The Segregation of Freewill
January 12, 2003 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Southern public schools are becoming segregated again, but not through governmental regulation this time, but through the free will of white teachers who are fleeing all black schools, and relaxed bussing laws that are no longer forcing mixed race students to intermingle. A disturbing step backwards, and one that doesn't trend better in the foreseeable future.
posted by jonson (41 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Disturbing? How so? In that a culture of ignorance exists within the black community and that white teachers are powerless to overcome it? See today's Boondocks in the Sunday comics for more on this.
posted by mischief at 10:35 AM on January 12, 2003

Jason Johnston took a job at mostly black Midway Elementary School in hopes he could make a difference with the children who needed him most.

Since this story is about white teachers taking and then leaving jobs at "black public schools", wouldn't that mean that the schools are already segregated?

While an integrated school system is desirable and, I believe, inevitable... I can't help but feel that the desire to get more white teachers into mostly black schools is the feeling that the white teachers are somehow intrinsically better than the current African-American teachers who currently work there.
posted by 4easypayments at 10:39 AM on January 12, 2003

*correction on my part:
...I can't help but feel that the desire to get more white teachers into mostly black schools is based on the perception that the white teachers are....

*runs into kitchen and downs cup of coffee*
posted by 4easypayments at 10:42 AM on January 12, 2003

The link to Boondocks that mischief mentions is here, for today at least. There's no permalink, so if you click tomorrow, you'll have to also click the "previous date" link to get to it.

Also, mischief: yes, I'd say that's disturbing, but also, just disturbing to see that the natural state of affairs, when people are left to their own non state regulated behaviors is for segregation, rather than integration. We've had decades of state enforced segregation, and then decades of forced integration through bussing, and now things seem to be shifting back to a world, which I can't imagine will be better for America in the long run. In a word, disturbing.
posted by jonson at 10:47 AM on January 12, 2003

It seems a bit misleading to say that southern public schools are becoming segregated again because white teachers are fleeing all black schools. That is not what I understand the article to be saying. The article states quite clearly that:
" part of an exodus of white teachers from black schools that some see as a troubling symptom of the resegregation of the South."

"As decades-long court busing orders are loosened or lifted, the region’s schools have become increasingly segregated. And a new study suggests that the trend is having a dramatic effect on where teachers choose to teach."
So the lifting of governmental regulations that once integrated the schools is what is causing the resegregation of the schools, not the teachers. 'Fleeing' teachers will cause other problems for some of those schools, but they are a symptom and not a cause.
posted by mikhail at 10:49 AM on January 12, 2003

don't look at me that way, i watch boston public. what more can one man possibly do?
posted by quonsar at 10:53 AM on January 12, 2003

The desire to get more white teachers into predominantly black schools is in large part based on the fact that there are not enough black teachers available for the job. (p.s.: I'd be interested in hearing the difference in integration between urban and rural schools. The South of Brown v. Board days was probably overwhelmingly rural. It is vastly more urbanized now. Busing didn't make much of a difference to rural schools, exactly. Funny thing, though - the "seg academies" that grew up in rural areas in the wake of court rulings in the wake of the Civil Rights Act are dying out, largely due to economics and the passage of time.)

"Evans rejects the idea that black schools can’t be successful without white teachers. If they don’t want to be there, then let them go, he says.

"However, there simply aren’t enough black teachers to go around. Only 20 percent of Georgia teachers are black, but black students make up 40 percent of the public school population."

posted by raysmj at 10:56 AM on January 12, 2003

Yegads. Stratification. Astonishing.
posted by Opus Dark at 11:16 AM on January 12, 2003

I think there are some deeper meanings here. For example, the schools of Little Rock are becoming very segregated by "white flight"--not white parents fleeing to avoid integration--but fleeing to avoid an awful school district controlled by a corrupt and unresponsive government.
The areas *just outside* of the Little Rock school district have become suburban boomtowns, and parents insist on high quality education for their children. Black children would be welcomed, but their parents neither flee bad school districts nor force change in government.
posted by kablam at 3:33 PM on January 12, 2003

In that a culture of ignorance exists within the black community and that white teachers are powerless to overcome it?

I'm not sure that "culture of ignorance" is a fair portrayal of what's going on here. Legally mandated integration has not changed the socioeconomic status of many African-Americans who have neither the money nor the power to insist upon better school systems.

