Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What Studies Might Show

Ed Whitfield

September 5, 2007

There are some more studies that have been released showing that black kids learn better in mixed settings. At this point in my life I am not even interested in reading them. Let me explain why.

Suppose someone offered to do a study to see whether or not it made sense for you to continue to raise your young children or turn them over to the state. They might justify the study by saying that scientific data driven evidence was needed to see if the basic family was as efficient as larger institutions for child rearing where the economies of scale and availability of trained experts might allow the raising of children to conform more to the needs of industry and the government. My guess is that you would look at anyone making such a proposal like they were crazy and let them know in some possibly colorful language that you weren't very interested in the results of their study. Somehow the results, whatever they may be, would not make a lot of difference in your insistence that they are your children, you will accept the responsibility for their upbringing and you will not entertain the possibility of giving them up without a fight. Let the study be damned.

That is about how I feel when I hear about some new research which has been done on the desirability of public school balance and the expediency of school diversity for the benefit of African American children. All the studies in the world, pretending to show that children learn better in mixed settings, cannot convince me that powerful learning environments are impossible in schools with black majorities. Now, I want to be clear. I am not claiming that black children can only learn in such settings. I am saying, rather, that there is nothing about majority black settings, per se, that prevents learning and that when such settings are found and learning is not taking place there is some other problem that prevents it -- not the over abundance of black children.

In fact, to accuse me of seeking to exclude whites or blame them for educational shortcomings stands reality on its head. I am arguing against those who are comfortable claiming that black instutions are "inherently inferior" because they read it in "Brown". And by implication I want to point out that that would only be true if there was something inherently inferior about black people.

I have been told that I am arguing for a return to the "Plessy" idea of "seperate but equal" and I want to comment on that too. "Plessy" was mis-named. That doctrine would have been more accurately called "Excluded and denied equality". There was nothing ever equal under the Jim Crow segregation policies and the separation was exclusion from white spaces even while black spaces had no such exclusion but whites chose not to come. My insistence that separate can indeed be equal should be evident on its face. Any study which shows otherwise would have to be asking the wrong questions. Who is it that persists in his belief that African American people are incapable of raising their own children, advocating for them and educating them? What is it presumably about us that would make this impossible?

I am regularly told that resources will follow white children. Are we to accept this as inevitable? Shall we accept it at all? There was a time when Woolworths' lunch counters were only available to whites. Some young people thought that ridiculous enough and enough of an affront to their dignity that they fought to end such restrictions. If we need to, we can examine policies that allow for inequitable allocations of school resources and fight for their end as well. If the black community thinks that we have some intellectual deficit, on the other hand, then we should still be able to fight for access to the intellectual resources that we would like to have available for our children even if we have to hire them from outside our community. Most of us drive cars that we don't make ourselves, but instead, buy from others. We can similarly buy calculus and physics instruction if we are incapable of making it, although I am not convinced that we have any such deficit.

The whole of this is to say that I and many others are just as offended at the notion that the black community should put itself at the mercy of middle class white America for the education of its children as I would be at the idea of turning over my children out of my family to an orphanage for rearing. It doesn't make any sense to me, and no study could show otherwise.

Friday, September 07, 2007

I'm Back Again

I have decided to start blogging again.

For me it is hard sometimes to keep up with a regular writing schedule, but then again it is hard not to write. I read a lot. And I get all sorts of ideas that I am compelled to express and share with people. I feel a little irresponsible if I think I have figured out something and still see a lot of confusion about it in the popular media. I keep thinking, "I've got something to offer, here."

So that's the reason I have resumed this blog: I couldn't help myself.

I am getting ready to post several things I have been working on recently. Many of them are related to education and the issues that have emerged concerning desegregation and something called "resegregation". As you can tell from my use of quotation marks, I think there is something about this word that calls for deeper thinking. In fact, as it is used, I think it is the source of a lot of confusion. I will make that clearer lately, but first I will post a short piece about my daughter and grand daughter. I hope that whoever happens to read this blog finds it thought provoking and enlightening.

What should my 8 year old grand daughter learn about white people?

We are regularly told that school diversity is important because we live in a diverse world and in order to be able to get along with other people successfully, we need to learn about them and have some experiences with them as early as possible. With that in mind, I want to share a story with you.

I was just talking to my daughter today about some issues she has of where to place my 8 year old grand daughter in school. With what are recognized as some of the worst public schools in the country nearby, my daughter Nandi is interested in placing her daughter, Ellise, in a private school, and by going back to work as an engineer, she should have the means to do so.

One of the schools that would be convenient represents a problem. Ellise would be the only little brown child there. Nandi tells me that she just can’t do that to her daughter. I told her that she might try to describe the likely scenario to Ellise very carefully and offer her the challenge of doing it for a while to see if it is alright, with the promise to monitor the situation closely and rescue her if necessary. Nandi told me that she had done just that, and Ellise had said, “You mean I would be the ONLY one?” I told her that that was her answer. Ellise does not want to do it and shouldn’t have to.

Now Ellise has had some experience with white children. She was recently in a new Sunday School class with two little white girls and wanted to know when she got home just what the proper attitude should be toward them. “Do we even like white people?” she asked. She was not at all happy with the fact that they had tried to boss her around and she wanted to know if this was some general characteristic of whites. Her mother told her that there was nothing wrong with all of them but that some of them could act a little strange.

I thought that was funny. Her question from this uncomfortable incident was “What’s wrong with those children?” She wanted to know why in the world they would think that she was someone to be bossed around. Never once did she wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” And that is how it should be.

All of her life Ellise has been home schooled and recently included in a private home based school run by her mother. She has no sense of her own intellectual or academic limitations. She has no sense of anyone in the world being better than she is in any way. Anything she doesn’t know, she feels that she can learn. She would have no problem interacting with anyone as an equal, but she knows no superiors.

It causes me to wonder: What is it that my 8 year old grand daughter needs to learn about white people? She found out quickly that some would try to boss you around. But she has never learned that it is OK for them to do so, and that is a lesson that I don’t want her to ever learn.

Right now, I’m not worried about how well she will function in a diverse world.