Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ebony and Ivory - Getting Along in an Integrated World

Something I read online the other day got me thinking about the racial make-up of our schools and how it affects our students. Oh, there are many other issues affecting our students, but I thought back to my own children and their schools.

When we got married and had children, back in the 1970s, we specifically looked for an integrated neighborhood. Having participated in the marches for civil rights, we felt that it was necessary to our children’s welfare that they learn to live and have fun with people of all ages. This was in direct opposition to the way we grew up. Both of us grew up in white neighborhoods and went to white schools. I didn’t know anyone who was African-American or Asian-American. We were mostly Irish or Italian and overwhelmingly Catholic. Our childhoods were typically middle class and “white bread.”

When I went to high school, I was shocked to find out that people of color were much like me and any differences could be overcome with a little two-way communication. It was worth it for us to work, sing or fool around together. What a revelation! My father had not been the most tolerant person growing up, and I did learn every derogatory term for ethnicities other than my own. My mother had grown up in an orphanage and was much more tolerant of people of various races and religions. She was curious about other religions and professed the belief that everyone worshipped the same God, no matter what they called him, and their beliefs were just as valid as ours. And this was before the Vatican Council #2! I also joined a community service organization (where I met my hubby) and learned to work with people of all races and creeds. I was kind of put out about not knowing people of color before age 15, and made sure to be polite and respectful to everyone throughout my life.

When we were ready to buy our first house, we looked for one in an integrated neighborhood, not wanting our children to have to wait until school to learn how to work and play with all kinds of people. We found one not far from the school in which I was teaching and I am happy to say that both of us and our kids had neighborhood friends of all races and creeds. We laughed and cried together, ate together, and even had arguments. We helped paint each other’s houses and shoveled sidewalks without thought of payment. We comforted each other when death struck the household, and we enjoyed neighborhood celebrations together and volunteered for the Boy and Girl Scouts. By the time my kids went to school, they were comfortable with all kinds of people. In fact, in my youngest daughter’s first two grades of elementary school, she was the only Caucasian. It’s funny, but neither she nor her classmates took much notice of it. Each of the kids had best friends at some point in childhood, that were of a different race.

My children went to integrated elementary, junior and senior high schools, where they learned to work out disagreements and to deal with racial issues in a rational way. I asked my oldest daughter last night what she thought about living in an integrated neighborhood and going to integrated schools. She had a lot to say.

Me: How'd you feel about going to an integrated school?

H: I think it was more like real life. The more diversity experienced at younger age the better off you will be dealing with life. Well, in High School sometimes there were race situations, but I think that is normal. You had to learn to live with other races to survive

Me: So you cope with the race situations early on and that helps later?

H: Yes, I think people who aren't exposed to it have a tougher time adjusting to how diverse the country and world really-you learn real quick that there are many differences and that is ok

Me: Was college diverse or no?

H: BU was super diverse. It was the most diverse. They had people from all over the world and the country. But I think we had to deal with real life situations earlier in life, and that is always better when you deal with things earlier in life, because you didn't have time to have biases and stereotypes.

Me: You said, "But I think we had to deal with real life situations" - like what?

H: People sitting on every side of you in a lecture hall were from all over-Sri Lanka, India, China, California, Mississippi, etc. When you go to a state school you typically only deal with people from that state...you had to learn to live with other races to survive. It makes you handle the real world better later. Yeah, and I was glad I didn't stay in a state school like Temple, (she spent a year there) although a great school for the community, it was all one type of people (Pennsylvanians) I appreciated my time at BU.

Me: So you cope with the race situations early on and that helps later?

H: Yes. I think people who aren't exposed to it have a tougher time adjusting to how diverse the country and world really are - you learn real quick that there are many differences and that is ok.

There have been studies that show that children who attend integrated schools do better academically than those who attend segregated schools. This is perhaps one reason that the inner-city schools score so low on standardized tests, they are overwhelmingly segregated because of the neighborhoods they are in.

As Jack Schneider says in his blog, Learning on the EDge:

The purpose of education, we might recall, is to lay the ground so that young people may find their way through the world in whatever manner they wish, and find their place in it whatever that place may be. The aim is not merely to promote the accretion of knowledge — something segregated schools can do as well as integrated schools — but also to expand the mind and nurture the soul. Education should broaden. It should transform.

Which schools are best prepared to execute this task? Certainly those with qualified teachers, rich and varied curricula, adequate resources, and positive cultures. But also those with diverse student bodies capable of expressing a full range of experiences — student bodies that will expand the way that young people perceive the world and relate to each other. Just as no parent should compromise on the former of those characteristics, none should ignore the importance of the latter.


I agree with Mr. Schneider, in that we can accomplish much with integrated schools. As my daughter explained, learning in an integrated environment can help you in your adult years by practicing how to deal with various kinds of people to work together and not to be afraid of a diverse population. Perhaps the Stand Your Ground Law would not be necessary if this were a policy in areas where it is possible.

One can only hope.

But Sly and the Family Stone said it best, I think, in Everyday People.

 And Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder got it right too.

Still learning!

No comments:

Post a Comment