Moreover, it is understandable that white teachers feel powerless in all-black schools. Many southern white teachers have little experience interacting with African-Americans on a regular basis. Also, if I were a black student I'm not sure how much I would respect a teacher from a group historically known to have oppressed mine.

By the way, raysmj, I went to elementary and junior high school in Clinton, Mississippi, a racially mixed suburb outside of Jackson. My schools were always almost 50/50 black/white. But just a few miles away in more rural areas the "seg academies" were still quite popular. White families almost always sent their children to private schools that the black families in the area simply couldn't afford.
posted by brina at 4:23 PM on January 12, 2003

Rethinking Integration. (Real Audio file from NPR)
posted by hockeyman at 4:39 PM on January 12, 2003

It is, perhaps, telling that the article seems to imply at first that wages are a factor but then later on states that significant increases in salary probably wouldn't stem the phenomena - so what does one conclude from that? That the teaches are unsatisfied - why? either (1) uncomfortable in the environment (culturally, safety??), (2) that they are frustrated with the ability to teach (bad school administations, uninvolved parents, retromingent bureaucracy, uninterested student body??). The implied need to integrate is inequity in resources applied across all schools - if folks are looking for a fair shake for their kids educationally they must get involved to make quality teachers accepted AND RESPECTED - by students & administrators. Just bitching doesn't cut it. Generally, like gravitates to like and blacks are as segregationist as whites, if not moreso in that regard - we all vote with our feet.
posted by Pressed Rat at 4:43 PM on January 12, 2003

Why is it that nobody would think twice about a black teaching leaving an all-white school for a school with a more diverse (or all-black) student population.
posted by Erasmus at 5:36 PM on January 12, 2003

Can I just say I love Aaron McGruder?
posted by vito90 at 5:39 PM on January 12, 2003


and relaxed bussing laws ...

So like....they can kiss whoever they want now?

I wonder at what point the synonym for kissing, "bussing", took on the double meaning of shuttling children. It always was busing, before...

posted by lazaruslong at 5:45 PM on January 12, 2003

brina: I wouldn't know about the seg schools in rural areas near Clinton, although that wouldn't surprise me. There are also old urban versions of "seg" academies throughout the South that have just sort of gone legit, and are thriving. (In other words, they've let in a few minorities over the years, and they have higher academic standards, etc.) But economic and demographic trends do not bode well their continued existence in largely rural areas. They've gotta be propped up by someone now to survive, really. In October, the Birmingham News covered the situation in the old Black Belt farming country (which isn't all that different from rural areas a few miles east of Jackson and Clinton, and is in fact more like the Miss. Delta).
posted by raysmj at 6:04 PM on January 12, 2003

So like....they can kiss whoever they want now?

Now that you mention it, I had no idea there were so many synonyms:

Kissing and bussing differ both in this, We buss our wantons, but our wives we kiss. --Herrick.
posted by hama7 at 6:13 PM on January 12, 2003

I remember reading in the wonderful book Confederates in the Attic that the author noted that many shite parents took their kids out of urban school with many blacks attending and opened white "academies" thaqt were inexpesive but also segrgated because private--in other words, back to segregation. The result was that the public schools became virtually all-black, and the tax payers were reluctant to pass decent ed budgests since their kids were no longer in public school, so this, to caused the schools to go downhill further. The author implied that segregatioin has come back with a bang because the white wanted it to, and now with school vouchersw, those white families get financial help to send their kids to the prvate but swegregated schools.
I mention this because the article focuses upon what is taking place now for teachers when in fact it all began a number of years ago.
posted by Postroad at 6:24 PM on January 12, 2003

gsalad's wife, h.:

I happened to attend a small school in rural Arkansas which scored a total of 2 - count 'em, 2 -- racially mixed kids, and no black kids. All of the other communites surrounding the population 10,000 town were similarly homogenous. It was considered undesirable to have one's child attend school "in town" because of the higher crime rate & racial mixture that people have never come to terms with since segregation supposedly evaporated.

Growing up in this environment, I did feel a bit deprived of a culturally diverse educational experience (among other aspects of a well-rounded education that one misses out on in such a conservative community), but the case to switch schools would not be heard. My mom, who attended school in Texarkana during a very tense period between the races, found it very difficult to look past her issues with a racially-mixed environment. She's told me terrifying stories of accidentally being caught up in race riots which undoubtedly have left her with absolute impressions of racial relations.

When I left that small school to attend college and, later, move to NYC, I had no apprehension about what racial makeup my friends and associates were; amigos are amigos, assholes are assholes. There's no time for fear here -- and let's not forget, everybody's in such cramped living conditions, you'd BETTER LEARN to get along.

