May 17 came and passed without any fanfare this year; it was the 61st anniversary of the unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education against enforced racial segregation in public schools. In New York City the Brown promise of racial equality and color-blindness was observed at several private schools that actually segregated elementary school kids by race in an effort--they claim--at stirring conversations about "race" in America. Even children, white, black, Asian, and Hispanic, from households that had inculcated their children not to think of their peers i n terms of skin color--were assigned to race-based "affinity groups" at the Fieldston School which is located in the tony Riverdale section of the Bronx, where I lived for many years.
Fieldston is no ordinary school, it is private and elite and well integrated by race and cultures. Its children come from sophisticated and upwardly mobile families with high expectations of their children and intense trust in education as a formative lever in forging positive social change. Yet some, indeed many, parents took exception to the school's experiment in segmenting the elementary kids into race-based affinity groups. The Fieldston Lower School's approach to diversity education has been written about in a recent New York magazine article, and chronicled too on Huffpost and in national newspapers such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The children themselves choose the racial group to which they belong, but choose they must in order to experience group identity and feelings of either privilege or prejudice based on their placement.
Count me among the critics of such "voluntary self-segregation."
I think Dr . Martin L . King, Jr. would were he still here would be standing and agreeing with me in opposing and wishing to eradicate the color-line at the private, elite integrated school, where adult educators stress "differences' based on racial characteristics and "histories.'
I KNOW that Dr. King and his contemporaries--who included my mentor Dr. Kenneth B . Clark--whose dolls test and psychological studies informed the High Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling--would today be appalled by the "educational" approach to separating children in a common classroom by race. Dr. King and Dr. Clark during their lifetimes advocated that all children be taught in the same classrooms and not be treated differently from each other by reason of their skin color or their "culture." Segregating children by race harmed them in ways "unlikely ever to be undone", they proclaimed, by means of stigmatizing them and stunting their intellectual horizons by making something of their skin color that skin color is not. King and Clark and the other civil rights giants of their time not only advocated integrated education, and also color-blind classroom policies and instruction, they also preached against black separatism, black nationalism, and Afrocentrism . They railed against "white studies" and lampooned notions of "black studies" divorced from an honest and rigorous examination and exploration of American and global history.
Racism was to these rights and equality champions a vile and disgusting practice and philosophy which could not be salvaged or remedied through either the temporary or transitional separation of the so-called "races." When the most notable civil rights figures in modern history declared that they were finished with racial segregation, they meant it; they envisioned a community in which all children were schooled together without regard to their skin color. And that was,the outlook of private schools especially that struggled to integrate their lily-white enrollments. Fieldston Lower School actually achieved a remarkably diverse enrollment but no sooner than they had has its Hispanic, openly gay head opened the door to segregated "choices", where children are encouraged to see and think of themselves in terms of race and as differently from each other, historically , culturally and ethnically, in a color-conscious fashion. As is usually the rule, this segregation's scheme proud architect is an African American woman educator who fancies herself as an "equity practitioner" and carries the grand handle of Fieldston's Director of Progressive and Multicultural Education.
In other words, little school children at the Fieldston school are being encouraged to think as their adult educators have been weaned to think about race and place and racial identity.
And what could be wrong with that. you say?
The Fieldston School's experiment with racism is just that. Elementary school children who've been heretofore carefully taught and inculcated into color-blind, race-neutral values, all of a sudden are steered, in fact mandated into separate racially-identifiable "affinity" groups and deliberately introduced by adults to these adults' warped, "historic" and errant concepts of "race." Instead of reinforcing the science that there is no such thing as "race", and that individuals are not defined by (much less their attitudes and values based on the flimsiness of skin color), the nonsensical is passed off in Fieldston as "progressive," bold, "boundary-pushing" education. In truth this is adults indoctrinating youth into the false ideology of race-based thinking; it is an "experiment" that has been tried over and over for decades by race-conscious and race-obsessed adults, through today--now by "progressive", "anti-racist" "diversity-training" educrats , who insist on using curriculum and schools to socialize children into race-based cultural, "ethnic" and "racial" identities. The truth is: this is racist tripe; it is plain, old-fashioned indoctrination that teaches and reinforces old-hat "thinking" and concepts of racial identity and "race" pride, and group-think. That this pap is offered in the guise of innovative education is quite Orwellian. As Kenneth B. Clark, the educator and famed social psychologist had warned and cautioned us, Brown v. Board of Education would have been differently decided if the minority group children's parents had convinced the Supreme Court that segregationist thinking was a pathway to lifting their self and group esteem. Dr. Clark as a Regent of New York State--the highest educational body of the Empire state--had cautioned: the surest way for segregationist thinking to triumph is for the previously segregated and discriminated against groups--in solidarity with "anti-racists"--were to join forces and propagate that segregation is good for all children--either temporarily or "transitionally."
Making segregationist thinking fashionable is a mockery of and a crude joke on enlightened education. This and other private schools that mandate the teaching of children to think "black", "white", "Asian", etc. are all wet and regressive. What's next? Will the Fieldston School also instruct the kids that they should "love, speak, and be" their "race", i.e. be "black" or "white" or "Asian"--as some of the Afrocentric academies openly did to "strengthen" black kids' identities? The trustees of the school should intervene and put a stop to this indoctrination and in-school classroom "experiment" with racism.
Separating by skin color is not my or Dr. King's or Dr. Clark's dream. The only way we can end racial thinking and segregationist practices is to end them. We must get beyond race and destroy the tree of racialism root and branch. the private, elite schools were our best chance and shot at achieving Dr. king's integrationist dream, because the public schools, by history, zoning, and demographics, are hopelessly segregated. But the educrats at Fieldston and other private schools have spoiled the melting pot and ruined the dream of color-blindness. Fieldston and its sisters and brothers who are paving a separatist path to "diversity education" are not at all groundbreaking, radical or bold. They are instead reinforcing segregationist habits and engaging in Orwellian double talk as to how we must consider and group by race if we are ever to overcome discrimination and prejudice based on race. Knowing the power of habit and sabotage, I know that Fieldston's brush and experimentation with racism is actually sheer racial idiocy. Its parents and trustees must get the staff and headmaster there to rethink their separatist nonsense with faster than all deliberate speed.
Michael Meyers is executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition