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.