Why are we moving backwards?

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.


Fned said...

Wow! You are so right.

I grew up in Mexico where 99% of the population is Catholic and 80% is "hispanic indian". You can't get more segregated than that! I remember one year we had a cuban girl transfer to our university and she was the first black person A LOT of my class mates had ever seen IN THEIR LIVES!!!

I know I'm one of the lucky ones coming from a multiculutral family (mexican, american, indian, european, catholic, jewish, atheist, you name it, we have it) and I know that I am the person I am today precisely because of that....

I fully agree that inter racial integration would probably help solve a lot of this world's problems and the younger kids learn how to live with kids of different origins the faster they will undertand how insane and useless all these wars are....

This is one of the reasons I love living in Paris. It is such a melting pot. Step on the Parisian subway and you're likely to "tour the world" in one go. I'm not saying racism doesn't exist in France, but tolerance is certainly something people here strive to reach....

If only others would do the same. It's a shame that, as you say, instead we are moving backwards....


Henrietta said...

Thanks for writing about this. As another graduate of the Charlotte public schools, this breaks my heart.

It's telling that the schools re-segregated after the influx of outsiders. In the 1970s, the folks, black and white, who desegregated the schools realized that, for better or worse, Charlotte was THEIR community. The newcomers who relocated to Charlotte for the sake of their jobs don't feel that same sense of community. Why should their kid have a long bus ride, even if it means improving the experience of all of the kids in the public schools? They don't seem to feel Charlotte is truly their home, so why would they make sacrifices for the greater good?

Not sure I have an answer, but it seems symptomatic of a larger problem of community disconnect in our "earn more money at all costs" culture.

raymond5737 said...

Moving backwards hurts all of us! Integration and Diversity are as natural as saying "Variety is the spice of life!" So, my mantra is, "To know us is to love us!"

As a Latino, born in the US and adopted by an American family, I grew up with 5 other adopted kids all from different ethnic backgrounds. We lived in a white neighborhood and were constantly commented about by our neighbors for our different skin colors. As a kid, I wanted to be white and fit in, just like everybody else. But, that was then and this is now!

My first exposure to Latinos came when I decided to live in Mexico where I was brown like everyone else. Mexico embraced me as one of her own and I picked up the language and rich cultural heritage that makes Latinos so great to be around, live with and have influence my life. Today, I live in Minneapolis which is predominantly white with a growing Latino Community. All that I can think about is how great our MN-Anglo Communities would be if we could have more Latino influence. So I am on an Integration mission, creating a bridge for Latinos to access Minnesota's predominantly Anglo Communities. I work as a Diversity Recruiter helping U.S. corporations to hire more Latino professionals. But what I like to do most is my non-profit work with Latino Youth Development. I give talks at Minneapolis high schools about reaching out and making friends with other children of color. I'm on the board of the MN-Latino Boy Scouts getting Latino kids involved with nature and the Anglo Community at large. And most important is my work with the MN Latino Nonprofit Leadership Academy, helping Latino Leaders to reach out to Anglo Communities and share our wealth of culture, family and tradition. Moving to Mexico & PDC is definately in the cards for the future, but for now, I need to help bring some of that Latino paradise right here in MN. I'd love to continue to discuss this topic further... Raimundo


mexpat said...

Mexico has been a great experience for me. For the first time in my life I am seriously in the minority and it's really interesting.

New York City is probably a lot like Paris in terms of integration... of course, the French have always been known to be racially tolerant. Didn't Billie Holiday live there?

I think we were just lucky to live in Charlotte when it was a progressive and liberal town. I don't know anywhere else in the US that busses like Charlotte did. I wish it was the norm rather than the exception.

One of the problems that we run into in Jersey is that the school system is town-based rather than county-based so there isn't anywhere to bus kids to or from in their particular school system. I think a county-based system not only saves money on the number of officials you have to pay (one superintendent rather than 10) but also allows the type of socioeconomic diversity to bus kids and integrate the school effectively.

Sounds like you're really doing your part to forward the cause of integration! Good luck in your endeavors!

Greg said...

Hey Allie Gaddy! I don't know if you'll remember me or not but I went to school with you at Piedmont and West Charlotte. Greg Frampton. Hopefully you do. I always thought you were one of the coolest, smartest people I knew. I just read your article and was immediately reminded of how small this world is...my friend Jason Graham sent me the article that your mother sent to you since it had to do with WC. I sent it to Brian and he and I discussed it a couple of times through email- clearly we all share the same feelings from our experiences in the old Charlotte School system. Believe it or not I still live in Charlotte with my wife Jennifer and 1 year old daughter Campbell Gray. I can't believe that we will be facing these very same issues as parents this time around. My wife went to Myers Park High and doesn't share the same fond memories of the integrated bus plan as you, me and many of our alumni do- but this is all part of the process.
I'm really most saddened that Charlotte, once a city of strong faith and morals have given away our advancements to anyone (developers and newcomers to the aforementioned Banks) that has a check book and worthy pen. That's precisely what has happened.

Anyway, I am still verbose and never concise when it comes to writing as you can probably tell. I had to search for a while to find a way to get a message to you: I wanted to write you and say how much I enjoyed your article "Why are we moving backwards." It was poignient. Spooky to read from someone that lived the system at its peak and shared in its struggles as many of us did, only to go on to colleges and universities and finally into active members of new societies with our lessens of life forged by educators from Piedmont (like Mrs. Gardner) and West Charlotte.

It sounds like you are doing really well. I'm very happy to hear that.
Take care of each other. Bye.

mexpat said...

Hey Greg! Long time no see- missed you at the reunion!

I wonder how much of our experience was general bussing and integration and how much of it was the Open school system. While WC was great, I really think it was Irwin and Piedmont that made me who I am and really taught me about integration and equality.

I hope that you and your wife are able to find a school that works for your daughter in the next 4 years! I think it's wonderful that people like you and Bryan are there in Charlotte and willing to fight to make it happen again!

Best of luck to you!