Five questions with Lawrence Blum and Zoë Burkholder, authors of “Integrations”



The promise of free, quality public education is meant to guarantee every child a chance to achieve the American dream. But our largely separate schools mean that many children of color do not have access to educational opportunities equal to those of their white peers. In their new book, Integrations, historian Zoë Burkholder and philosopher Lawrence Blum investigate what this country’s long history of school segregation means to securing fair and equitable educational opportunities in the United States, and we’ve decided to ask them a few questions to deepen their conclusions. .

In the introduction to Integrations, you frame the work as based on both history and philosophy. How did you negotiate your interdisciplinary approaches to the subject?

ZB: It was a really exciting part of the project for us, and we both enjoyed the challenge of integrating these two disciplines into a cohesive analysis. We wanted to make sure that the two disciplinary approaches were discernible so that readers could understand how historical and philosophical frameworks each add something meaningful – and original – to the complex question of the correlation between inclusive education and learning. educational equality in the United States. This resulted in many conversations, both in person and through written comments and questions, about the data, interpretation and development of the book’s central argument. All parts of the book have benefited from this collaborative process.

Why was Brown v. Education Council ultimately failed in its goal of significantly ending segregation in America’s public education system? How do the lessons of the past point to a more equitable future?

ZB: If it is true that Brown did not end segregation, it is important to recognize that this is a landmark decision that transformed American public education as we know it and resulted in significant improvements in educational equality .

KG: Brown did not end school segregation for three reasons: (1) White resistance to inclusion and educational equality for students of color. The ruling did not apply on its own, and until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal government had no power to enforce it. Overall, the southern states only implemented it when this law was forced to do so and by several Supreme Court rulings in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (2) From In the mid-1970s, the Supreme Court began a decades-long setback from the goal of integration, hampering or preventing states and districts from pursuing that goal. The national policy has not strongly targeted integration during this period, that is to say so far. Indeed, conservative whites have elected elected officials, including President Richard Nixon, who has made dismantling inclusive education a priority. Nixon appointed four conservative Supreme Court justices who dutifully dismantled legal mandates for school desegregation. (3) Residential segregation, which is very prevalent in the United States, leads to school segregation, in the absence of strong policies to prevent it from doing so, as was ordered by the court in the late 1960s / early 70s but no longer after that.

On the issue of a fair future, the lessons of the past are that simply aiming for integration will not bring equality, and even achieving integration will not. As long as class inequalities, especially in the extreme form we see in the United States, continue to plague us, equality in education is impossible. Rich people can “play with the system” and accumulate opportunities for their children, to the detriment of the working class and poorer students. Poverty will continue to translate into educational disadvantage. The issue of inequalities must be brought to the fore. Integration does not replace the direct treatment of inequalities.

The value of inclusion does not lie primarily in achieving equality, but rather in contributing to a strong civic education where children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds learn from each other and from their (and their own) history, heritage and culture, and learn to work together and respect each other. This is the primary value of integration, not of equality.

Can you say a few words about the history of race-based inequality and injustice in the American public school system today? Racial inequality in American public schools has been going on for years, what is the solution?

LB: Unless racial and class inequalities in broad areas of life – wealth, income, health, occupation, housing – are seriously reduced, it will not be possible for public education to be equal for all the groups. President Biden’s poverty reduction programs, especially under the Reconstruction Act, would do more for equality in education than anything schools can do on their own.

Of course, schools and classes should strive to treat all students equally, as well as to teach students about social justice and injustice in society.

ZB: History shows us that Americans built public schools to exclude and discriminate against children of color. Addressing this will require significant structural changes in the way public schools are organized and managed. The urgent changes that must occur include the equalization of funding for schools between districts, the creation of restorative justice frameworks, the decolonization of the curriculum, the hiring of more teachers and administrators of color, and the establishment of restorative justice frameworks. guarantee that all parents have a say in school governance.

Your book problematizes not only the troubled history of segregation in America, but also the idea that integration as such is the answer. How do you analyze the distinction between integration and the incumbent word “integrations”?

LB: The discussion on inclusive education is limited because people have different ideas about “integration”. Some people use it in the Brown meaning, that is to say Desegregation, understood as the removal of the legal foundations of the Jim Crow system of segregation that was achieved in the southern United States (until 1964). This has been the dominant meaning in many Supreme Court decisions, and it does not require that students of different races actually attend the same schools. It only requires that if they don’t, it is not because they are deliberately assigned to racially exclusive schools. Others understand by “integration” that pupils of different races actually attend schools together. This is probably the most common meaning today. But a third sense considers this second sense to be insufficient; for example, Dr King believed that “integration” should include people treating each other with respect and on an equal basis once they occupy the same spaces.

In addition, people of color have conceived multiple visions of inclusive education and its relationship to educational equality and broader goals of liberation. This is not surprising, given the extraordinary range of circumstances in which different people living at different times and places have found themselves, but nonetheless it is important to recognize and affirm that all of these many visions of equality education have merit. In some cases, black, Latin American and Native American educational activists have opted for alternatives to integration, and this aspiration has helped improve public education in the United States even if it does not involve integration.

Obviously, these different meanings or forms of school integration provide very different answers to the question of how integration relates to equality and civic education. If you integrate equality at school into your integration efforts (King’s definition), this will obviously have a more salutary effect on the achievement of overall educational equality than if you simply bring racially different populations into the same ones. spaces but do not require that they treat each other. also (the second definition). (But King’s “ideal” definition will still not be sufficient for equity as it leaves the inequalities in the outer society in place.)

Likewise, integration in King’s sense is much more likely to serve the goals of civic education and civic engagement than simply bringing racially different students into the same space. Its definition is based on respect and equal treatment which are part of what civic education demands.

Towards the end of the book, you state that “schools alone cannot create educational justice.” What more do you need? How do you find the line, if any, between educational activism and social activism?

LB: Educational activism should always be mindful of social activism on the broader issues impacting schools, and should seek to form alliances that will strengthen the academic and extracurricular aspects of the educational equity movement. Of course, there is a role for activism aimed at purely academic reforms, such as curricula, pedagogical and disciplinary issues. But movements for change in schools must always reflect on the impact of poverty, racism and inequalities in society on what happens in schools, including which students attend which schools. The 2018-19 teacher ‘rebellions’ were a good model of teachers addressing issues of inequality that affected their students, such as adequate funding of schools, community schools (e.g. health workers in schools). schools, support services) and sometimes equity in housing.

Integrations: the fight for racial equality and civic renewal in public education is available now on our website or at your favorite bookseller.


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