En short, the areas experiencing these problems seem too idle to benefit the rest of the human race. why aren't the kids standing up to their parents' fears of racial relations and saying that our generation can be different? Why are we counting crayons in the box instead of scribbling? really, South. that's why i left.

*sorry 'bout the diarrhea of the fingers*
posted by gsalad at 7:00 PM on January 12, 2003

raysmj: Criminey. Correction there. I meant "west" of Clinton and Jackson, Miss. (Long pause.) Oh, never mind.
posted by raysmj at 7:08 PM on January 12, 2003

I were a black student I'm not sure how much I would respect a teacher from a group historically known to have oppressed mine.

Anyone who is that racist dosn't deserve an education.
posted by delmoi at 10:42 PM on January 12, 2003

Anyone who is that racist dosn't deserve an education.

delmoi: Not be in support of bigotry in any form, but it occurs to me that lack of education is probably what led to the racism (read: ignorance) in the first place....maybe the best way to fight that is through education, instead of condemnation?
posted by lazaruslong at 11:34 PM on January 12, 2003

"However, there simply aren’t enough black teachers to go around. Only 20 percent of Georgia teachers are black, but black students make up 40 percent of the public school population."

Isn't this approaching the topic with segregation in mind? There aren't enough teachers- black OR white OR whatever- to go around to all schools. Would Georgia be in any better shape if there were the same number of available teachers, only with a majority black and minority white? I don't see the how this would effect the actual issue, which is-- the teacher shortage.
posted by 4easypayments at 12:25 AM on January 13, 2003

nope: condemnation is the way to go.
posted by delmoi at 12:38 AM on January 13, 2003

I remember reading in the wonderful book Confederates in the Attic that the author noted that many shite parents took their kids out of urban school with many blacks attending and opened white "academies" that were inexpesive but also segregated . . .

True, but unintentional, I think, Postroad.
posted by onlyconnect at 2:02 AM on January 13, 2003

Thanks Raysjm for the great article! I actually lived for a time as a kid in Eutaw, AL the home of Warrior academy. My parents at the time were in a terrible dilemma in that they did not want to send my brother and I to the white flight Warrior, nor to the abysmal Green County public schools, so we drove the hour every day to Tuscaloosa where we attended Tuscaloosa Academy, a former white flight school that had integrated and had become one of the best schools in the state soon after its foundation. Glad to hear that Warrior has come into the 20th century!

Living in DC now I see a lot of parallels to the Black Belt with the poorly funded, troubled public schools packed with african american students while the lilly exceptional private day schools cater to a more "select" clientele. No, I'd have to say that the FPP was not really very shocking nor new!
posted by Pollomacho at 7:40 AM on January 13, 2003

From the article: "And the most depressing part ... is our evidence suggests that even large wage increases won’t help."

I beg to differ. I would wager that if teachers were paid better there would be more people interested in entering the field. Therefore there would be more teachers, of many different races and backgrounds, and schools would compete to get them to teach in their schools.

It isn't just the salaries either. It is also the fault of programs (and legislation) that tie teacher salaries to student performance. This isn't a business or a professional sporting team. You can't fire a teacher like one would a business executive or team manager and expect it to make the students perform better. These models (tying pay to performance) work somewhat in the business world, but can't be applied to schools. After all, you can't fire the students when test scores go down.

Teaching is an admirable profession that has gone too long without being shown the respect it deserves. Most people who enter into this profession do so because they love children and want to help people. Paying them chicken feed in the first place and then threatening to lower their pay if the kids don't test well is wrong.

Here's an idea... If a child does poorly in school then raise the taxes of the parents of the offending student. Maybe that will get parents to stop thinking of schools as just daycare for their spawn.

posted by terrapin at 8:47 AM on January 13, 2003

Black teachers are also leaving, in that the idea in said schools is to 'skim off of the surface.' The feeling is that the kids in poverty areas are so far behind and lack any sort of discipline that can lead to a classroom fit for learning, that you help who you can, if any, and your job as a teacher simply turns into a sitter. Teachers become burned out in no time, and simply leave. Very bad indeed.
posted by four panels at 8:52 AM on January 13, 2003

onlycorrect: eh? That's the correct spelling. Postroad wrote what Postroad meant to write.

