Lessons on School Integration

It is hard to admit as a future high school teacher, that I did not like high school. I was not a stellar student. I had roughly a 25% absence rate. I did not feel challenged. I did not engage in my classes. This is common for students. They do not feel challenged at school, so they do not go or they disengage. It is important that teachers know this and challenge their students with rigorous academic content that is relevant to their lives. 

Beyond being disengaged, schools are complicated for many students, especially students of color. Joel Spring notes: “While 83.1 percent of public school teachers are white, only 55.5 percent of students are white. Whereas only 7 percent of teachers are black, 15.5 percent of the students are black” (Spring, 2018, p.175). Additionally, white teachers often view students of color, especially English Language Learners, through a deficit lens, not acknowledging the contribution these students bring to the classroom (Gandara & Rumberger, 2009).

As a future educator, and a white woman, I think about this dynamic often. Am I prepared to teach to the rigorous standards students need? Am I equipped to be an anti-racist educator? There are a lot of things that students face in our society. Using the Broffenbrenner’s Ecological Model (Ordoñez, 2020), students have indirect connections with the news (the Exosystem). They read social media. They know the global issues and our domestic problems. 

Students of color have a more complex relationship with our society, especially with the increasing visibility of Black deaths at the hands of the police. Further, you cannot separate them from the larger context of historic violence and oppression people of color have faced in this country (the Macrosystem). With this in mind, I wanted to design a unit that specifically showcased the historic aspects of the African American community’s fight for equal rights in this county. 

When preparing lesson plans, I kept going back to the concept of our education system and the historic fight African Americans undertook to have equal access to education. It was not that long ago that schools were segregated. My grandmother was just out of high school when students in Little Rock, Arkansas faced angry mobs as they struggled to enter a historically all-white school. That brought me to grade eleven US History-Social Science Standards, specifically standard 11.10:  “Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights” (California Department of Education, 2000, p.52). There are many nuanced elements to this standard, not all of them addressed in my lesson plans. However, there is much to unpack in this standard relating to the fight for school desegregation. 

I designed a unit called Moments of Equality — Units on Fight for Educational Equality. In my first lesson, titled What is Equality?, my aim is to establish the context for the fight for education equality. Here, students will explore the landmark Supreme Court Case Brown v. The Board of Education where the court ruled that the concept of “separate, but equal” is unconstitutional. In addition to learning about the case, students will explore primary source documents. The two pieces I selected are “High Court Bans School Segregation; 9-to-0 Decision Grants Time To Comply,” which appeared on the front page of the New York Times the day after the decision, and “Southern Manifesto on Integration,” which 97 congressmen signed opposing integration. By focusing on primary sources detailing opposing opinions to integration, my hope is to challenge students to understand the historical context of this case and add to the rigour of the lesson.

After providing the framework for the fight for integration, my second lesson features a documentary called Eyes On The Prize (Part 2): Fighting Back 1957 1962 America’s Civil Rights Movement. This video shows the struggle nine African American students in Little Rock, Arkansas had just to attend a historically all-white school. This documentary is important as it allows students to hear and see what students experienced. It also highlights the opinions of white students, politicians, and community members who fought against integration. In my lesson plan, I indicate multiple areas in the video where an educator can pause to ask students critical questions regarding major themes presented in the film, such as the concept of integration moving too far and too fast. 

For my final lesson, I was informed by the state of our current educational system. Robin DiAngelo notes in her work with pre-service teachers, most of whom are white, that many do not think race has much meaning or, worse, claim that they do not see race (2012). At the same time, students of color experience higher rates of disciplinary action than their white counterparts in a process called the School-to-Prison Pipeline (Annamma, 2014). Additionally, our schools are becoming increasingly more segregated, despite the Supreme Court ruling that such segregation is unconstitutional (Oakes et. al, 2004). As such, I created a lesson plan where students have the opportunity to investigate this issue. 

To start the lesson, I present a short piece from The New York Times on school busing, a relatively successful attempt at school integration. (2013). This, pared with articles discussing busing and the ways that schools are becoming more segregated based on wealth (and whiteness) (Browne-Marshall, 2019; Mervosh, 2019), students will spend the rest of the class session investigating the racial makeup of schools and opportunities presented in them. My hope is that they will think critically about these issues in context to their lives, education, and future prospects in a world that claims race no longer matters. 

