Monday, December 04, 2006
The Supreme Court is currently hearing a school desegregation case that has local ties to Da Ville. It has caused me to reflect on my own experiences with desegregation many moons ago.
It is ludricous to think that the Civil Rights movement of the 60's magically wiped away 246 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow racism. The racial attitudes that helped shape and support the institution of slavery and Jim Crow are STILL around and permeate every aspect of American culture.
Too many white people have a naive concept of race and fail to note (or ignore) the historical contexts and reality of race in America. White privilege, atttitudes and its dominant position in American society is built on the foundation of slavery. It's also built upon 100 years of denial of opportunities for African-Americans to peacefully assimilate into American society after the Civil War.
I grew up in Houston and matriculated in HISD schools, which are themselves under a federal desegregation court order. As much as people gripe about busing, it wouldn't be necessary if white parents weren't leaving public schools for private ones with the usual 'to get a better education' cover excuse.
To give you an example, HISD has a magnet program for academically gifted and talented students called Vanguard. At the elementary and junior high/middle school level the Vanguard schools were housed on campuses in white neighborhoods. At the high school level it was housed from 1977-2001 at majority Black Jones High in the heart of South Park.
It was interesting to note that the white parents who sent their kids to VG schools in elementary and junior high, regulary bumped the 40% cutoff for white enrollment at River Oaks Elementary and Lanier Junior High suddenly had concerns at the high school level. Those parents tried for two decades to get the HS VG program moved off the Jones campus. They were usually opposed by former students and Black and Latino/a parents. They finally suceeded but the ironic twist was that all of their efforts resulted in the HS Vanguard program being moved to the former Carnegie Elementary campus in another BLACK neighborhood four miles away.
I was gratified to read a recent study that confirmed what I have known and suspected for a long time: Private school kids DO NOT outperform kids that matriculated in public school. (George W. Bush is Exhibit A for that).
It's also interesting to note that many of these so-called elite private schools have been set up SINCE the 1954 Brown v. Board decision.
It's amazing that some peeps are still so mortified at the prospect of Mackenzie and Jackson sitting next to Taquan and LaKeisha in a classroom that they are overpaying for the same level of education you can get for free in the public school arena. Maybe they should consider sending their kids to public schools and save some of that cash they pay private schools for their child's college years. The way college tuition rates have been exponentially climbing they'll need it.
I didn't get into Vanguard until the high school level. I had the grades but stayed at Albert Thomas, my neighborhood junior high. Just because a school is located in a majority Black neighborhood doesn't mean that we don't strive for educational excellence. I was in Major Works, the accelerated academic program for non-magnet school gifted students at the secondary level. Our teachers continually pushed us to excel and encouraged us to compete in academic contests. That concern even extended after we left their campuses. My brother was two grades behind me and let it slip to one of my old Albert Thomas teachers that my grades dropped during one report card period when I was in my sophomore year at Jones. She and several of my old teachers sent messages through him that it was unacceptable. Even my Little League coach got on my case when I came to watch my brother play a game one night.
If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. I'd still go the same route. There are certain experiences that I had at Thomas that I wouldn't have gotten in a private school environment. I wrote an essay in 8th grade that helped me win a NASA sponsored districtwide contest and was captain of the back-to-back champion History Prep Bowl team. Those History Prep Bowl championships were even sweeter because we were the ONLY predominately Black school competing in this event.
For some strange reason we didn't get an invitation to defend our title during my 9th grade year and threepeat.
Thanks to my writing skills, I earned a trip to the Johnson Space Center and got to take a tour of it beyond the standard one they usually give. I sat at the computer consoles in JSC's Mission Control. We went to the building that houses the giant water tanks that they use to train astronauts for spacewalks. We got to walk through a mock-up of Skylab. I got to meet not only Nichelle Nichols from Star Trek but the first group of Black shuttle astronauts: Guy Bluford, Charles Gregory, Dr. Mae Jemison, and the late Challenger 7 astronaut Dr. Ron McNair.
I have problems with No Child Left Behind. It was designed by people who hate public schools. As a child of an educator and coming from a family of them I'm not a fan of teaching a test. Schools are supposed to teach you how to critically think, not rote memorization of a test or unquestioning obedience to authority. I am skeptical of a program designed by voucher advocates and highly suspicious of an education bill that DOES NOT apply to private schools. Either private schools need to be held to the same standards or else NCLB needs to be abolished. Some of the more memorable teaching experiences for me were situations in which teachers were allowed to unleash creative lesson plans on us.
In 8th grade, my history teacher Mr. Sanders went BEYOND the textbooks and taught us the little known historical events that had major implications on history. In high school I had the history of the Holocaust come to life thanks to Kaye Arnold. We spent a day role playing various characters in Nazi Germany. I found myself tossed in the 'concentration camp' when my character was trying to rat on his suspected Jewish neighbor to an 'SS officer'.
I went through such trying times in junior high with math to the point where it made me loathe the subject with a passion. My high school math teachers Dana Read, Diane Servance, and Henry Stevenson Jr got me to a point where I actually liked math again.
I also had memorable teachers in elementary school like my kindergarten and 1st grade teacher Ms. Ray Williams, Ms. Emily Hurd in 2nd grade, Ms. Carolyn Dickson in 4th grade, and Ms. Dorothy Ware-Hagans in 5th and 6th grade.
Can't leave out some of my more memorable junior high ones like my History Prep Bowl coach Ms. Melina Harris, my English teachers Ms. Doris Maxie and Ms. Faye Mitchell, and my typing teacher Ms. Felecia Thomas. She was fresh out of college herself and her sense of style and fashion combined with her model quality beauty had many boys on campus drooling over her. I admired her for another reason ;)
But back to my experiences with integration HISD style. HISD came up with a pairing plan in which an all-white and all black school were zoned together. One would teach grades K-3, the other grades 4-6. When it was implemented I was in second grade at newly opened (and all-Black) Law Elementary School which I was zoned to attend after I finished kindergarten at JJ Rhoads. My neighborhood was rezoned to the school I'd just left, JJ Rhoads. I had go back to Rhoads for one year, then to Frost. I ended up attending three different elementary schools in a two year span because of the pairing plan. It would have been four had I gone to River Oaks Elementary where the Vanguard gifted and talented student program was housed. But once again I would have been there only for a year before moving off to junior high school. Unfortunately, because of white flight from South Park to southwest Houston and to the counties surrounding Houston Frost Elementary became majority black by the time I hit 5th grade.
By my sixth grade year HISD shifted focus to using magnet schools with voluntary busing. But that meant that since many of these initial magnet school campuses were in white neighborhoods the Black kids attending them were enduring one to two hour crosstown bus rides in Houston rush hour traffic. Magnet campuses housed in Black neighborhoods didn't get the same level of white participation.
Was it worth it? Yeah. I got to flex my intellectual muscles with Asian, white, and Latino/a kids from all over Houston. At Jones I attended a school equipped with two state of the art (for the late 70's) Control Data PLATO computers. In my junior year I participated in the Houston area Model United Nations hosted at the University of Houston. I expanded my circle of friends beyond my immediate neighborhood and was exposed to people of many different cultural and religious backgrounds. Some of those friendships endure today and being exposed to various cultures has helped me immensely during my lifetime.
When I describe the things I did and experienced to people in this area many assume I went to private school. Nope, I'm a proud HISD alum.
So yeah, good old fashioned racism STILL plays a part in the education issue, too. The sooner that we realize that, the sooner we can come to a consensus on what to do about it. Here's hoping the Supremes do the right thing and leave the Louisvlle and Seattle school districts alone.
I'm not holding my breath on that.