It's Been 64 Years and We're Still Working to Desegregate Schools

Apr 4, 2018 12:00:00 AM


The recent passing of Linda Brown gives occasion to evaluate her legacy and to acknowledge her family’s contribution to the educational landscape of our country. Almost 64 years ago, Linda’s father successfully sued the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas, to allow his Black daughter to attend the ‘White school’ closer to their home. Linda became the representative face of thousands of Black children and families seeking access to equal educational opportunities, and thus, fair treatment and hopes for a brighter future. As a result of the Brown family’s courage and conviction, children of all colors are legally guaranteed access to all public schools. Yet 64 years later, and 50 years after the assassination of Dr. King, how well we have made the Brown family’s dream a reality? If we take a deep look at the demographic makeup of schools in Georgia, where I’m from, we can see that wave of desegregation never seemed to reach some of our communities.
  • Four elementary schools are in the same Atlanta cluster, where three of them are more than 70 percent white and the other is 100 percent Black.
  • Sixty five percent of the students attending the largest school system in Georgia are Black and Latino.  At the same time, seven of the schools have Black and Latino enrollments less than 25 percent within driving distance of 28 schools that are 90 percent or higher.
  • In smaller school systems, the disparity may extend across county lines.  In the southwest corner of the state, one school system is 72 percent White, while the adjacent school system is 91 percent Black.
Georgia is not unique, similar cases exist across the country. For example, in New Jersey’s Camden and Trenton, 99 percent White schools encircle concentrated areas of 99 percent Black schools. I hope that Linda Brown’s passing might prompt us all to shed light on the areas where her family’s dream has not yet been realized. There will be difficulties with this vision. School enrollment is dependent on varying factors, like housing, transportation and class, among many other things. And so, for some communities, meaningful integration is a goal that is difficult to attain. [pullquote position="right"]One step forward is to agree on an honest definition of school diversity.[/pullquote] Diversity allows for varied perspectives and adds strength to a group’s ability to innovate and problem solve. It exposes us to individuals different from ourselves which breeds understanding and tolerance. The presence of diversity may even foster greater self-awareness and empathy. I challenge each of us, for Linda Brown’s sake, to investigate the personal value we place on diversity, which should lead us to question whether what we profess is actually put into practice in the decisions we make about how and where we educate our children. The unanimous decision in the Brown vs. Board of Education case declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” As we recall this case, let us all acknowledge that for many of our communities, our schools are still very much separated.

Casey M. Bethel

Casey M. Bethel is the 2017 Georgia Teacher of the Year and a 2017 Life-Changer of the Year Finalist. He speaks and blogs teacher recruitment and retention, diversifying the teaching population and school discipline reform. He is a passionate educator, and accomplished scientist and a mentor to students of all ages. Casey now serves as the K-12 Science, STEM and Computer Science Coordinator for 35 schools in Douglasville, GA. Fourteen years ago, in search of greater fulfillment, he switched to teaching high school biology and physics. He now coordinates teacher professional development and STEM outreach programs through The Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC) at The Georgia Institute of Technology.

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