Monday, July 8, 2013

How do we really feel about integrated schools?

“I feel sorry for Durham if we are going to follow the leadership of people like Carl Kenny who perpetuate the racist, us against them, propaganda in the paper,” Lou Peters, a Durham Public Schools parent, responded to my recent column. “Why must it always boil down to race in Durham?”

Peters shares the outrage of many who judge the proposal to open an all-male academy a waste of taxpayer money.  The thought of a school designed to address the needs of black and brown boys has stirred hostility among those bent on maintaining the status quo. 

Peters makes valid points in his response to my column.  “If our leaders are really concerned with students’ well-being, then testing should cease and the millions saved used to fund more teachers who know how to address the differing learning styles in smaller classrooms with better student to teacher ratios,” he writes.

There is no easy solution to the decline in the academic achievement of black and brown boys.  What is clear is an escalating negative culture that is making it more difficult to educate those caught in a vicious cycle.

It’s why I talk so much about race.

Buried deep within this conversation is Durham’s grappling with the bearing race and culture plays in the academic achievement of minority boys.  There is suitable evidence to suggest the cultivation of inner-city social norms that makes education counterintuitive.  Numerous books have been written on “acting and talking white” and the implications of the “cool pose.”  These forms of social conditioning makes the education of black boys a tough task for those entrusted the responsibility of working to overcome those environments.

All-boys education formats work for this reason.  Removing boys from surroundings that feeds messages that education is for white people and girls fosters a support base that frees boys to focus on excellence.  Durham’s Nativity School is a local example of how this works.

What Peters, and other critics, fail to concede are the hostile environments that black and brown boys are forced to overcome.  Also inferred in his comments is the deep influence of his own position of privilege, and how our assumptions related to integration force opposition to an all-boys academy. 

Brace yourself for what follows.

Sadly, our suppositions regarding integration presupposes middle class status and fails to ponder the implications among youth devoid of resources.  It hasn’t worked for those threatened by a culture that refutes the credibility of education.  It doesn’t work for those bruised by the constant disappointed related to failing to measure up to those who begin with more than enough. 

My pressing of the question of race is aimed at forcing the school board and larger community to discuss assumptions we carry about integration.  My hope is to begin a deeper dialogue involving how those views impact public policy.  Put another way; let’s be honest about how we feel about race and integrated schools.

This is about race and our assumptions of power and privilege.  It’s about white power and privilege.  It shows up in the ability to find alternative schools for your children.  It shows up when the resources are there to overcome things feared.

Power and privilege also shows up among black leadership.  Their assumptions regarding the benefits of a segregated school may feed into their decisions.  Most were nurtured in schools segregated by race.  Maybe their decision is fueled by their own experience and speaks to a desire to re-segregate Durham Public Schools.

We must tell the truth about how we feel.

Yell at me! Blame me for talking about race! But, after making this a Carl Kenney thing, ask yourself an important question.  How do you feel about integrated schools?  Have the choices you’ve made for your children coincided with that position?  Have you opted to use your power and privilege to find an alternative for your children, and, if so, what led you to make that decision?

Why are white parents leaving the Durham Public Schools?  Why are black middle class parents doing the same?  What’s left behind when that happens, and what is needed to address the growing needs of those students?

The all-boys academy may not be the answer, but Durham must find a way to address problems facing minority boys.  Failure to do that is repulsive.  It’s tragic due to the correlation between academic performance and the rise of violent crime in Durham.  Something is wrong, and we, as a community, must fix it.

Yes, this is about race.  It’s about a re-segregated school system that is being stirred in that direction by those who hold an agenda.  What is that agenda, and how is it reinforced by the decisions each of us make? Are school board members any different than the rest of us?  If not, what can be done to repair what is left behind.

Talk about race.    Be honest.  Get all of that out of your system.

After you’re finished, get back to the question I’ve placed on the table – what are we going to do with black and brown boys in Durham?

Answer that question and I’ll stop talking about race. 


  1. Please refer to Leigh Bordley's reply to your editorial . She indicates the data on mixed versus same sex schools is very mixed. It's clear that she and some other school board members are not yet convinced that your exclusive academy will provide the solution to black/brown boys education failings. Note that she DOES agree with you on the failings, but not specifically that your proposal will overcome those failings.

    Commenting on the same prior blog, Tim Tyson raised several valid points about the issue. He doesn't doubt your sincerity to help disadvantaged youth, but does raise questions as to whether your proposed academy will achieve the result you desire.

    You're basic question is "What are we going to do with all the black and brown boys in Durham?". Does your definition as to who should attend the all-black, all-male academy include any person of color regardless of academic background? Any white person of disadvantaged social background? What about the demographics of those who are left in the public school system? This is a zero sum game and taking a profiled population out of the main schools, changes the system for those who don't attend the same sex academy. How does the proposed academy counter the lack of parental guidance at home and other negative cultural aspects of these student's lives? If 80% of the system is comprised of black/brown students, which of them gets picked for the resource re-allocation to the new same sex academy? And how do those "left behind" cope with losing those resources from their public schools?

