Con: Why Richard T. Ford Thinks School Integration Could Use a Makeover
1 year ago
Did black lose more than they gained with desegregation?
In our Pro vs Con series, we ask two experts to weigh in on a hot button topic. This week, we tackle segregation in schools. Richard T. Ford is the George E. Osborne Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and the author of Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality.
Loop 21: How did school desegregation following 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education impact the African-American community?
Richard T. Ford: School desegregation really didn’t start in earnest until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 tied federal funding of public schools to desegregation efforts. The ten years between Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act was the era of Massive Resistance, when southern schools did everything they could to avoid desegregation. Once desegregation really got going, in the late 1960s and 1970s, the consequences for African-American communities were mixed. Desegregation typically meant closing Black schools and sending the students to formerly all-white schools. Desegregation meant access to better schools—schools with superior resources and better trained teachers. But it also meant that black schools—including some very good ones—were closed, and Black teachers and administrators laid off. It’s important to remember that these schools were often sources of real and well justified pride in some communities—teachers and principals were respected community leaders, and school was a haven for impressionable young people—a place where racism did not intrude, and where Black role models predominated.
[Also Read: Pro: Why School Integration is Still Important]
Many communities resented and regretted the loss of their local schools, even though people supported the broader goal of integration. And it’s an understatement to say black students were not always welcomed in their new schools. Teachers were often openly contemptuous, others coddled black students—the soft racism of low expectations. Schools that were integrated on paper were typically, in fact, internally segregated, both because of informal choices of individual students and because of academic tracking policies that relegated the often less well prepared Black students to slow learner and remedial classes. In some cities, resistance was so intense that students feared for their safety. Needless to say, these were not conditions conducive to learning. This kind of friction was, of course, to be expected, but it’s fair to say desegregation was, for many black communities, a mixed blessing at best.
Loop 21: How is the legacy of school desegregation currently impacting the African-American community?
Ford: Again, a mixed bag. Some black students benefited a great deal from the better resources and exposure to white peers; they learned to get along with whites, made friends across the color line and established the social habits necessary to succeed in the mainstream. But others did not benefit, and some may be worse off than they would have been in segregated schools—especially if one posits that segregated schools would have received increased resources as an alternative to legally mandated desegregation.