Paul R. Lehman, America’s public education a far cry from integregation

September 30, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, blacks, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, integregation, justice, minority, Prejudice, public education, socioeconomics, The New York Times, U.S. Education Department Office for Civil Rights, whites | 3 Comments
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When the Supreme Court ruled that separate public schools were not equal, the law was changed to desegregate the schools. While that order seemed to be the appropriate approach to take at the time, what has not changed over time and has been a stumbling block to progress in American public education is the attitude of European American normalcy. In essence, while ethnic minorities have been given permission to attend school with the European American students, the subject matter as well as the control of the perceptions has been that of European Americans as the model of normalcy.

When the schools were segregated, prior to 1954, the African American students attended school where they were the norm. No doubt existed relative to their self-worth and abilities to achieve an education. Once desegregation came into existence, subjects like African American history were discontinued. Since the majority of the new teachers had no background or knowledge of African Americans from an historical perspective, they could not share that information with the students. So, although African American and European American students attended the same school, they did not receive the same educational experience. If the African American students attended a predominantly European American school, the feeling of self worth, security, familiarity, and normalcy disappeared. For the European American students, nothing changed but the introduction of unfamiliar students in their school.

Today we live under the misconception that our schools are integrated.  America’s schools have never been integrated! Let us be clear about these terms. Desegregation of the schools meant simply that African American students were allowed to attend the predominantly European American schools; that is all that happened. Nothing in the European Americans schools’ curricula, attitude and perception of African Americans changed. If the African American students were to experience success, they must adapt to the environments of the schools; no special accommodations were made for them.

Integration is a term that carries the same meaning in science or social environments; it means the process of mixing or combining. If we take a look at our public schools today, we cannot miss the mixing of students in many schools, while we can also notice the lack of mixing of student in others. Unless we are mistaken about the court ruling, the purpose of the ruling was to eliminate the separate and unequal education the students were receiving. Although the impact of the ruling fell on the African American students as victims, the European Americans were as well victims because they had been deprived of information concerning their fellow Americans.

One easy way to check to see if American Education reflects integration is to examine the text books being used in the public schools. If they present an accurate and factual picture of ethnic Americans as participants in the making of this nation, then we can answer affirmative to integration. If not, then we cannot claim to have integrated public schools and admit that much work needs to be done, namely, rewriting the American story to include the contributions of  ethnic minorities. To date, the history of America as told in the text books is the history of European Americans. In addition to the story that is being told, not all Americans have a say in what is presented to the students. In effect, a form of censorship is practiced that affects and influences the students and teachers alike.

In an article by Gail Collins, “How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us,” published in “The New York Review of Books” (6/21/12), we learn that “No matter where you live, if your children go to public schools, the textbooks they use were very possibly written under Texas influence.” What that means is a few people in Texas have used their power to control the content of many textbooks. We are told that people in Texas are not the only ones to have a say about the content of textbooks, but the influence exerted by Texas comes from its size and system for electing State Board members: “The difference is due to size—4.8 million textbook-reading schoolchildren as of 2011—and the peculiarities of its system of government, in which the State Board of Education is selected in elections that are practically devoid of voters, and wealthy donors can chip in unlimited amounts of money to help their favorites win.”

In her article, Collins details just how Texas and other states, like California can influence the content of books simply by the volume of sales. The influence of the group in Texas comes from “the right,” and much of their concern with the textbooks comes from their religious beliefs. For example, the article noted that “In 2009, the nation watched in awe as the state board worked on approving a new science curriculum under the leadership of a chair who believed that “evolution is hooey.” In 2010 teachers were supposed to “work in consultation with ‘experts’ added on by the board, one of whom believed that the income tax was contrary to the word of God in the scriptures.”

To the earlier point that America’s public schools are not integrated the article noted the following:

In 2011, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank, issued an evaluation of US history standards for public schools. The institute was a longtime critic of curricula that insisted that representatives of women and minorities be included in all parts of American history. But the authors, Sheldon Stern and Jeremy Stern, really hated what the Texas board had done. Besides incorporating “all the familiar politically correct group categories,” the authors said,

the document distorts or suppresses less triumphal or more nuanced aspects of our past that the Board found politically unacceptable (slavery and segregation are all but ignored, while religious influences are grossly exaggerated). The resulting fusion is a confusing, unteachable hodgepodge.

The article provides much more information then could be included in this blog. However,  when we stop and take a good long look at education, we realize that much of the perception and attitude relative to what and who is important to our students is still controlled by a small number of narrow-minded people who do not understand or accept democracy. Desegregation was to be the first major step after segregation on the road to democracy. Today we also realize that we still must face the challenges of ethnic bias, low social and economic status, preschools, curricula and a host of related areas. After taking a realistic assessment of our situation, we find that we have only just begun to see the challenge in education for our society.

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3 Comments »

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  1. Paul, this was an excellent article. Had not thought of the misuse of the term ‘integration’ although I certainly realized the problem. The publishing by small group of narrow minded people is discouraging. I was vaguely aware of the Texas influence but you make it clear. Thanks –I think! Sally

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Could not have been said better, Paul! Was very aware of the Texas influence on textbook content but did not fully understand the connection with the education system and the electoral process. Plan on sharing this with a granddaughter and her husband who just moved to San Antonio. They have already had their eyes opened about other aspects of the Texas education system that were a surprise.

  3. Excellent article. As you have pointed out on numerous occasions the law may change the rules of the game but it does not change the heart or character of the players. Thus again, as you have said, equal access and equal opportunity remain elusive.


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