    Civil liberties groups and the NAACP have long fought educational stratification in public schools for fear of re-segregation, losing the positive effects of diverse student bodies, and the potential negative self-image view of those placed in remedial classes. Does your proposed academy negate those fears?

    I've known you for a long time and have never doubted your sincerity to help others less advantaged than yourself. My concern is that your passion is overcoming your expertise in this area. If professional educators and academics don't necessarily agree with you or, at least, indicate the issue is much more complex than you've indicated, how can you maintain credibility in your allegations of racial and agenda driven motivation of those who disagree?

    And, to answer another question posed in the blog, I took my daughters out of private school to spend their last six years of schooling in the public system. Their social groups and close friends transcended racial and ethnic lines, making them better adults in the long run.

    But, in the end, your question of how do we educate black/brown (I would add white) culturally disadvantaged students goes unanswered. Educational systems across the country are grappling with this very issue and have not found the magic bullet solution that fits all communities.

    1. You're missing the point Larry. At issue isn't the proposal for an all-boys academy, but our real feelings related to integration. Although many point to evidence suggestiing the strength of integrated schools to discredit the proposal, few are willing to address the real issues - poor academic performance, rising violent crime and a culture that refutes education as a credible option among these boys. I'm suggesting that a REAL proposal to impact change be presented versus a continuation of what you and others have done to attack the proposal. Present an option. Deal with the truth. Convince me that integration is working for these boys, and, if you can't, maybe we need to admit something different is needed. I'm open to hearing that proposal. So far I'm hearing rhetoric that attacks a plan presented by those entrusted by the school board to move forward on a plan they presented in their own strategic plan. The confusion began with their own vote. The all-boys academy may not be the solution. I concede that, but what is Durham willing to do to begin the process of repairing what we have before us. Fighting me is not the solution. The problem is not my passion. It's the lack of conversation regarding next steps after the rejection of the boards own plan. I'm not arguing a racial agenda. I'm arguing that there is the perception of such among those who worked hard to present what they believe is a credible option. Many are educators. They are experts in the field who served the board. There is the perception of disrespect, and that can lead to discord if not dealt with soon. My issue isn't disagreement. It's an outcome based agenda that takes seriously what is before us as a community. My recent blog isn't about the academy as much as it is about our real thoughts about integration. Lets talk about who is served by it, and if we are truly invested in the education of all children. Is a segement being sacrificed to maintain the image of solidarity? If so, is it worth what is lost along the way. I hope integration is worth it, but maybe there needs to be a deeper conversation regarding how we feel about it all, and how public policy is impacted by our views. Yes, the nation is grappling with these questions, but what prevents us from leading the way in formulating a plan that begins movement in the right direction.

      It's time for real change. That takes leadership and pressing buttons that makes us feel uneasy. We need to move past making everyone feel good and deal with a painful reality. Our boys are being sacrificed to satisfy our egos.

      Did deeper Larry, and lets talk about remedies versus who's feelings are hurt due to a failure to see beyond their own positions of privielge.

    2. "Perception of disrespect" because other educators, also examining the data and trial programs elsewhere, disagree with them? When did presenting an alternate point of view become "disrespect"? It's the element of intelligent argument - both parties present there cases and one of the parties "wins" or, at least, allows the other party to understand their point of view.

      "Feelings of hurt due to failure to see beyond their positions of privilege." At least you included blacks of privilege along with whites in that statement. I just don't see why someone of "privilege" feels hurt because they don't get their way any more than those without privilege should feel hurt because they didn't get their way either. We're talking about what is best for our children, not about whose plan wins.

      You ask that the community (and I) show that integration is helping black/brown boys with disadvantaged backgrounds. Having fought for integration for so long, it's understandable that I would point out the dangers in returning to an ethnically delineated school system. But, I'm willing to experiment with alternative systems. In some communities same sex, same race schools have worked. In others, they have not. How does Durham match the demographics of places where they have worked? Can you answer the other questions I posed in my reply?

      In the end, however, I'm not sure it's the school system that is at fault. It's parents who don't care and a cultural system that doesn't value education (for fear of failure themselves) that perpetuates the educational problems of disadvantaged youth (again, I'll include some white students fitting this description along with the black/brown ones). How does a same sex academy or any other schooling variant deal with that basic problem of the culture that surrounds many of these at risk students?

      Remember your work with area gangs noted the same cultural system that made it so difficult to extricate kids from gangs was also the cultural system we're dealing with in trying to get these disadvantaged youth educated as well. Were the gangs the result of integration? I don't know that integration plays a part in that culture, except to provide a window to another world in which the disadvantaged culture thinks it can't exist in, thereby eschewing education and conventional society in response. Of course, this attitude is ultimately both self-defeating and self-perpetuating. How do we stop perpetuation of this attitude? I have no clue, and neither did you when we last discussed the subject.

      There are many good-hearted people on all points of the political spectrum that want to improve the education of ALL of our children, but especially the disadvantaged. It's in everyone's self interest to make our community stronger. In my opinion, however, they are overwhelmed by the cultural attitudes of the disadvantaged. How to turn that around goes far beyond the school system.