The Civil Tube: The Impact #Desegregation had on Schools

A few years ago, investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones reported on the rising levels of school segregation in America’s public education system. “In Tuscaloosa today,” Hannah-Jones noted, “nearly one in three black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v Board of Education never happened.”

The negative implications for this retrenchment for black and Latino children are sizable, leading to higher levels of absenteeism, lower levels of access to after-school and summer learning programs, and drastically lowered chances at attending college. 

This week’s Civil Tube video is a TedX talk from Dr. Rucker Johnson, Associate Professor at UC Berkeley who has devoted much of his research to understanding the benefits to school desegregation and what it means to fall further away from the spirit of Brown v Board of education.

Why It’s Such a Big Problem When Teachers Have Low Expectations for Their Black Students

When I was in the eleventh grade, I had an english teacher named Mr. Clawson. He was a great instructor; really funny and thoughtful. And although he and I never built any special rapport, I felt I learned a great deal from him that year.

But the most important lesson Mr. Clawson gave me occured during my senior year. My new twelfth grade english teacher was going through the attendance list — and when she got to my name, she paused.

“Oh, so you’re Michael Mitchell,” she said, “Mr. Clawson told me to expect big things. He spoke very highly of you.”

In the moment, it shocked me to hear this. I was by no stretch a standout student — I had decent but not spectacular grades and a shy personality. So to hear something like that really had an impact. To know that someone outside of my mother and father expected something of me — and saw potential in me — made me expect something more of myself.

I think it’s a relatively safe statement to say that teachers can have can make a big impression in the lives of the students they supervise. I hope its equally uncontroversial to say that every student deserves a teacher that believes in their ability and expects big things from them.

Unfortunately, a new study provides evidence that not all teachers expect much from their pupils — and that these varied expectations aren’t random. Instead they play out — like so many other educational disparities — along lines of race. (more…)

In the South, Black Students Face Drastically Higher Rates of Suspension and Expulsion

A new research report reveals that black students in southern states face expulsion rates draastically higher than their white counterparts — in some cases, much higher.

The study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education uses data from the Department of Education to uncover that 13 southern states are responsible for roughly half of all expulsions of black students and more than half of all suspensions. 56 percent of all girls suspended were black — but this number hides some truly alarming statistics. In Mississippi, for instance, black girls accounted for 80 percent of all female suspensions. Louisiana (74%) and Alabama (70%) were close behind.



Does Affirmative Action Help?

Uttering the phrase affirmative action conjures up a torrent of emotion in people from all walks of life. Putting the emotion aside, I’ve always been more interested in knowing exactly if affirmative action works. Does it help kids and teenagers realize educational goals that otherwise would not have been achievable?

Some say it does not. One of the most vocal opponents of the policy, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has often stated that the stigma around being an affirmative action beneficiary is often greater than the opportunity the policy may present. In a 2003 supreme court case on the issue, Grutter v. Bollinger, Thomas — in dissent — wrote:

Who can differentiate between those who belong and those who do not? The majority of blacks are admitted to the Law School because of discrimination, and because of this policy all are tarred as undeserving. This problem of stigma does not depend on determinacy as to whether those stigmatized are actually the “beneficiaries” of racial discrimination. When blacks take positions in the highest places of government, industry, or academia, it is an open question today whether their skin color played a part in their advancement. The question itself is the stigma—because either racial discrimination did play a role, in which case the person may be deemed “otherwise unqualified,” or it did not, in which case asking the question itself unfairly marks those blacks who would succeed without discrimination.

The stigma, I believe, is very real. Not only in the minds of students who do not directly participate in affirmitive action, but also in the conscious of the female and minority students who must persistently push back the pang of uncertainty as to whether or not their spot was ‘deserved’.


Beyond STEM

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Producing more STEM workers is a huge priority in this country. As anyone will tell you, at our current pace of production we’re not going to have enough scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians to do all the STEM stuff we need them to do in the coming years… like build time machines, and good robots to fight all the evil robots.

I know creating more STEM workers is important. More and more our economy is driven by technological innovation. Some of the most successful and recession proof regions of the country are based around science and technology hubs. The more individuals we can get into these jobs, the better for our economy.

I’m entirely in favor of encouraging kids to explore STEM careers, especially kids who historically have been told that math and science isn’t for them.  However, when I look at the current conversation around getting students to explore STEM fields, often times I see it being framed as zero-sum game. Steer kids away from the liberal arts, away from the humanities, away from the soft sciences and bring them into the world of STEM.

That’s not the direction we should take at all.

The truth is, STEM occupations may be a large part of the current and future economy. But STEM alone doesn’t make a better society.

I wonder what would happen if we encouraged our children to explore gender studies as avidly as we did biology. Could we drastically reduce the number of rapes? Reduce bullying based on sexual orientation? What if more people took classes (more than one or two) in race relations? How much more tolerant would our society be? Or what if students took a years’ worth of courses in public policy? What would our national discourse around healthcare, the economy, or foreign policy look like then?

Creating a system in which we empower students and future workers to nurture both their STEM capabilities and larger societal interests would go a long way towards creating a more informed, tolerable, and equitable society. Let’s do that.