Though I am not sure if I am ready to teach and support diverse students, I am committed to this goal. This topic is vast and ever changing. New stories appear daily detailing oppression and injustice people of color face in this country. I aim to be an anti-racist teacher who challenges her students with rigous and relevant content so that my students will be empowered to challenge the systems that have yet to properly serve them. 

To access detailed lesson plans, the articles, and additional resources, click this link for a Google Drive Folder.

References: 

Annamma, S.A. (2014). Disabling Juvenile Justice: Engaging the Stories of Incarcerated Young Women of Color with Disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 35(5)., 313- 324.

Blackside. (1987) Eyes On The Prize (Part 2): Fighting Back 1957 1962 America’s Civil Rights Movement. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bb76CK3Cwc&t=3467s 

Browne-Marshall, Gloria J. (2019, September 19). “Busing ended 20 years ago. Today our schools are segregated once again,” Times. Retrieved from: https://time.com/5673555/busing-school-segregation/ 

California Department of Education. (2020). History-Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve. 

DiAngelo, R. J. (2012). What does it mean to be white? Developing white racial literacy. New York: Peter Lang. 

Gandara, P. & Rumberger, R. (2009). “Immigration, language, and education: How does language policy structure opportunity?” Teachers College Record, 111(3), pp. 750-782.

Huston, Luther A. (1964, May 17). “High court bans school segregation; 9-to-0 decision grants time to comply,” New York Times. Retrieved from: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0517.html 

Mervosh, Sarah. (2019, February 27). How much wealthier are white school districts than nonwhite ones? $23 billion, report says,” New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/27/education/school-districts-funding-white-minorities.html 

New York Times. (2013). The Battle for School Busing. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sld722slarw

Oakes, J., Rogers, J., Silver, D. and Goode, J. (2004). Separate and Unequal 50 Years after Brown: California’s Racial “Opportunity Gap.” Retrieved from: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/1rr6d06h 

Ordoñez, Patriccia. (2020, July 30). “Teachers of color and schools.” Education in a Diverse Society.

Southern Manifesto on Integration. (1956, March 12). Retrieved from: https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/supremecourt/rights/sources_document2.html

Spring, J. (2018). Chapter 6: Student Diversity. American Education, 18th ed. 

Dangerous and Defiant: The Lens of Antiblackness in a Post-Racial America

I remember the first time I heard the term “post-racial.” It was 2008. Barack Obama had just been elected to serve as our next president. I was in my parents’ kitchen. Someone said that America is now post-racial. My initial reaction was confusion. How could anyone think this? I refuted the claim. We were not living in a post-racial county after the election of our first black president. Over tens years later, we are still not. While some folks may want to claim that America is post-racial, the recent surge in Black Lives Matter demonstrations, as well as the overall discrepancy between Black and white experiences in this country shows that America has a specific kind of racism, one that is antiblack.

Antiblackness is a form of racism in that forces Black people to demonstrate in the streets to fight against violence against and killings of Black people, such as Mike Brown, age 18, George Flloyd, age 47, Eric Garner, age 44, Tamir Rice, age 12, and Breonna Taylor, age 26, all of whom were killed by police officers. Or one could point to the killings of Trayvon Martin, age 17, who was walking home from a convenient store, shot by an armed man who thought he looked suspicious in a black hoodie, “Jordan Davis, age 17, sitting in the back seat of a car with a group of friends, shot dead by a white man who believed they were playing rap (that is, Black) music too loud; Renisha McBride, age 19, shot and killed through a locked door by a white homeowner who said he feared for his life” (Dumas, p.12).

Antiblackness is a form of racism where “the Black is socially and culturally positioned as slave, dispossessed of human agency, desire, and freedom,” and allows whites “to assert their own right to freedom, and right to the consumption, destruction, and/or simple dismissal of the Black” (Dumas, p.13). Antiblackness actively discouraged blackness. It creates a binary in which white equals good, safe, beautiful, and pure, and Black is inherently bad, dangerous, ugly, and evil. Even more, “[t]he Black cannot be human, is not simply an Other but is other than human […] Instead, antiblackness marks an irreconcilability between the Black and any sense of social or cultural regard” (Dumas, p.13). In this context, it is no wonder there is so much violence against Black people. Police and armed civilians don’t see humans when looking at Black bodies, but something that is dangerous and antithetical with (white) humanity. 

