Race and Education

The following selections are the first in a two part series on the impact (or lack thereof) of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954. This first set is focused on how the Brown vs. Board of Education decision has played out in Baltimore City. The order of the files should be viewed from left to right, starting with the Baltimore Sun short documentary. For history buffs you will truly enjoy Berkowitz's selection from Maryland Historical Society Magazine. And for teachers looking for how to use primary source documents, and oral histories to teach this topic, Dave Armenti's blogs are useful classroom tools.  Jay Gillen and Michael Corbin, both seasoned Baltimore City public school teachers, have each published pieces that give a contemporary look at how desegregation in Baltimore is perceived by their students in hyper-segregated schools.


why white parents wont choose black schools

"My neighbors and I don't have to build a charter school for our children to experience diversity. But we do have to build a charter school in order for our kids to experience diversity on our terms. Really, if we are experiencing diversity on white terms, what good is that diversity anyway? I hear my neighbors saying they value my neighborhood, they value diversity, and they value all kids getting a decent education. I just wonder when they will value those thing enough to give our neighborhood school a try."


On Desegratoin in Baltimore by Dave Armenti

Within the past two years, Dave Armenti of the Maryland Historical Society has written three blog pieces about desegregation in Baltimore primarily using oral history interviews and historical newspaper archives. These posts are a little less dense and academic than the Berkowitz piece and can also give teachers a model for piecing together different primary source collections to investigate a local history topic. (Thanks to Dave for submitting these to share)



One of the most interesting questions in education has to do with segregation.  Is desegregation an end in itself?  To the extent that it has been shown to work, why does it? The answer to the questions surrounding segregation is tied to the history of systemic racism in the US, and, similarly to current debates about how to handle local and systemic reparations for historically underserved communities.  Integration is often seen as a proximity issue, meaning that there is often an assumption that integration works somehow because black kids sit next to white kids in a classroom. As P.L. Thomas puts it in his blog The Becoming Radical:

Doing something about segregation—whether we mean public policy or public activism—must be doing something about equity, and not continuing the mistake of reading segregation as a problem of simple proximity.

This set of readings provides a brief look at how desegregation efforts played out in the US for a period in the 1970s and 80s following the Brown versus Board decision—a period when there was active court enforcement of desegregation efforts. The readings and podcast also provide a current view of how minority schools—both those that have remained segregated and those that have reverted to full segregation–are now being swept away or reconstituted under a broad policy of school reform that identifies so-called low-performing urban schools as “failing”.  And, finally, we take a look at the intersecting role of class and race in school segregation.


Why Integration in new york won't work

The New York Times has stepped up its race and class conversations in education, highlighted by this article from NYT’s Kate Taylor on the proposed rezoning of a school district in Brooklyn. While it makes sense to de-zone our schools in an effort to temper down the flurry of studies showing NYC as one of the most segregated school districts in the country, the resistance to integration has come from both white parents for the typical reasons and black parents for atypical reasons. Typically, the resistance against integration comes from a vocal set of white parents who don’t want their children matriculating with kids they view as uncouth or less intelligent. A faux-integration often takes place when a school creates a specialized or magnet program on the penthouse floor, not ironically letting the cream rise to the top.


This American Life: Podcast

In an acclaimed two-part This American Life: Act One of "The problem we all live with" radio documentary, also by Nikole Hannah-Jones, she reports on a school district that accidentally stumbled on an integration program in recent years. It's the Normandy School District in Normandy, Missouri. Normandy is on the border of Ferguson, Missouri, and the district includes the high school that Michael Brown attended. It was deemed so bad that students had to be offered the option of moving to a nearby white suburban school. There are some very disturbing sections that record the reactions of a group of white parents upon learning that black students would be attending their children’s school in the fall.

In the second of the two-part series Act Two, she describes how between 1971 (the start of serious busing) and 1988 (the peak of school integration) the gap between black and white achievement was halved. She is careful to point out that this success in narrowing the gap had nothing to do with something magical about white kids, but rather it had to do with the fact that significant numbers of black children were getting access to the same buildings, teachers, curriculum and materials as white children. She argues that once the desegregation efforts stopped being enforced we quickly reverted to a situation in which schools serving almost all black students from neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty had the least qualified teachers and much worse conditions


Urban schools are still segregated [Commentary] by Michael Corbin

"Why do no white kids go to school here?"A 14-year-old ninth-grader asked me this question earlier this semester about the school she attends and where I teach. Smart and genuinely curious, she asked the question without any of that world-weary irony and moral casuistry that often attends questions from teenagers and, more generally, questions about school segregation in present day America. More, her question was not shaded with the language of inequality or achievement gaps or school reforms or global competitiveness. She really wanted to know how the world she lived in got to be this way — the kind of open, probing questioning at the heart of any good education.


Baltimore Public Schools in a Time of Transition

In this piece from the Maryland Historical Society's magazine, offers a scholarly and well researched view of the period from the early 1950s to the crisis of 1974 when teachers went on strike.  Berkowitz describes a period of white flight from the city, protests over busing, and the increasing reliance on Federal dollars to fund city schools.


A Representative anecdote Brown vs Board taught in a segregated classroom

This is a chapter from Jay Gillen's recently published book: Educating for insurgency: The roles of young people in schools of poverty.  Gillen takes the reader through the teaching of Brown vs Board of Education in a segregated classroom in Baltimore as if it were a play being acted on the stage.  He explores the fundamental contradiction involved in teaching that the Brown vs Board decision as if it ended segregation in schools.


The life and death of Jamaica High School By Jelani Cobb

One evening in June of last year, Jamaica students wearing red and blue gowns gathered with their families and teachers and with members of the school staff at Antun’s, a catering hall in Queens Village, for the senior-class commencement ceremony. Accompanying the festivities was the traditional graduation boilerplate—about life transitions and rising to new challenges—but it carried a particular significance on this occasion, because it was as applicable to the faculty and the staff, some of whom had been at the school for nearly three decades, as it was to the students. After a hundred and twenty-two years, Jamaica High School was closing; the class of 2014, which had just twenty-four members, would be the last.



One of the difficulties when you're coming out of oppression is that you get a concept of the messiah. You have to get to that point that we are the leaders we've been looking for. We are the children of Martin and Malcolm. I don't know what the next American revolution is going to be like, but we might be able to imagine it, if your imagination were rich enough.

Dear ##first_name[Supporter]##,

After finding that her apartment had been burglarized, Ashley Overbey called the Baltimore Police Department for help. But instead of getting help, she was badly beaten and tased by officers much larger than her, the very officers who had sworn to protect her.

Ashley sued, seeking justice, and won. But the city and police department required that she be silent about the incident to reach settlement, while the city publicly mischaracterized what happened and disparaged Ashley. Gag orders on victims of police abuse are all-to-commonly used by police departments.

Speak out with Ashley and say NO to gag orders on those victimized by police brutality.

There are other police departments with policies that deny transparency in police misconduct cases, including the City of Salisbury. That is why the ACLU of Maryland filed two lawsuits this week — one against Baltimore City and the other against Salisbury — challenging this lack of transparency as unconstitutional under the First Amendment and illegal under Maryland’s public information law.

Demand transparency in police misconduct settlements.