I read an article recently about charter schools that "research from the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, at the University of California, Los Angeles, indicates that many charter schools are more racially segregated than regular public schools, many of which have also become less diverse in recent decades." The article also pointed out that there are new charters that are specifically focusing on diversity as a key criteria in their enrollment.
As the trend toward more charter schools increases, I thought about my youth and why we fought so hard for integrated schools in the 50's and 60's. Now the trend seems to be reversing toward more segregated schools -- especially in urban communities. Were we on the wrong track then, and is the trend back to segregated schools a positive or a negative trend?
Among some of my Black friends and colleagues, the desire for increased prosperity and success for African Americans has recently focused increasingly on acting in our "self-interests." One organization leading this effort is the National Black United Front. In a recent article, Education and Doing For Self, Dr. Conrad Worrill, Chairman Emeritus, wrote --
"This is the challenge of the twenty-first-century - to defeat the one hundred year tradition established by white educational leaders who created curricula for Africans in America designed to prepare them to work for white folks."
This article and others seems to indicate that education in integrated institutions serves to prepare Blacks to work for white folks. And therefore, integrati0n in education is not good for Black people because we don't learn how to "do for self."
What is happening in education at the K-12 level from the end of the 20th century and through the past 2 decades is that school districts, and now charter schools, are re-segregating. So, I gave some thought to why we wanted to integrate in the first place. Some Black commentators today seem to think that the leaders of the Civil Rights movement that fought for integration "wanted our children to be like White children -- that we parents wanted to be like White folks." Nothing could be farther from the truth. We wanted the best education and lifestyle that the American dream promised, and we realized that segregated education blocked our access to the advances at the forefront of our society.
What Black leaders -- political, business, and education -- understood was that segregation of education in the USA served to protect the privileged position of white folks in general, and provided a head start for their children. In education, there was a deliberate effort of the white population to bar access of Blacks and other minorities to innovation, scientific knowledge, business skills, and the workplace that fueled America's economic growth. We understood that, contrary to Dr. Worrill's thinking, segregated Black education institutions isolated Black students to inferior learning, and kept the Black population in a position to always work for white folks.
The best possition to keep oppressed people in is to keep them in a position where "they don't know what they don't know." I didn't know that I had an underprivileged primary and secondary education intil I went to a major White college. Their children were prepared to matriculate in ways that I wasn't, so I struggled to succeed. White instituions were not welcoming to those of us in the first wave of integration, because they saw us as competition for their children -- children who had the privilege of advantage, both racial and educational advantage.
The difference in outcomes for our people is not the fault of of integration. It is the fault of those who sent their children without the proper focus. A focus on "doing for self" needs to be at the core of every effort of students preparing for work when they go off to college. Dr. Carter G. Woodson was keenly aware of this challenge when he wrote The Mis-Education of the Negro in 1933. The challenge today is the same -- "Above all things. the effort must result in making a man think and do for himself..."
We see better outcomes for Jews, Asians, and even for recent African immigrants. The difference is the input, not that the institution is preparing us to work for white folks. Every student is preparing to work for someone. As for white industry leaders, their goal is to preserve their leadership and ownership for their children and their children's children. Our goals must be to prepare our Black students for Black business leadership -- wherever they matriculate. That is the job of parents, communities, and Black social and business organizations.
Resegregating our schools -- especially at the K-12 level -- is the wrong direction to be headed, in my opinion. Four hundred years of oppression has created a gulf that places the haves and the have nots on separate sides of the river of prosperity. Integrated schools are bridges that help us cross over that river. Staying on the underprivileged side of the river won't close the gap. It will only make it bigger. Information, knowledge, and education (training) are tools without a distinction -- until those with them prevent full access to others. Then they become weapons that can be used to ensure perpetual oppression, and relegate the have nots to a state of permanent underclass.
We must demand a seat at the table of the source of knowledge -- even a seat at the head of the table. Creating a separate but (un)equal table didn't work before, and it won't work now. Those of us who cross that river of prosperity must do so with a mindset to enhance the opportunities for upwad mobility for our less fortunate cousins.
We need many types of educational institutions in the 21st century -- Black, white, integrated, culturally focused, virtual. The common thread for all must be the achievement of excellent outcomes. Anything less simply results in our children falling behind. What is most important is that advances in information and knowledge are moving at a rapidly increasing pace. Therefore, it is more difficult to catch up in the 21st century when a child falls behind. The Black community must exert every effort to avoid underachievement among our Black youth by exposing them to the widest possible range of access. Otherwise, we are dooming them a status of permanent underclass.
The primary responsibility is ours, not the institutions we send our children to. We can't expect to send our children to white institutions (or Black institutions) and have them send us back Black leaders. Our children must leave home with the intent to bring back the skills and knowledge to make them Black leaders. If we don't instill this mindset in them before they leave home, they will be influenced by others, and we deserve what we get in exchange. Don't blame integration. Take a hard look in the mirror.