Feb 11, 2008
My mom just sent me a copy of an article written in the Toronto Star about the education system in the town where I grew up, Charlotte, NC, and more specifically about the high school I attended. You can read the article here if you want, it's excellent.
Anyway, the point is that I was one of the kids that grew up during a time that Charlotte was focused on integrating the school system actively. I had to wake up early and ride the bus for an hour as I was bussed from my middle class, white suburban home to the lower class, black neighborhood that housed my school.
I went to progressive elementary and middle schools that didn't believe in AG and remedial classes. Instead, they put the AG kids next to the remedial kids in desk clusters without telling them that one was "smart" and one was "dumb." The idea was that the kids that excelled would help the kids that were having trouble. They were very integrated schools with about 50% white kids, 40% black kids and 10% international immigrants/refugees (mostly Asian/Vietnamese at that time, but would probably have been Hispanic today). And you know what? It was awesome.
Going to a completely integrated school is what made me the person I am today. I grew up with lots of friends of all different races and never thought anything about it. In short, my experience is what everyone hoped could be achieved when they got out and marched and sat in at Woolworth's during the civil rights movement. It was the whole point of Brown vs. Board of Education.
But by the late 1990's, Charlotte had become a banking hub for the US. That meant that lots of people moved in from other parts of America. They didn't like that their kids had to be bussed across town. They wanted the school system to function the way that it did in their home towns. So a judge reversed the order to integrate the schools and Charlotte's school system went back to being neighborhood-based.
Now, the wonderful, integrated schools that I went to are poor neighborhood schools full of poverty-stricken black students. Their test scores have plummeted. Perhaps it's proof that the dream that our parents had about the effect integration could have on black test scores failed. But to me that's not the point. The point is that now students in Charlotte are going to school with kids that look just like them, who have the same amount of (or lack of) money and come from the same housing situation. In short, they're no longer learning about tolerance and racial integration.
This whole story makes me want to cry. Seriously, it makes my throat get choked up and makes me get tears behind my eyes. How can people be so blind?
When I moved to NJ I remember feeling like there just weren't any black people. It's not that there weren't, I just didn't see any in my daily life. When I went back to Rutgers in Newark to study Spanish again, it was weird, suddenly I felt comfortable and like I was home. It's because I was unconsciously used to seeing black people everywhere, everyday.
My husband gets tired of hearing me talk about it. We don't have kids yet, but eventually we will and it is so important to me that they know about other people. It will take a supreme effort on my part, driving them from town to town, to involve them in extracurricular activities that expose them to people of different races. I thought about moving to a town that had more racial integration or was closer to Newark, anything. See, in NJ you live in a Black, White, Asian or Hispanic neighborhood and those are the schools you go to. Anyway, it makes me sad that today Charlotte and New Jersey are the same.
I feel extremely blessed to be raised in a time when the adults felt strongly about civil rights and actually walked the walk. You can't tell your kid that everyone is made the same and that skin color is just skin color and expect them to grow up not having some reservations about people who are different from them if you don't give them opportunities to experience true integration. How can people expect their kids not to believe in stereotypes if they don't have experiences that prove that stereotypes are just that?
Ugh. I feel very bad about this and also powerless. Ok. Rant over.