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60 years after Brown v. Board, how to stop schools from re-segregating

By Beverly Daniel Tatum Special to CNN | 5/19/2014, 9:42 a.m.
I was born in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1954, the year of the landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of ...
Demonstrators march from the Supreme Court in recognition of the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Photo by Burke Buckhorn/CNN.

Conversely, academic performance is likely to improve if the student attends a middle-class school, even if his or her own family is poor. The learning conditions which are taken for granted in middle-class suburban schools are too often absent in impoverished classrooms.

It is not surprising that the outcomes associated with high-poverty schools across the country are bleak: lower test scores, higher dropout rates, fewer course offerings and low levels of college attendance.

If we remember that the original impetus for the Brown lawsuit was not simply a symbolic fight for the acknowledgment of the equality of all children, but a struggle for equal access to publicly funded educational resources, we can see that the struggle continues.

So, what must we do?

In particular, white children will need to be in schools that are intentional about helping them understand social justice issues like prejudice, discrimination and racism, empowering them to think critically about the stereotypes to which they are exposed in the culture.

Such tools are needed to help them acquire the social skills necessary to function effectively in a diverse world, and are essential for continued progress in a society still struggling to disentangle the racism woven into the fabric of its founding.

The hopeful news is that there are educators around the country working hard to create anti-racist classrooms and learning environments even when their classrooms are predominantly white.

Children of color in under-resourced, racially isolated schools also need these same tools. But they will also require powerful advocates to insure that they have committed and well-trained teachers, a challenging curriculum and the educational resources needed to inspire their own striving for excellence.

Providing these resources equitably is a daunting task, one that has never been accomplished in the history of education in the United States.

Yet we fail to do it at our own peril.

In 2014, the question we all must ask is: How do we build strong school communities where every student, regardless of race, is supported to achieve his or her personal best, and teach the skills needed to live in healthy, democratic society?

When we can answer that question, the promise of Brown v. Board of Education will be fulfilled.

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