United States

Segregation in Schools: Then and Now

Imagine walking into an average, everyday, American classroom full of classmates. This is what most classrooms today are like. The peers in the building are most likely from all sorts of ethnic and racial backgrounds, and the learning community and environment is very sufficient to the people that are inside of it, meaning that they can all work together, for the most part, to accomplish the same goal: to succeed and become educated to have success later in life. Now imagine a time where this kind of situation that we have today did not exist at all; in fact, it was against not only social constructs of Southern society, but the law that prohibited this open flow of literacy and learning occur in the South, and these laws were known as Jim Crow Laws. Jim Crow Laws did not just apply to many everyday activities, such as commuter buses (seating arrangements), drinking fountains, or even movie theaters. It applied to the very foundation of where future generations learn and grow: schools. Whites and Blacks alike, in the South, were considered “separate but equal,” which when looked into, not equal at all. Whites enjoyed a multitude of benefits while attending class, which are no surprise today, such as functioning air conditioners, heaters, and well-structured buildings. Blacks, on the other hand, experienced far worse factors into their already sub-par education. Their buildings were old, dilapidated, and falling apart. Their teachers, aside from teaching, sometimes drove kids to class, acted as janitors, and sometimes even acted as principals for the “school” that these black children were attending so they could learn just enough to survive in the world that they lived in, a world dominated by white sources of power and influence that seemed would never change. What surprises me most about this is that people expected society to change its views on segregation when they were ultimately taught that being separate was okay in their youth by attending schools that did not integrate classes or communities; these particular people when separated developed stereotypes, in which were too much to bear for the Blacks of the time period, in which nothing changed. And if something were to be noticed and attempted to change, one term would be endlessly repeated on end, a term that was meant to act as a compromise for the wrongdoings and harms done unto Black people of the era before the Civil Rights Movement: “wait!”

However, after enduring hardship and pain inflicted by white society in the realm of education, there was seemingly enough a light at the end of the tunnel. The Civil Rights Movement allowed for Black students around the United States of America to have a sense of hope that their education system would not only be fixed to the level that their fellow white students were being given, but to be improved so that they could learn at the level that everybody else could. Organizations such as the NAACP, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and more, provided the foundation for Civil Rights to not only be advanced on the streets and society-wise for Blacks in America, but for schools to be integrated as well. Court cases, some brought to the well-renowned Supreme Court, everywhere became popping up, the most famous being Brown vs. the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas, and the theoretical “light at the end of the tunnel” was becoming larger and larger, day by day.  

First, let us start off with looking into the court case known by many as Plessy vs. Ferguson. This particular court case, held on May 18, 1896, and although a success, gave the United States the false notion that segregation in Southern schools had been dealt with and solved. It was legally written so, as well. However, discrimination ultimately continued in schools until the May 17, 1954, when the Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case was finally dealt with and ended after being put off after starting way back in December 9, 1952. After this case was laid to rest, the area of education in America, mainly the South, was drastically and humongously changed, and whites could attend schools with blacks without having to worry about multiple factors affecting their lives, learning communities, and environments as citizens of the United States of America in general. Sadly, the Civil Rights Movement is recognized as ending in 1968, the year that the great Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated (April 4).

Exactly fifty years has passed since the Civil Rights Movement, and much has changed race-wise during that relatively short period of time. Societal views of Blacks have changed, laws have been edited, and more have occurred in order to reconstruct a foundation of what had not necessarily been there for Blacks as a foundation of reputation and respect. Even movies have been created to support the achievements of Blacks in American society in the South. And schools are integrated, as well. Everything right now is seemingly going well, but if one were to look into the undeniably evident facts and statistic lines that have been published, they might think otherwise.

It can be argued that racism in schools does not exist. That modern classrooms are places of strictly learning and growth of the American student. And it is true, yes, that racism in schools has come a long way. As Bert Lance once said, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Many schools around America are in the same boat, believe it or not. They might think that it is okay if their system is functional in today’s society, missing the ridicule of the minority population that is housed in most of these schools. Their perfect little bubble of a “learning community” is implemented in schools around the nation, but is this scenario perfect? Perfect it is not.

In 2014, a government report found that American schools are still in fact racist. They looked not into the facade provided by school districts, but into the cold, hard facts that are much needed in today’s society; they dug into the heart of the subject that had been lain still for fifty years. Five percent of White students were suspended for any amount of time annually, compared to a whopping sixteen percent of Blacks. According to the Huffington Post, “Seven percent of black students attend schools where as many as 20 percent of teachers fail to meet license and certification requirements” (American).Like I said, the system still has room for improvement. Another example provided by the Huffington Post: “And one in four school districts pay teachers in less-diverse high schools $5,000 more than teachers in schools with higher black and Latino student enrollment” (American). Based on the previous statement, one can come to the conclusion that even teachers, that are arguably working harder to create an education for people who deserve it and want to take advantage of the opportunity to go to school are being held back, salary-wise, from what they should truly be earning. Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers Union, as well, has stated that it is “…shameful that not a single recommendation has been implemented… We don’t need more data to tell us we need action” (American).

Weingarten and others have noticed that these very statistics are crucial to the true abolition of racism in schools, and personally, I find that having these statistics put on a larger media platform might help with that, but the fact that these things happen and slide under the radar in 2018, yes, 2018, is magnificently horrible.

Seeing how far America has come in the educational field since the Civil Rights Movement is truly amazing, but there is still a massive amount of room for improvement. Respect For All is a campaign our own Oak Ridge High School, and I don’t exactly see the effects of it at the moment. “If it ain’t broke, at least try to make it better,” should be a replacing quote for  Bert Lance, as it should be for American schools as well.

Article by Sie Arciszewski

Works cited

https://www.the74million.org/article/12-things-to-know-about-school-segregation-and-how-integration-helps-students/

https://www.vox.com/2018/3/5/17080218/school-segregation-getting-worse-data

https://www.loc.gov/collections/civil-rights-history-project/articles-and-essays/school-segregation-and-integration/

https://www.brookings.edu/research/does-expanding-school-choice-increase-segregation/

https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/brown/brown-segregation.html

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