Is Teach For America promoting "separate but equal" schools?

Charlotte's problems with diversity and integration may have a new apologist:

While the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board talks about breaking up racial and economic isolation, Teach For America Charlotte is holding a forum on making “hypersegregated” schools successful.

On Dec. 15, two national speakers will discuss ways they’ve seen schools thrive without significant numbers of white or middle-class students. The free forum is part of its “New Reality Speaker Series,” focusing on poverty and academic success in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The first, on CMS history, was held in October.

Of course efforts have to be made to improve education in ways that don't rely on re-integration as a cornerstone. But that work needs to continue, as well. It not only benefits the students in their achievement, it also helps the community become less polarized around race. And as obvious as that may seem to those reading, there are many in the field of education who still fall for the arguments put forward by anti-integration elements of the 60's & 70's:

But as common as the explicit prejudice was, it was the covert kind that was, in many ways, more destructive; made more so by the absence of a rigorous content-rich curriculum and the deeply embedded loyalty to "child-centered" teaching.

Absent a well-defined course of study, teachers were left to their own devices (part of the accepted system culture of "teacher autonomy") to identify what the academic "needs" of a child were and to figure out how to teach to them. This was especially insidious in a district where all but one teacher was white. Instead of enjoying a common curricular currency black kids were at the mercy of teachers who not only believed in the determinism of poverty and parents, but who also didn't have a high opinion of black culture or what black students "needed."

While the incident was cathartic and produced some good things, little changed for black students. The Commissioner never responded. The feds tossed out the complaint. And the academic performance, suspension rate, and graduation numbers for African-American students barely budged over the next ten years. (I know because one of the last things I did as a member of the school board, which I rejoined in 2007, was oversee a task force to evaluate the district's Code of Conduct and we found that the racial disparities remained stark.) I began to wonder whether the integration that Brown v. Board of Education had so famously promoted was all that good for blacks.

By coincidence, the same month that our curriculum director blamed African Americans for the district's academic woes, May of 2005, I ran across a story in the New York Times which quoted Martin Luther King's opinion of the Brown decision:

"I favor integration on buses and in all areas of public accommodation and travel.... I am for equality. However, I think integration in our public schools is different. In that setting, you are dealing with one of the most important assets of an individual -- the mind. White people view black people as inferior. A large percentage of them have a very low opinion of our race. People with such a low view of the black race cannot be given free rein and put in charge of the intellectual care and development of our boys and girls."

This was a Eureka moment for me - to know that the great civil rights leader appreciated not just the significance of an education but the dangers of partnering with an education system that was still very much a white-run institution.

Yes, school diversity is difficult, for both children and teachers. But the truth is, our society has made it difficult, by stubbornly holding onto prejudicial views.

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