Honoring Our Beliefs

When I was a child I went to an independent school that annually honored its founding fathers (maybe mothers?) It was a school that largely served upper middle class white New Yorkers–designed as a progressive school from K-12. The story was told about how the founders mission was to be a school for workingmen’s children so that they would learn to build a more democratic society, especially a more co-operative one. But year after year I wondered, why are we celebrating instead of grieving a lost opportunity. Because by the l940s, when I was a student, there were virtually no “workingmen’s” children and a few (very few) students from families of color.

I’m reminded time after time how easily we fall into such hypocrisies. Well-intended. As I visit schools these days I am reminded that while we still “celebrate” the Brown vs Board of Ed decision of 1954–we have abandoned the cause it was fought for long ago. We now design schools (not just charters either) to serve particular demographic groups, and develop for them what we think is what “they” need. It’s not just the Supreme Court’s fault–although they bear everlasting condemnation for their reversal of the Brown decision–but the fault of all those who have had a hand in designing local, state and federal policy. The very idea of Integration has become an old-fashioned “fad” that has long since been discarded.

Shame on us since we know that if we are to have a more democratic world we can’t live and learn in separate and unequal enclaves, with the message that our basic human needs can’t be met together.

9 Responses

  1. Deb, have you read Mike Petrelli’s recent “The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent’s Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools”? I haven’t but it seems to address this?

    Meanwhile, let’s take on “if we are to have a more democratic world we can’t live and learn in separate and unequal enclaves.” You’ve heard me quote stats on Black/White participation in all sorts of things, so you know this is on my mind.

    But! Were the ‘Polish Hill’ of Pittsburgh and the “German Village’ of Columbus and the ChinaTowns in the coastal cities all such bad things? No, not really, I think you’ll say.

    Yet most of those have faded. It’s sad, sometimes. The Chinatown area around H and New York Ave in DC has dwindled to an arch and a handful of restaurants. Of course, new districts have sprung up in places, too late perhaps to be given a place name.

    Diversity can’t just mean that we have gay people and dark-skinned people and Muslims in each room. Sometimes it means that whole communities among us must reflect a different culture.

    Those community cultures, however, should stand on their own feet. Government should not be in the business of subsidizing, supporting, enabling, sustaining separate cultures which are otherwise non-sustainable.

    I mentioned last week Charles Murray’s research into such cultures of today–cultures which have not generally been part of the pursuit of the American Dream.

    You’re suggesting more policy fixes to achieve integration. I’m suggesting that the previous fixes are to blame for undoing the natural integration guaranteed by entropy.

  2. I chose CPEII for my son because the diversity reflects the whole of New York, not just a neighbhorhood. I didn’t want my son to be a token, nor did I want him to meet a token. His class: 6 black, 6 Latino, 6 White, 4 mixed of any of those. Amazing.

    • Re integration!

      All things come with trade-offs–and Ed is right that integration in a world of neighborhood homogeneity can be disruptive of neighborliness, and of the strengths that come with living amongst one’s “own”. But we can’t afford those, I’d argue, in the world we live in. And so I end up on Debbie Meyer’s (do I have that name right?) side.

      Education policy has to be embedded in the dilemmas we face–what is more and what is less important, and meanwhile trying to figure out how to lessen the impact of what’s traded off. I think, for example, that school’s have an obligation to absorb kids into the natural world with real soil and water, not just virtual more than ever before because society-at-large has trade off this direct relationship to a dangerous degree and schools are a place for making up for this. Ditto for building more intimate and heterogeneous communities–small enough for young people o influence, have an impact on, since the larger society makes such relationships harder and harder to build.

      • I take Debbie Meyer’s point, but remind her that CPEII doesn’t reflect the whole of America, nor certainly the entire county I live in. So who is to say what percentages are the “right mix”? Perhaps your son should have brought some diversity here to Appalachian Ohio?

        And wouldn’t it be better, either way, if he simply learned math and science and programming so that he could integrate the technical groups I go to where a ratio that should be 1 in 6 is more like 1 in 60?


        (Deb, funny you should mention “real soil and water”. I was thinking while not sleeping last night of writing that “kids should be outside today, all day”. It’s 22deg, down from 30 this morn and 60 Tues.

