Reflecting on free-will school segregation

While I agree with the N&R’s opinion that a return to segregated schools is a bad thing, how can our school board do otherwise in the face of our community’s apparently overwhelming sentiment that Guilford Countians want ‘neighborhood schools’?

In a companion post on Friday that set the stage for today’s editorial position, Allen Johnson invokes Chief Justice Earl Warren’s 1954 opinion on Brown vs Board of Education …

“Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities?    We believe that it does.”

Perhaps Warren was right in 1954, but this is 2006 and things have changed somewhat.  Or have they?

We no longer segregate children as a matter of public policy.  Thankfully we don’t have governors and mayors standing in front of school house doors defying the National Guard in order to keep “them” out.  To the contrary, I am confident that any child of any color would be welcomed with open arms at any and every school in this county – and I would call that progress.  But, we are still a highly segregated lot.  And we apparently like it that way.

Today’s segregation is not acheived via institutional coercion.  We are free-will segregationist around here in that we segregate because we choose to do so.  For the most part, people make their voices known about how much they value diversity when they choose where to set up housekeeping.  So with that in mind, when one looks at the housing patterns that still dominate Guilford County long after Justice Warren had his say – most of us don’t really seem to care much for racial diversity.

Look around.  Even after all this time, neighborhoods are defined by the race of their inhabitants.  This one’s a ‘black neighborhood’… that one is ’white’.  The Montagnards live over there and if you want to rub elbows with Mexicans or Costa Ricans, they are down the street and around the corner. 

So now some, including the N&R’s editorial department, look to our school board to save us from our self-segregated selves, again, through the utilization of big yellow buses.  But the problem is, the collective “we” don’t want any part of it.  “We” want - no.. “we” demand, ’neighborhood schools’.

Our reasons are simple and, we think, noble.  We want to be able to attend parent conferences without filling up our gas tanks to get across town.  If our children are sick, we want to get to them as efficiently as possible with the means we have at our disposal - either via a short city bus ride, a $4.00 taxi trip, or a brief car ride distance from our neighborhoods and support systems.  If we are of a mind to be involved in PTA or other volunteer opportunities, we don’t want to have to pass two other schools in order to get where we are needed.

So what’s wrong with that?  Nothing and everything.

Nothing is wrong with people living where they want to live.  Matter of fact, that is a basic tenant of a free society.  But there is everything wrong with people still choosing, after all these years and struggles, to live and be schooled almost exclusively among “their own kind”.   It shows we don’t truly want for ourselves what we prescribe for others.  We profess that Guilford County’s diversity is one of the keys to our future viability as a community, but we aren’t actually willing to do much of anything to change the segregated status quo.

The black “we” among us are convinced that ‘separate but equal’ is a concept that was sooo 1950′s – and good riddance.  Just keep your mitts off of 98% black Dudley High School.  The white “we” among us are convinced that our childrens’ schools are already diverse enough, just look at all of those Asian (edited) and Middle Eastern children sitting next to my Johnny.  Never mind that some schools’ back lots look like trailer parks because of white flight induced overcrowding.  Never mind that there are plenty of paid-for brick-and-mortar encased seats available at another school not so very far down the road, but far enough away that parents can’t possibly consider it to be “their” school.

So it is neighborhood schools we want and, by God, it is neighborhood schools we will have. 

“We’ve” had enough of this ‘social engineering’… this, this… ’experimentation’.  Just build us more schools to facilitate our freely chosen segregation.  Educate our children where they want to sit, not where some elected or appointed utopian mapmaker wishes them to sit in order to somehow make us all buy in to some far-fetched promise of racial harmony and cultural understanding.  That stuff just isn’t for us, especially if my child has to ride the bus for an extra twenty minutes a day to acheive it.

With the parental mindsets currently driving Guilford County’s redistricting process toward even more entrenched and segregated ‘neighborhood schools’, I fear our children are learning a lot more than we really want them to know. 

School-aged children of all colors herabouts are hearing parents talk the talk about the wonders of racial diversity and how it fosters understanding between people of different backrounds and ethnicities, but they are finding those same parents unwilling to walk even the short walk that will help make it all happen.

They are hearing their parents self-righteously profess that some poor, inner-city black child doesn’t need their affluent suburbanite white child sitting next to them in order for both to excel.  But such parents are, perhaps unwittingly, betraying their children’s futures in important ways.  Truth is, the affluent child probably needs what the poor child has to offer more than the other way way around.  Where else, but in the real-world social environment of our public schools, can tolerance, empathy and understanding of people different from themselves be better learned, internalized and passed on to future generations?

But what the hell.  We will shout at you until you give us what “we” want:  Neighborhood schools that closely reflect our self-segregated neighborhoods.  Don’t you get it?  We don’t need you, and you don’t need us.


Update: Sue’s take on the N&R editorial.

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