Most (well intentioned) white people acknowledge and oppose the violence against and the killing of Black people, especially when it is documented and shared online. Even still, there is systemic oppression (a form of violence) of Black people in other areas of society that are harder to see and therefore reconcile with. Antiblack racism is present in all of our society’s institutions, especially in our schools. Subini Annamma’s research documents the detrimental impact of antiblackness in education which results in the incarceration of Black girls through the juvenile justice system. She notes the School-to-Prison Pipeline, or the ways that students are funnelled from school into the criminal justice system, and the disproportionate rates that students of color are targets of this system. Additionally, students with disabilities are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, and that “[s]tudents with an emotional disability label comprise almost 50% of incarcerated students with disabilities (Annamma, p.313). 

This fact is troubling. Instead of receiving educational support or mental health services, Black children are locked away in a system that prioritized correcting students’  behavior over education. She writes:

They were subjected to socializing practices such as running from one place to another (they may not walk), entering the classroom in silence, and sitting up straight with their feet together and hands on their desk in silence for 5 min (no slouching). After the first 5 min, all girls were expected to sit up straight with their feet together for the entirety of the class. Both teachers and security staff enforced these rules. There were multiple times during every observation when a security staff would open the classroom door, interrupt teachers or students while talking, and direct a student to follow these rules. In one 45-min class observation, class was interrupted for enforcing these socializing practices 18 times (Annamma, p.319).

Such militarist practices do nothing to support the growth and development of children, especially those with disabilities. Instead, they control the movement of Black bodies. They serve as a form of antiblack racism that teachers need to work to dismantle. Instead of seeing Black children as defiant, they need to unpack the reasons for student behavior. When reflecting on their schooling, “students recognized poor classroom management and instruction as factors” leading to their discipline and noted “family detachment, economic pressure, and school failure as factors contributing to the Pipeline” (Annamma, p.314). Teachers need to recognize the struggles students are going through. They need to support students and families, and not allow Black children to receive the label of defiant simply because they cannot see or relate to the Black experience.

It is difficult to argue against Dumas’ claim of antiblackness in our society, especially when examining the racial breakdown of the most powerful institutions in America: “US Congress: 90 percent white; US governors: 96 percent white; Top military advisors: 100 percent white; President and vice president: 100 percent white: US Freedom Caucus: 99 percent white,” (DiAngelo, 2019, p.31). In 2012, 80% of America’s teachers were white (DiAngelo, 2012, p.13). These are the most powerful people and institutions in our country. Educators must come to terms with these numbers and the disparity between white and Black education. But part of the problem is that white Americans continue to insist that they are part of a post-racial, or as Dumas notes, an antiracist society, one that opposes explicit forms of racism in things such as segregation, and feels that because these practices are allege, racism is therefore a thing of the past (Dumas, p.15). This stance allows them to ignore the subtle forms of racism that allow for Black children to receive an inferior education, receive labels such as defiant and dangerous, be shot and killed in our streets, or be locked in prisons.

Not only in this country heavily invested in race, but have moved to one that the abolition of slavery, the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and the election of a black president have not been able to end. It is a form of racism that is harder for white folks to point out, but it is ever present in the society. It is a form of racism that discourages Blackness, Black bodies, and Black lives. Educators need to name this antiblackness if they are truly committed to dismantling it and work toward equitable education and the dismantling of the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

References:

Annamma, S.A. (2014). Disabling Juvenile Justice: Engaging the Stories of Incarcerated Young Women of Color with Disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 35(5)., 313- 324.

DiAngelo, R. J. (2012). What does it mean to be white? Developing white racial literacy. New York: Peter Lang. Chapters 1, 2, and 10.

DiAngelo, R. J. (2019). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. London: Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books.

Dumas, M. J. (2016). Against the Dark: Antiblackness in Education Policy and Discourse.