My late maternal grandmother was an expert witness in the Brown vs. BoE case; she argued that segregation is psychologically harmful to children.
    It makes me sad and angry that the kind of thing she was arguing against is going on anyway.

  8. ShifterCat
    Posted July 1, 2007 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    My grandmother was an expert witness in the Brown vs. BoE case; she argued that segregation is psychologically harmful to children.
    It makes me sad and angry that the kind of thing she was arguing against is still going on.

  9. christine
    Posted July 3, 2007 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    just a few personal experience comments for you. i teach 10th grade english in an inner-city boston public high school. last year, i taught at a huge high school in the boston public school system (no, not david e. kelley’s, the real deal). this year, i’m at a small charter school in downtown boston. here’s what i have to say:
    “children of middle/upper class parents are entitled to better educations than children of lower class parents”
    –>though this is almost always true, local property taxes are not the only reason (and therefore not the only solution). boston has incredibly high property taxes, but that doesn’t end up mattering when it comes to boston public school money. BPS spends more money per student than most wealthy suburban school districts, but profligate spending puts dollars in the wrong pockets, inept management scares away good teachers, and those who can afford to send their kids to private schools or move to the burbs (just to name a FEW of the problems). charter schools like the one at which i now work function fantastically well, but there are simply not enough of them to serve all of inner-city boston (our incoming 9th grade has a 765-person waiting list). plus charter schools are controversial because they “take money away” from the huge boston public schools. but are those montrosities simply too far gone to save? my personal experience makes me want to say YES, but then what does that mean??
    “The reality is that race was/is just used as a proxy for other things: money, location, level of preschool, etc.”
    –>couldn’t agree more. brown vs. board, though a huge leap forward in its own right, glosses over the deep-rooted nature of our country’s race and class issues. bussing does NOT solve everything (perfect example: charlestown high is in the middle of a traditionally working-class irish neighborhood and used to be almost exclusively white. now it’s an all black and latino school because of bussing. i could go on even longer–if you can believe it, ha!–about the racial tension/violence my kids experienced last year going to school in an all-white neighborhood that openly hates them, but i won’t digress). i think attacking [equally doling] the local property taxes would be even MORE volatile than bussing was for boston in the 70′s, but maybe that’s just because it would be a more effective way of fixing the quality of our schools. i also feel VERY strongly that we need rigorous internal investigations of school spending. the administration blatantly purloined money from the children in boston public. no, seriously. administrators were making six-figure salaries doing nothing and i was photocopying entire books so that i could teach them, shoving newspaper under my kids’ tables so they could have stable writing surfaces, and attempting to control thirty-six kids in one room with no outside administrative discipline support (unless someone had a gun or a knife…both of which did happen, but not in my room, thank god).
    …thank you for reading, if you made it this far!

  10. christine
    Posted July 3, 2007 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    just a few personal experience comments for you. i teach 10th grade english in an inner-city boston public high school. last year, i taught at a huge high school in the boston public school system (no, not david e. kelley’s, the real deal). this year, i’m at a small charter school in downtown boston. here’s what i have to say:
    “children of middle/upper class parents are entitled to better educations than children of lower class parents”
    –>though this is almost always true, local property taxes are not the only reason (and therefore not the only solution). boston has incredibly high property taxes, but that doesn’t end up mattering when it comes to boston public school money. BPS spends more money per student than most wealthy suburban school districts, but profligate spending puts dollars in the wrong pockets, inept management scares away good teachers, and those who can afford to send their kids to private schools or move to the burbs (just to name a FEW of the problems). charter schools like the one at which i now work function fantastically well, but there are simply not enough of them to serve all of inner-city boston (our incoming 9th grade has a 765-person waiting list). plus charter schools are controversial because they “take money away” from the huge boston public schools. but are those montrosities simply too far gone to save? my personal experience makes me want to say YES, but then what does that mean??
    “The reality is that race was/is just used as a proxy for other things: money, location, level of preschool, etc.”
    –>couldn’t agree more. brown vs. board, though a huge leap forward in its own right, glosses over the deep-rooted nature of our country’s race and class issues. bussing does NOT solve everything (perfect example: charlestown high is in the middle of a traditionally working-class irish neighborhood and used to be almost exclusively white. now it’s an all black and latino school because of bussing. i could go on even longer–if you can believe it, ha!–about the racial tension/violence my kids experienced last year going to school in an all-white neighborhood that openly hates them, but i won’t digress). i think attacking [equally doling] the local property taxes would be even MORE volatile than bussing was for boston in the 70′s, but maybe that’s just because it would be a more effective way of fixing the quality of our schools. i also feel VERY strongly that we need rigorous internal investigations of school spending. the administration blatantly purloined money from the children in boston public. no, seriously. administrators were making six-figure salaries doing nothing and i was photocopying entire books so that i could teach them, shoving newspaper under my kids’ tables so they could have stable writing surfaces, and attempting to control thirty-six kids in one room with no outside administrative discipline support (unless someone had a gun or a knife…both of which did happen, but not in my room, thank god).
    …thank you for reading, if you made it this far!

  11. christine
    Posted July 3, 2007 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    just a few personal experience comments for you. i teach 10th grade english in an inner-city boston public high school. last year, i taught at a huge high school in the boston public school system (no, not david e. kelley’s, the real deal). this year, i’m at a small charter school in downtown boston. here’s what i have to say:
    “children of middle/upper class parents are entitled to better educations than children of lower class parents”
    –>though this is almost always true, local property taxes are not the only reason (and therefore not the only solution). boston has incredibly high property taxes, but that doesn’t end up mattering when it comes to boston public school money. BPS spends more money per student than most wealthy suburban school districts, but profligate spending puts dollars in the wrong pockets, inept management scares away good teachers, and those who can afford to send their kids to private schools or move to the burbs (just to name a FEW of the problems). charter schools like the one at which i now work function fantastically well, but there are simply not enough of them to serve all of inner-city boston (our incoming 9th grade has a 765-person waiting list). plus charter schools are controversial because they “take money away” from the huge boston public schools. but are those montrosities simply too far gone to save? my personal experience makes me want to say YES, but then what does that mean??
    “The reality is that race was/is just used as a proxy for other things: money, location, level of preschool, etc.”
    –>couldn’t agree more. brown vs. board, though a huge leap forward in its own right, glosses over the deep-rooted nature of our country’s race and class issues. bussing does NOT solve everything (perfect example: charlestown high is in the middle of a traditionally working-class irish neighborhood and used to be almost exclusively white. now it’s an all black and latino school because of bussing. i could go on even longer–if you can believe it, ha!–about the racial tension/violence my kids experienced last year going to school in an all-white neighborhood that openly hates them, but i won’t digress). i think attacking [equally doling] the local property taxes would be even MORE volatile than bussing was for boston in the 70′s, but maybe that’s just because it would be a more effective way of fixing the quality of our schools. i also feel VERY strongly that we need rigorous internal investigations of school spending. the administration blatantly purloined money from the children in boston public. no, seriously. administrators were making six-figure salaries doing nothing and i was photocopying entire books so that i could teach them, shoving newspaper under my kids’ tables so they could have stable writing surfaces, and attempting to control thirty-six kids in one room with no outside administrative discipline support (unless someone had a gun or a knife…both of which did happen, but not in my room, thank god).
    …thank you for reading, if you made it this far!

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