        How do you appreciate what George Washington accomplished if you’ve never spent a day working outside in winter, let alone a night in a tent alone in a frigid wilderness with naught but your horse for 30 miles?

        Plus, George Washington, father of our country, politician, general, statesman, etc. was first a man of numbers, practicing land surveying across the Piedmont and up and down the Appalachian mountains.)

        Deb, what is this “world we live in” that neighborliness comes second? I don’t think you mean language segregation; what are you referring to?

      • First of all–Debbie Meyer and Deborah Meier are not th same people! (Although I’m happy to agree with her on this.)

        Neighborliness – you have a good point. I had originally written “neighborhoodness”–which isn’t a word. But, of course, its easier to create a strong neighborhood when it’s homogeneous, and that’s been the history we’ve lived through. But integrated communities can exist and be “neighborly” – but in the real world we are trading off something we treasure on behalf of something else we treasure! That’s why life is difficult. Thanks for pushing me on this, Ed.

        Yes indeed–kids of color don’t need white kids to learn math et al. Nor can schools resolve poverty without other changes. But integrated institutions provide for conditions conducive to both improving math education and reducing poverty.

      • I am of course for integration, or I actually prefer the older less in fashion term “melting pot”. It’s a great sadness that so very many people whose families have been her 150, 200, 250 years have not “melted” in.

        Of course, you may have to want to “melt in”. In the virtual world, I can have no idea if the activists and programmers I interact with are Black White, live in Brooklyn, Tombstone, or Mali, or for that matter are male, female, or in-between. However, if you name your child Latisha and, things may be different.

        You’re arguing that government should work to overcome the desires of people to remain segregated after forced segregation by government has ended.

        “Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh” is a wonderful exploration of why you might be right.

        …Until we discover the unforseen tensile consequences.

  3. We’d like to see Appalachia and the rest of the world.

    We travel virtually, through books. When the synagogue wanted to use the Giving Tree during Tu’Shevat, I suggested the children’s books about Wangari Maathai. Isn’t what she created in Kenya much like what the Israeli’s did? But she did it by motivating villagers. Amazing.

    We travel virtually with the internet as well, and with our museums.

    We travel through NYC – dim sum in Sunset Park anybody?

    And we will do our best to travel the nation and the world – both to pleasant tourists sites, and off the beaten track.

    and at CPEII, my son gets to learn about what his friends from different backgrounds, do, eat, celebrate…and how their lives differ from his in every way.

    Debbie Meyer
    (I’m not the greenbag late night TV personality either, and I’m not the Olympic swimmer)

    • Debbie, I’m so very glad you brought up Synagogue. (We talk of faith communities far too rarely among us edu-wonks).

      Also, because one of my favorite “ethnic” communities is Squirrel Hill, in Pittsburgh. It has several synagogues, a couple of Jewish community centers, and still to this day a handful of small shops urging Jewish mothers to “remember the candles for Shabbat.”*

      When most of the US today doesn’t, Squirrel Hill on a Friday is filled with yarmulke.

      Raised in a town of 3000 in an even less populated Ohio county, Squirrel Hill was in a way my introduction to the ethnic world of US cities. Before that, my great-grandmother’s Polish accent and Barberton’s slavic chicken houses, plus southern hush puppies were about the extent of my melting-pot exposure.

      “Museum” in my county means the long-neglected (but now refurbished) house of a civil war general.

      I’m very glad for your son’s access to diversity, and for schools that are able to provide it. I wish far more students could access schools like CPE–which is why I’ve for years spoken on behalf of the charter school movement.

      I hope like you to be able to travel the world before too many more years go by. Had I stayed building helicopters and fighter/bombers–instead of entering the impoverished world of education transformation–I’d have seen much of Europe by now.

      So glad you spoke up here. Hope we hear much more from you!

      * (Depressing that Firefox’ spell checker does not recognize ‘Shabbat’, though it know words come to popularity in 2012).

      • I have traveled the world (well, Africa, Latin America and a bit of Europe). I’m saving money to travel with my son. We were fortunate his grandmother took our whole family to the Galapagos…and he got to Quito and Guayaquil as well.
        have a great weekend.

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