Was school integration a blessing or a curse? This is a question I debate frequently with people who are education advocates for students of color. We have a mess on our hands. As a black parent, I can’t even move because I don’t know how my black twin sons will fare in another school. (If you don’t already know this…just because a school has an A rating doesn’t mean black children will thrive there.) Why are we in this mess? Why do we even have to have education advocates for children of color? Is school integration to blame?
How did we get here?
Racism and inequalities drove school integration. When slavery ended on the books (not in everyone’s hearts), black people were deemed people not property, but black people quickly realized they were second class citizens. You could even argue we were considered lower than second class. This status permeated all aspects of black people’s lives including schools. Our schools were separate and not equal. We did not have the same resources as all-white schools. We demanded better, but did we receive it?
Was it really separate and not equal?
What white people fail to understand many times is that black people’s definition of what success is and what our definition of what a good education is different many times from the beliefs of white people. In Indianapolis, white people were so hell-bent on keeping their children separate from black children they built a high school, Crispus Attucks, for black students to attend. My grandmother was one of those students. All the students were black and all of the teachers were black. The teachers were excellent. They had degrees higher than bachelor’s degrees. Students who are still living today have pride in the education they earned and many went on to live successful and fulfilling lives. They didn’t need a certain quota of white students in their classes to learn. They thrived because they had talented black educators.
Where are we now?
Today, we are in a struggle for education equity within integrated schools. Is this the case in all integrated schools? No. But for inequity to exist in even one school, it is one school too many. As black parents, all we ever hear about is the achievement gap and about how numerous methods implemented to ensure our black children are achieving at the same rates as their white counterparts are not working. Then, these so-called education reformers get mad when we move our children to a different school. They even try to tell us that our children will suffer if we pull them out of an integrated school and put them into a school that happens to be predominately black. You don’t see black parents going up to the suburbs and telling white parents their white kids are going to suffer from being around too many white people, so don’t question black parents when you are comfortable with your children being in a mostly homogenous school.
Where do we, do I, go from here?
As much as I love to engage in intellectual debates, I am a woman of action. We have too many people in education touting degrees and sharing intellect and making absolutely no difference and not moving the needle forward even one centimeter. This is what I do and suggest other people do.
- Get informed – Know the issues – Don’t take anything at face value especially data. School can be masters of deception when it comes to data. Don’t tell me your school grew 10% in reading and you went from 5% proficiency to 15%. That means 85% of your students cannot read.
- Get in the room where it happens – Don’t be like Aaron Burr in Hamilton hoping and wishing you could be in the room. Find out where the meetings are happening and participate in the dialogue. Remember a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.
- Fight and don’t let up – Forget America the Beautiful – Manifest Destiny lies we learned in school. If U.S. history was told from the perspective of black people, it would show how we never backed down and how we fight like hell until we get what we want and deserve. Don’t worry about who doesn’t like you. Keep in the forefront of your mind the dismal future black children will have if you back down.
So, is integration a blessing or a curse?
Does it matter? In the words of Malcolm X, “by any means necessary” will I fight for my black sons and other people’s children. If it is a mostly black school, so be it. It isn’t really about integration anyways; it is about control. When black people educate their children, their way, this creates fear in some white people because they don’t know what these black children are learning. Some white people fear what a legion of intelligent black children would grow up and do. They fear how they will change the narrative and the future. I’m not here for white tears and white fears. You can’t steal land, kill people, and rape women in the name of destiny and think you will always stay in control. Change is on the horizon and I want to be part of it.
Shawnta S. Barnes, an Indiana native and resident, is a married mother of identical twin boys. She just started her 13th year as an educator. Although she has worked in the urban traditional public school setting for the majority of her career, she student taught in rural Indiana, worked in the suburbs, and in a charter school. Currently, she is an elementary Library/Media Specialist for the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township and an adjunct professor for Marian University. Previously, she has served as an elementary and high school literacy coach, a middle and high school English/Language Arts teacher, and K-5 English as a New Language teacher. In her spare time, she is an urban gardener and writes about her harvest to table journey at www.gardenershicole.com and she also writes for The Educator Room and Indy Education. To learn more about Shawnta, visit www.educatorbarnes.com.