Integration or Apartheid for Us and Our Children

Don't blame public schools or teachers. Our children cannot wait another generation for integration. This country cannot wait for a way to live together and learn with one another.
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Children return to school after their holiday break. Congress returns to Washington with a shift in power. Commentators refer to this administration's remaining two years in office as "lame duck" although since the November elections President Barack Obama's actions have proven he intends to do everything he can for the good of the American people and for the world.

So what needs to be done? The news, of course, focuses on who will be in the pool of candidates for the 1916 presidential elections. Jeb jumps in and Hillary supporters urge her to run. Meanwhile, the issues of race and class linger. They not only linger, but surround us with complex issues that need more than a "conversation." Who will be shot next? Whom can we blame? We need community policing.

All of which brings us back to those children, those millions of children returning to schools across this nation, an issue that few are addressing. Most people realize that the election of Obama in 2008 did not usher in a post-racial era. We have seen the central agenda of many in Congress has been and no doubt will continue to be to undermine anything he might accomplish. The proliferation of deaths and the lack of trust between citizens and police have finally brought to light our racial divide. Facts show the economic growth during the Obama administration but a gap grows between the wealthiest and those who remain poor. We are a nation divided by race and economic class.

And what about the children? More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education (1954), in which the Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional, school systems across the south -- and not only in the south -- are re-segregating. From the time of the mid-1960s Civil Rights legislation which forced school boards to find ways to integrate schools, through the seventies and eighties and into the nineties, children learned together, learned from and about one another. Although of course things were not perfect (many white parents moved their children to the suburbs or to private schools), millions of school-aged children of all backgrounds and colors sat together in integrated schools. And it made a difference! The progress of children of color did not come at the expense of white children. Attending integrated school made people more likely to understand one another and later work together and live together in integrated communities.

But then things began to change, at first here and there, and then in many places, particularly around the year 2000. Court rulings were relaxed or reversed. Often for fear of economic decline in municipalities, and, yes, because racism and classism don't easily go away, school boards, found ways for white children, or children from higher income families to go to schools with children like themselves, or at least where they did not fear they might become the minority.

What about children today? Many children attend schools that look as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened. Perhaps we are even now back to 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson which legally sanctioned separation by race. Jonathan Kozol's 2006 New York Times best-selling book, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America makes a strong case for how far back we have gone, as do many other articles by writers such at Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter at ProPublica.

It's not the same as pre-1954. Ironically, thousands of black children again go to almost completely black schools; it's just that those schools are now named Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. And before 1954 under strict segregation African-American children from the poorest homes may have gone to school with African-American children of professional parents. Today apartheid schools (where white population is 1 percent or less) intertwines race and poverty. And the resource gap between schools is huge.

So here we are, with an economic gap the nation is not seriously trying to solve, particularly when those at the top do not want to. And here we are, in a precarious situation in cities, small and large across this nation, with guns aimed at each other. Arne Duncan, we have argued under your leadership as U.S. Secretary of Education about "No child left behind" and "core curriculum." What will you say about the fact that according to a ProPublica analysis the number of apartheid schools nationwide has mushroomed from 2,762 in 1988 to 6,727 in 2011? Two years left in this administration. Don't blame public schools or teachers. Our children cannot wait another generation for integration. This country cannot wait for a way to live together and learn with one another.

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