terrapin: paying better would help, yes. But I suspect that in many of these schools the problem is a lack of community support: ie.) education is not highly valued, and teaching becomes an exercise of banging one's head against a wall. No matter how well paid one is, such a job isn't worth having.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:52 AM on January 13, 2003

There are exceptional mostly-black schools all througought the south. They have, in common with the more numerous exceptional mostly-white schools, a well-motivated, well-disciplined student body, parents who are actively involved with their children's education and with the administration of the school, and administrators with the tools, including expulsion where necessary, to assure that students without the ability or inclination to study hard and obey the rules are not allowed to interfere with other students' learning. Schools like this have a dozen well-qualified applicants for every one vacancy on their faculty -- and these are frequently among the LOWEST paid teaching jobs one could get.
posted by MattD at 9:12 AM on January 13, 2003

I thought he meant "white." Though in this context it's equally appropriate either way, and struck me as funny.
posted by onlyconnect at 9:23 AM on January 13, 2003

What terrapin said.

My wife is a school-district administrator who started out as a special-education teacher and later taught advanced-academic-placement students. She majored in special-education in a heavily unionized state and taught here in a Southern state with no school unions.

An awful lot of the problem is the status traditionally accorded to education, especially here in the South, where it hadn't even started out the the lip service paid in the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast. Teachers aren't paid a living wage down here, and the negative synergy between salary and occupational status is pretty pernicious. You'd have to teach for nearly 30 years, with a Master's plus another dozen or so hours of graduate work, to be making still less than what a competent programmer can expect to make in his first five years or so out of school ($40k, let's say). Public schools just can't compete to get and retain highly qualified individuals in the job market, recession or no.

The way we tend to revere and respect professions in the States is largely money-oriented. We say that teaching's one of the most important jobs out there, but if it were, teachers would be starting at around $70k out of school and there'd be a glut of well-trained teachers, with all the academic training they could get in education PLUS something else (English, mathematics etc), scrambling for those jobs. Ideally, going from a classroom position to an administrative one would be viewed as a step down -- not the escape valve it is for motivated, intelligent educators who want to make a difference without perishing of boredom and overwork in their classrooms.

Being a libertarian sort, I differ with my wife on how to solve this problem. She thinks the teachers ought to unionize and bargain collectively (including such tactics as striking, if necessary) for higher salaries. Presumably local taxes would be raised astronomically to pay for this, but parents, who pay property taxes and elect school boards, would retaliate politically. I'd prefer to merely see a requirement that the parents get their children educated and let the schools become more autonomous in seeking and administering their funding -- so the best schools would compete for the best students while offering the best possible tuition deals.

I'm probably more of an idealist than she is.
posted by alumshubby at 9:43 AM on January 13, 2003

It's the same everywhere. I have a friend who teaches at inner-city school in San Francisco. Here are some reasons WHY teachers (black/white/whatever) are leaving inner city schools:

He has 30 kids. ONE kid's parents showed up at parent/teacher night.

A nine year old girl brought a gun to school. When her mother finally showed up to the conference, she said "That bitch shouldn't have a gun. But neither should I" and pulled out her gun. Then went on to say that "I can't control that kid" and that she (the mother) is a "gangster" and "what are you (the teacher) gonna do about it?" The only person available in the family to talk to the kids is her uncle who is at a bar all day long, drunk after getting out of jail for murder.

He sends kids to the principal's office and they send them back saying "what am I supposed to do with this kid?"

You tell me, would YOU teach there? Is that even teaching? The inner cities are so screwed up, so violent and ignorant and horrible, that teachers aren't even teaching. They're just trying to keep the schools safe and the kids from dying. No parental involvement. Crime. Drugs. Hell yes, it's unsafe. Perhaps white teachers leave because they are less well equipped to deal with it, while some black teachers-who perhaps grew up in the inner-cities are better at it. But I doubt that anyone feels they are really teaching kids in that kind of environment.

I sure as hell don't want my husband teaching in an inner city school. Risking his life isn't worth $32,000 year!
posted by aacheson at 9:53 AM on January 13, 2003

aacheson, you teach English, Math and History in schools like that and kids grow up to be Colin Powell and Thurgood Marshall, as well as "gangsters." You can teach in a pristine suburban school in a conservative white neighborhood and one day it turns into Columbine, but the point is, you keep trying and you keep trying and sometimes you might get through. If you can reach just one kid in your 25 years on the job, then it was worth getting by on $30k. That's what you do and you love it, if not then you don't need to do it in the first place.

