We can talk about lots of complicated economic and sociological forces that have fed the problems of school segregation in this country, but the root causes are pretty simple–historically, we have a whole lot of white folks who don’t want their children to go to school with the children of black folks, and they have been creative about finding ways to avoid it.
When Brown v. Board of education forced desegregation, communities all across the South responded withsegregation academies, private schools where only certain children were welcome. While we’ve long known about these schools, a new website calledAcademy Stories has launched, featuring first persons stories from people who attended those schools. The site has only a handful of stories at the moment, but each one is worth the read, a story of what the years of desegregation looked like to students. In some cases, the move to a private academy was masked by language about quality and being “pioneers.” Some were more direct.Writes one:
Others might cloak their racism in talk about providing “quality education” or “upholding our traditions,” but my father voiced his prejudices for all to hear.
There was also, of course, white flight. White families exited areas in search of neighborhoods that came with whiter neighbors, and whiter schools, taking their children and their money with them.
In recent years, another approach has appeared–the splinter district. These occur when a community aims to secede from their current district; these new districts frequently adopt a new border that corresponds to racial and/or economic borders–a sort of school district gerrymandering. It’s white flight, without the actual flight.
A study released by AERA in September found that this kind of school secession in the South had increased the level of segregation. The study looked at East Baton Rouge (LA), Shelby County (TN) and five counties in Alabama; it found that secession is “eroding what has historically been one of the cornerstones of school desegregation in the South: the one-county, one-school-system jurisdiction.” In East Baton Rouge, an October 12 vote was held on the formation of the City of St. George, a wealthier, whiter enclave within the larger city. Supporters argued that they just wanted local control, particularly of their tax dollars, but a separate school district is part of the deal. The measure passed the vote, and though the process would take several years to complete, it will leave the rest of the parish that much poorer.
History tells us that white folks who want to keep their children separate can be creative and determined about doing so. Meanwhile, the white school age population has decreased steadily, leaving whites a majority minority in U.S. schools. Allowing the continued fracturing of school districts with widespread gerrymandering and the erection of a hundred little walls are not productive ways to deal with the new reality.