Re­porter speaks about school seg­re­ga­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - JAIME ADAME

FAYET­TEVILLE — Seg­re­ga­tion in schools can be traced back to the ear­li­est ideas of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in Amer­ica and con­tin­ues to­day de­spite harm to all chil­dren, jour­nal­ist Nikole Han­nah-Jones said Thurs­day in a talk at the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas.

“Seg­re­ga­tion de­nies black chil­dren their full cit­i­zen­ship,” said Han­nah-Jones, a re­porter who writes about racial in­jus­tice for The New York Times and is also a 2017 MacArthur Fel­low.

Lofty goals for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in Amer­ica in­cluded the be­lief “schools can be the great equal­iz­ers,” Han­nah-Jones said, cit­ing Ho­race Mann, a 19th cen­tury ad­vo­cate for pub­licly funded schools.

Yet there was a “com­pro­mise” Mann made in try­ing get peo­ple to sup­port his ideas, Han­nah-Jones said, re­count­ing the his­tory.

“In or­der to get white sup­port, or their tax dol­lars to pay for th­ese schools, black chil­dren will not be al­lowed to at­tend,” Han­nah-Jones said.

To­day in the south, one in three black chil­dren at­tend an “in­tensely racially seg­re­gated school” with a greater than 90 per­cent en­roll­ment of black and Latino stu­dents, Han­nah-Jones said.

She said seg­re­ga­tion waned — af­ter much-de­layed en­force­ment of de­seg­re­ga­tion laws — up un­til 1988.

Be­fore seg­re­ga­tion trended up­wards, gaps nar­rowed be­tween black and white stu­dents in ar­eas such as read­ing test scores, Han­nah-Jones said.

But once schools be­came more seg­re­gated, those gaps started to in­crease, she said.

White par­ents look up the racial make-up of schools in de­cid­ing where to live or send their chil­dren to school, she said.

This type of sen­ti­ment can cause a racial split in school­ing even in places where well-in­te­grated schools are suc­cess­ful, Han­nah-Jones said, cit­ing changes cre­at­ing pre­dom­i­nantly white schools in Tuscaloosa, Ala., as an ex­am­ple.

Han­nah-Jones said she has yet to find pre­dom­i­nantly black schools with the same re­sources — such as ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy, fa­cil­i­ties and col­lege prep cour­ses, or the num­bers of teach­ers with cer­ti­fi­ca­tions — as schools with mostly white stu­dents.

“There is noth­ing about white kids that makes black kids smart. But what get­ting black kids in white schools does, is it en­sures that black kids will get the re­sources that white kids are guar­an­teed,” Han­nah-Jones said. She ex­plained while there are schools with mostly white stu­dents lack­ing re­sources, data shows they’re still bet­ter off than any nearby mostly black school.

“In­te­gra­tion is good for white kids, too,” Han­nah-Jones said, adding de­seg­re­ga­tion is “not about char­ity.”

Han­nah-Jones, who said she’s the daugh­ter of a black fa­ther and a white mother, de­scribed tak­ing a bus as a child to at­tend a school with a large pop­u­la­tion of white stu­dents.

Go­ing to school and be­ing ex­posed to other stu­dents from dif­fer­ent back­grounds is help­ful be­cause so­ci­ety at­large is a “multi-racial democ­racy,” Han­nah-Jones said.

Talk­ing about her own past, “the chil­dren that got the ben­e­fit of sit­ting in the class­room with me got as much as I got out of sit­ting in the class­room with them,” Han­nah-Jones said.

In­di­vid­ual choices con­tribute to re-seg­re­ga­tion, Han­nah-Jones said.

“We need to be hon­est about our own hypocrisy, about whether we ac­tu­ally be­lieve in equal­ity or not,” Han­nah-Jones said. “Be­cause the seg­re­ga­tion we see now, just like the seg­re­ga­tion we saw 30 years ago and 50 years ago and 100 years ago is not in­ci­den­tal nor ac­ci­den­tal. It is some­thing that peo­ple who have power and who have money, choose it to be. And so we can choose for it not to be.”

The talk by Han­nah-Jones was pre­sented by UA’s African and African Amer­i­can Stud­ies Pro­gram.

She was to be paid a $10,000 speaker’s fee, UA spokesman Steve Voorhies said last week.

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