By the way, $40 grand is a hell of a lot more than most people get in the rural south, so I'm not sure what was meant by "living wage" in alum's earlier context
posted by Pollomacho at 11:04 AM on January 13, 2003

"I thought he meant "white." Though in this context it's equally appropriate either way, and struck me as funny."

Opps. When I read it, I assumed both white and black parents were pulling kids out when they could. But your reading makes more sense. :)

" If you can reach just one kid in your 25 years on the job, then it was worth getting by on $30k."

Not it isn't. Not at all.

It is unreasonable and utterly stupid to expect teachers to sacrifice their happiness, their welfare, and their lives "in the name of the children."

Yah, most teachers love what they do. So do most doctors, most lawyers, and most CEOs -- yet it's the teacher that's expected to do it all in the name of "love" while the others get the big paycheques.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:51 PM on January 13, 2003

Then I guess I've thrown my life away. Thanks FFF for saving me from myself.

The pay for teachers sucks. It does, no question. The amount of shit that teachers have to eat on a daily basis is inconceivable, it is, but there is not one teacher out there who got into the business for the money or for the glory, I can guarantee it. Teachers know that going in there won't be much money or glory, that's probably why there is a teacher shortage, lawyers and doctors have a whole different perspective, and that's why 2 of every 5 graduate degrees is a law degree, 1 of five is an MD, 1 is an MBA and all the rest of the Masters and Doctorates (the people that probably end up teachers or doing research) make up the last 1 of five.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:26 PM on January 13, 2003

Pollomacho, $40,000 might be a lot of money in the South, but in San Francisco, it doesn't even pay the mortgage.

What I'm saying is that for most people (obviously, you are the exception), they don't want to spend all their time and talents just trying to control chaos and keeping themselves and the kids safe. They want to TEACH. Until the parents in inner-cities get involved, there is discipline at home and at schools from the beginning of the kid's life, the schools are safe, and the kids can't rule the roost because the teachers fear for their lives, the plight of inner city schools is just going to get worse and worse. I wouldn't want my husband teaching at ANY school, mostly black or white or asian or whatever, where he is in danger. Period. Hooray for those who do, but they are few and far between. This is not just a southern phenomenon.
posted by aacheson at 3:19 PM on January 13, 2003

This is not just a southern phenomenon.

Nor is it strictly a black problem, which is why I am always disappointed to see the reflexive "black people worship ignorance" statements. Get your information from comics, eh mischief? Be sure to let McGruder know how his work influences you. I'm sure he'd appreciate it. Good luck freeing Jolly Jenkins, too.

(For the record, I was bused to the suburbs through the fifth grade or so through Milwaukee's [now imperiled?] chapter 220 program, so forgive me if I harbor no illusions regarding white children's universal respect for learning and education, and suspect the motives of anyone making race-based "cultural" contrasts. Damn my pesky first-hand experience with willfully ignorant white kids-- which race should I blame that on?)

Pollomacho, your idealism is certainly admirable, but I'd say that aacheson's more pragmatic outlook is closer to the norm. Georgia's not exactly a teacher's paradise to begin with, and all the recent tinkering and legislation probably isn't too encouraging for neophytes looking to enter the profession. Most people get pretty disillusioned rather quickly.

All I'm saying is that the situation seems pretty murky and complex from where I stand. Maybe all you people with toss-off solutions should come down here and run for state superintendent?
posted by tyro urge at 5:50 PM on January 13, 2003

I sometimes believe that the only people who become teachers are people who desire martyrdom. Their excuses for accepting low pay, terrible working conditions, and daily shit is always "oh, but think of the children!"

Fuck it. Think of yourself: you're doing what is arguably the most important job in our culture -- that of molding our next generation -- and damn well deserve the cooperation, respect, and paycheque that such work deserves.

If society isn't willing to meet those terms, screw society. Let's see how well the parents and taxpayers do when you walk off the job and shut down the system.

Teachers need to grow some balls and demand what's due them.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:58 PM on January 13, 2003

I am always disappointed to see the reflexive "black people worship ignorance" statements. Get your information from comics, eh mischief?

No, the (predominately black) Atlanta school board.
posted by mischief at 1:31 AM on January 14, 2003

Ah. So is this an "I can provide a source" kind of quote, or more of a "just take my word" hearsay-type dealie? I'm wondering how a Scott Phelps level assertion of that sort could have floated by in a majority black school system without me noticing.

Granted, maybe I'm not paying enough attention to the news, so... links?
posted by tyro urge at 1:02 PM on January 15, 2003

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