Saturday, May 17, 2014

Brown v. Board of Education: Success or Failure - We Must Decide

In the very early '70's I and most of my friends in Hamilton Park became the first children in our families to attend predominantly white schools. A group of us went to feeder patterns that led to Richardson and Berkner High Schools, in Richardson, TX. Another group went to Dallas ISD's Lake Highlands High. None of us had any idea that the wheels on the buses that initially emptied historic Hamilton Park Elementary, Junior and High Schools (all in one building) and forced us to assimilate into different cultures, friendships, rivalries and, yes, enemies began rolling almost twenty years before in Washington, D.C. with a Supreme Court decision known as Brown v. Board of Education.

We knew almost nothing about this, through our anger and tears, we had no idea that we were a snapshot of a large collage in history regarding school integration, which the SCOTUS decision was supposed to resolve.

The rationale expressed by legendary NAACP attorney (and future Supreme Court Justice) Thurgood Marshall, was that black children, attending schools that were inferior to white schools and in most cases miles past these white schools to attend these schools, were done irreparable mental and emotional damage by being told by a nation that they and not just their schools were deemed inferior. The only recourse, Marshall continued was integration, where studies showed, blacks fared much better academically when taught equally with their white peers. Was that true?

The fact is we will never know whether or not the education we received in the schools to which we were bused was 'better' than the one we would have gotten at Hamilton Park. The fact that old friends had to be transferred to new allegiances and successes in the classrooms and extra-curricular activities was a part of a grander freedom 'scheme' that was playing itself out in our nation. What we wanted to equality in education which ultimately meant more than sitting next to white kids in class or competing with them on high schools gridirons and band chairs. It meant sharing in the best of laboratories, school journalism, drill teams uniforms and the like. It meant being exposed to a larger world, with larger ideas about whites, about ourselves in the world and learning how to navigate those choppy waters with our parents initially and on our own as we grew up.

This is the 60th anniversary of that august decision. We have no real successes to report about the fulfillment of the idealism of Thurgood Marshall's argument, although it won the day. Our schools have become more segregated, not less. Those segregated schools in urban communities are primarily as black, smaller in many cases, poorer, with less well educated students and less experienced teachers than were ours. We have no Mrs. Madge Harrison (my 4th grade teacher) with decades of experience in teaching black children with sternness and love. Seldom do black teachers live or want to live, in these communities. It doesn't mean that there are no black academic, athletic or music successes. No, we have to understand that the education of black children produced W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Adam Clayton Powell to name a few among millions. What it means is that those who are educated in black schools must overcome the suspicion that they are less than if not the outright confirmation. The feelings of inferiority are still real. And in a world rife with more prejudice and in which racial hatred is becoming more and more prevalent, we are now fighting to be economically as well as educationally relevant.

Whites and blacks who have left public schools because of low performing schools and school districts are actually finding that test scores go down the blacker, browner, less well academically proficient as whites and middle class blacks move farther and farther away from 'the problem'. The consequence is that charter schools are on the rise, public schools are being closed and true public schools are becoming more worse.

As test scores in the poorer urban schools continue to plummet and the consequences (economics, housing values, fewer grocery stores, etc.) the consequences and the solutions become more and more pronounced.
Unfortunately there is no other Thurgood Marshall to fight for our cause. There is no Oliver Brown, nor 200 other parents to bring a class action cases to challenge the SCOTUS to bring another legal challenge.

Some 40 years later most of us who were initially integrated from Hamilton Park are doing pretty well. Most of our children have and are doing well. Even our grandchildren are doing well. But the peers of our children's children suffer. Sixty years after Brown we need to continue to the fight for education and equality for black and brown poor children.

We don't need another Supreme Court decision. We need courage and our children need hope...

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