14 May 2010

What is "Segregation?"

Define it for me. See, I tend to think of "segregation" in the classic sense as being along the lines of telling the black kids they must drink from a different water fountain and sit in another waiting room. In schooling, it means telling the black family in a white neighbourhood that their kid is going to be bussed across town so he doesn't get any uppity ideas.

But if we all live in the same neighbourhood, it stands to reason that we should be able to shop in the same grocery stores and send our kids to the same public schools.

If you're a parent, you're not going to want your kid sent across town to school if he's going to attend. You want the school up the street from your house. And the very thought that your child has to be bussed across town to make some school "racially diverse" sounds a bit... racist, doesn't it? Why are they even keeping track of what colour your kid is? That's just creepy. And why should your kid endure a 45-minute bus ride twice a day because of his colour?

Isn't that stuff not supposed to matter now? Does "segregation" now mean "going to school with too many people just like yourself?" Apparently it does! I only wish I were kidding! Read this book review excerpt:

"In 1954, Kansas City’s segregated schools were more than 80% white, enrolled about 60,000 students, and offered arguably the finest public education available in the metropolitan area. . . . Moreover, Kansas City students attended classes in some of the finest facilities in the area . . . By 1999, the Kansas City public schools enrolled 31,200 students, approximately 80% of whom were minorities, and the general perception of the Kansas City schools was much less favorable. Whereas fifty years earlier, the school system was an institution in which most Kansas City residents took pride, in 1999, Kansas City was the only unaccredited school district in the state of Missouri (pp.277-278).

"The turnaround Moran describes in the Kansas City school system is striking but far from surprising. Such trends are reflected across the country. By the year 2000, for example, nearly one-third of all black students attended schools in which 90% of the student population was nonwhite. Classically, sociologists have been able to measure segregation by looking at the probability that a black student will have white classmates. In the 1990s, every region of the country became more segregated than in the past. In the northeast, the problem was most egregious: the probability that a black student would have a white classmate was 25%. Nationally the probability stood at 32% – down from 35% in 1990 (Rosen 2000)."

Um... they measure "segregation" by the "probability that a black student would have a white classmate." Not by whether people are purposefully and craftily creating unequal and racially separate schools within a given district.

So... now I'm reading in the news that schools are "re-segregated" if the districts happen to draw the boundary lines in such a way that transporation costs are reduced, thus resulting in a more homogenous racial makeup (black or white) at each school. And the NAACP is all mad about it.

Last I checked, people were free to move to another district entirely if they wanted. For that matter, I'm free to move to a mansion in Johnson County TOMORROW if I get enough cash together. (Little things like that do prevent me, though.)

People move, and when they move, they pick the best district for THEIR children. They aren't worried about "segregation." They are worried about "reputation," college entrance rates, test scores, and whether the home owner's association has a pool. I know when we moved to this area we specifically avoided Kansas City Schools. No way we're moving there if we have children in school, even if it would mean amazing tax breaks because D works downtown. Even if it means a half hour commute each way. Not happening.

And another thing: rich people don't want to live near riff-raff like you and me. They build their estate-sized lots near other people with their estate-sized lots, and if they're going to slum it and send their children to public school (so they can tell people they aren't snobby... their schools are diverse and they even have a Filipino now), it won't be near where we live.

I think my point is this... not all segregation is racial. I'm going to come right out and say public education is not an equal opportunity education provider. You are not Joe Everyman because you went to public school somewhere that spends $35,000 on each child, mmmkay? I'll leave you with this article. It's one of the few that comes right out and says what's at the bottom of it all: not all of us can afford an "excellent" public education. The pessimist in me wants to let you know that there is unintentional segregation that we do to others when we move away from problem areas, and segregation happens to us when we can't move to the super-rich 'hood. But the optimist in me wants to let you know that it's not the same as the segregation of the old days. I don't know if that matters much if you're left behind, but there it is.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this if you are polite in the comment section. :)


  1. Wow. I can't believe no one has commented on this post. Whoever thinks public school is a place of balance and fairness and that all districts are able to give their "best" to the kids, etc. is seriously fooling themselves. Segregation through purposeful moving by the parents or bussing happens all the time. In my hometown (big city Texas) a shift began to occur when I was in school in the late 80's. People from the "South-side" began moving to the "North-side" (separate districts) to get their kids in better schools. Until then the majority of Hispanics lived South and West, the Blacks lived East, and the Whites lived North. The schools have changed so much in the neighborhood where I grew-up (North) that now most of the White kids there go to private schools. The ones who don't have parents who sit around complaining about the change in schools, because of all of "those people" who live in all of the apartments. Yikes! Or the parents continue moving North to the semi-rural areas. There has always been a distinct disadvantage to the schools in the South, West, and East because funding is based on property taxes. Well, the tax on a $35,000 house is very different from that of a $350,000 house. It's ridiculous to me that we can't, as a people/a society, see the advantage of giving every child the best education possible. I don't want to sound like a socialist--I am not--but the kids in the North district (with the $350,000 homes) don't need a state of the art classroom when the schools in the poorer districts can't even buy all of the books they need.

    BTW--the same kinds of thing happen here in the socialist country I currently live in. All kids pay huge school fees every year for supplies, books, and uniforms (public schools). And guess what happens to the kids whose parents can't pay? They go without. Public education is not free and in most cases its not the best we can do for our kids (meaning all kids in the community). So, so sad.

  2. I knowwww... I'm surprised no one commented (except you!) as well. Maybe race and class are such touchy subjects that everyone just steered clear. I know people READ the post from sitemeter... they just didn't want to comment.

    I have mixed feelings about public education, but mostly I'm concerned that people think they're really GETTING an education in some of these schools... and they waste their entire childhoods before they learn their degree is pretty useless. And "do you want fries with that?" sorts of jobs are actually hard to come by right now.

    Blessings, friend. I'm glad you popped your two-cents in. :)

  3. Very touchy subject, but I love your points, Mrs. C.

    The other thing that'd be interesting to consider is how racially diverse sports teams are. I think you'd come up with very interesting results. For instance, I don't recall swimming against a single non-super-white-like-me guy in my entire high school career. Perhaps that's because I'm truly colorblind, but I'm guessing there are other factors involved...


  4. I don't know, Luke, but with the Williams sisters in tennis and Tiger Woods in gold, some of the old colour barriers (or perceived barriers) are not there anymore. :)

    It may be that poorer (mostly black, but also rural white!) schools cannot afford swimming pools and tennis courts, or that people in these areas can't afford lessons for the most part.

  5. I meant "golf." Though he probably has plenty of gold, too. :P


Non-troll comments always welcome! :)