Friday, February 16, 2007
‘Education Reader – Leading Educators Speak Out’ (published by The New Press) is a collection of articles by ‘progressive’ American writers.
The most interesting articles are about race in American education, with the historical background of segregation, new immigration and affirmative action it is far more complicated than Britain.
Michele Foster in ‘Black Teachers on Teaching’ outlines the history of segregated (“separate but equal”) education which was altered by the seminal 1954 court case Brown .v. The Board of Education.
However, the black writer and academic WEB du Bois warned with incredible prescience in 1935, “A mixed school with poor unsympathetic teachers, with hostile public opinion, and no teaching of the truth concerning black folk is bad. A segregated school with ignorant placeholders, inadequate equipment, and poor salaries is equally bad.” He went on to argue that on balance a mixed school would be better because it could give a broader education, allow wider contacts, give greater self-confidence and suppress the inferiority complex.
When desegregation was implemented many black schools closed and between 1954 and 1965, in the 17 southern states, 30,000 black teachers lost their jobs. The 1990 census revealed that only 8% of teachers were black.
Some black educators (albeit a minority) have called for resegregation. The Pennsylvania Association of Teachers of Coloured Children argued that black children were being harmed in mixed schools because they had lost their racial pride.
‘We Make Each Other Racial’ describes the complicated and shifting racial alliances within ‘Madison High School’ – the Latins, ESLers (English as a Second Language), Blacks, Asians and Whites and the dynamics between the sub-groups – white skaters, band kids, “normals” and “housers”.
My main complaint with the book is that most of the articles are ten years out of date, so it doesn’t really deal with Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind Act’, the testing regime or the impact of the cuts made by California in bilingual education.
It is a powerful insight into the complexities of race. David Mura recounts how his Japanese American father was interned in the Deep South during the Second World War, but when he was released for day trips was treated as an ‘honorary white’ and was allowed to sit at the front of the bus and in the best seats at the cinema.