Government Involvement In School Desegregation

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As a first-grader, presidential candidate, and U.S. senator, Kamala Harris recalls riding a bus for 40 minutes to reach school. It was the third year of integration in Berkeley but her first year participating in the program.“There was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day. That little girl was me.” In a recent, Democratic debate, Harris told her story of how important desegregation is to her and should be rationally dealt with. “So that’s where the federal government must step in. That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act and that’s why we need to pass the ERA. Because there are moments in history when states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.” She argues that “school integration is one of the reasons she was able to become a senator” (Bowles) and that it can also do the same in helping many minority students dream and achieve higher.

Integration in schools began before the mid 20th century but became a rising issue during the Civil Rights Movement. The need to end segregation based on race in education systems was brought up in the famous Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the supreme court debunked “separate but equal” from the previous case Plessy v. Ferguson. They ruled against segregation saying it was unconstitutional. This case is referenced by those who strongly approve of school desegregation because of the power it had in civil rights history. It is living proof of how bad segregation was at one point that it made it to the Supreme Court. It was a landmark for change and evidence that old mindsets can change. The court’s ruling confirmed that the education system and quality were not the same between black and white schools. Another milestone towards equality was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which stepped up to prohibit discrimination in public schools. In 1971 Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenberg, the Supreme Court approved busing, “magnet schools, compensatory education, and other tools as appropriate remedies to overcome the role of residential segregation in perpetuating racially segregated schools.” (Racial Discrimination in Public Schools: A Historical Timeline). Throughout history, we see resistance between people and the need to make rulings to protect smaller communities from being ripped apart by the bigger ones. There is a greater responsibility to guide the American mind towards inclusivity and growth.

Minority students attending majority-white schools benefit the most because the quality of education is generally better. “U.S. schools traditionally have received most of their funding from property taxes, so schools in wealthier neighborhoods usually had more resources than schools in districts with lower property values” (Jost). Studies found that the relative success of black busing alumni was not only due to better quality tools or higher resources but the ability to integrate with the real world where the majority is white. “Johnson’s data show that desegregated African American children completed more years of schooling, including higher rates of college attendance and graduation. As adults, they had higher wages, less poverty and unemployment, greater marital stability, and higher family incomes. Their rates of incarceration, heart disease, and obesity were lower. In each of these cases, the more years the adults had experienced desegregation, the greater the benefits” (Strauss). An educational programmer for public television was interviewed and she said that social integration was an opportunity for her because she was able to meet professionals in her field and network. Just like at Brown University she felt that she was successful because her learned experiences turned into skills that would make her a better-prepared minority in a world full of discrimination and prejudice.

If we don’t do anything to desegregate as a country, we might as well be backpedaling. Resegregation is a consequence of not forcing integration. “The Harvard civil rights report found that during the 1990s the trend toward integration was reversed, and the percentage of black students attending majority-black schools increased throughout the country” (Jost). And regarding the school young Kalana Harris attended, the result of Berkeley’s school busing program leads to a more equal ratio of blacks to whites. “The school had been 2.5 percent black in 1963. In 1969, it was 40.2 percent black as a result of integration” (Bowles). This evidence points to say that integration is proving to be effective.

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Another thing we may see as a result of not acting to support this issue would be a rebirth to discrimination, racism, and going back to hate-filled times. “Civil rights advocates say Charlotte is one of many school systems where political and legal developments have contributed to a trend toward resegregation. ‘The federal court required Charlotte to resegregate,’ says Harvard’s Orfield, ‘and they are resegregating — fast’”(Jost). Back in 1956, when the first school in Tennessee was going through the integration process, violent protests arose. Some young students were photographed participating in protesting ‘peacefully’ but by hanging signs containing discriminatory language and racial slurs. As of today, such behavior wouldn’t be condoned but we can still see similar patterns of resistance and protest among students and parents regarding school busing.

With all this being said, however, there do seem to be good points made by those opposing views. Students shouldn’t be forced to attend a school that is far off from their family and friends. “Not only are children denied the educational advantages of going to school within the same community where they live, opponents argue, they are also forced to endure long hours on the school bus, which cuts into time spent with family or studying” (Stanford). It’s not the fault of people that whites and minorities are resegregating, it’s all just demographics and the way it has been for a long time.“‘Cities are becoming more heavily minority. There’s nothing we can do about that. You can’t helicopter kids in to get more white kids in the schools’” (Jost). It’s just hard to go against the grain and focus on something that isn’t done always by choice but by chance.

For some students, such drastic changes may lower their academic and self-confidence. But this mindset is mainly the fault of schools. Forced integration is not the solution, it would just cause further friction between minorities and white students. David J. Armo, a professor and leading academic critic of mandatory integration “places greater blame on schools’ failure to instill educational ambitions in minority youngsters.’Schools are delivering a wrong message — that this is a racist society, and there’s a limit to how far you can go,’” (Jost). Special attention and consideration placed on minorities would just make everyone else feel more unequally treated than before and creating special treatment as a catalyst for anger and discrimination. ‘Rather than eliminating racial discrimination, busing promotes it by teaching children that the government should treat them differently based on their race’ (Stanford). “Forced busing of school children merely alienated white parents and contributed to racial conflicts” (Francis). Problems arise when people who are not mentally ready to coexist are forced to. It’s a fact that similar people live much more peacefully and graciously than unalike.

The final claim against would be that school busing is not the most effective technique.“A recent study conducted by Harvard University reports that school segregation today remains somewhat higher than before integration was tried. In short, the policy has accomplished nothing except to increase racial polarization…” (Francis). And that instead of risking angering families and suing school boards ultimately busing and other solutions may be forced to shut down “the school system shifted in the 1990s to voluntary measures to maintain racial balance — chiefly by attracting white students to majority-black schools by turning them into magnet schools. Then, at the end of the decade, white families successfully sued the school system, forcing it to dismantle the busing plan altogether” (Jost). Such controversial issues are in danger of being abandoned if not implemented in a way that would please most amount stakeholders as possible.

“I like racially mixed schools better than racially homogeneous schools,’ Abigail Thernstrom says. ‘But I do not want computer printouts that say you have no choice as to where to send your kids’” (Jost). I completely agree with this quote. Everyone’s needs should be taken into account. There has to be a way where we can give students choices as well as enforcing school integration. So yes, mandatory is a must. Not everyone knows what is good for them and taking steps to ensure that in some near future racism and separation constructed on anything physically is nonexistent. I speak solely off of our historical background when I say that this country needs rules to fully commit to its diverseness. Being exposed to diversity is an opportunity to open minds and broaden perspectives. It is the pinnacle of growth that we can ultimately use to shape a future that we can all be proud of.      

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