This essay is excerpted from Leslie T. Fenwick’s forthcoming book, Jim Crow’s Pink Slip: Public Policy and the Near-Decimation of Black School Leadership after Brown. The excerpt provides a brief history about how many public schools came to be named for confederates and racist politicians who fought against integration and illegally resisted the Brown decision.
In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education legal decision proclaimed that segregation had no place in America’s public schools. With this new law of the land and ensuing federal pressure to desegregate, school districts in 17 dual system states complied by closing black schools and firing, demoting and dismissing legions of exceptionally credentialed black principals and teachers. At the time, closing black schools was the primary method for ridding the system of black principals and teachers most of whom were better credentialed than their white peers. Directly after Brown there was little displacement of black principals and teachers, but as Title VI compliance mandates increased, the National Education Association (NEA) received reports from black teachers’ associations indicating that displacements were increasing.
In late 1969, C. J. Duckworth who served as executive secretary to the Mississippi Teachers Association clarified the link between black school closures and black principal firing and demotions in 17 Mississippi school districts. In his report to the NEA, he wrote:
Alcorn County – the black high school reduced to a junior high school and the black principal demoted to a federal projects coordinators; Clarke County – the black high school reduced to a junior high school and the principal made an elementary principal for remainder of the year, after which he was to be terminated; Clay County – the black high school reduced to a junior high school with a white principal; ….Franklin County – a black elementary principal replaced by a white principal; Hancock County – the black high school phased out and only two of 10 black teachers remain; Harrison County – a black junior-senior high school eliminated and the black principal made supervisor of a material center;….Itawamba County – all black schools and principals eliminated; ….Prentiss County – black high schools and principals phased out; ….Marion County – black high school principals replaced with whites…. (p. 5332)
COVID-19 has forced educators to say goodbye to their classrooms and embrace adapting their pedagogy to online formats overnight. They have learned new technology, found creative ways to engage students remotely, and most importantly, kept education moving forward. The current public health crisis has placed a well-deserved spotlight on teachers. As parents struggle to balance work, supervise virtual classrooms, and co-educate their children, a new awareness and appreciation for the influence, power, and value of great teachers has emerged.
We have all read headlines about COVID-19’s drastic impact on the education system. We have seen firsthand the pandemic’s sweeping effect on our education institutions and students. And we have all been challenged to find remote learning opportunities that ensure teacher candidates are well-prepared to enter their own classrooms—whether in-person, hybrid, or virtual. While the hurdles we face are multidimensional, overcoming them is essential. To quote Linda Darling-Hammond, “If you don’t have a strong supply of well-prepared teachers, nothing else in education can work.”
A horizontal image of an empty primary school classroom. The setting is typically British.
In the last few weeks U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has put forward three initiatives intended to privatize the provision of public education. Given her long known and widely declared conviction that vouchers and related schemes to deliver public dollars into private hands are the panacea for all that ails education, this is not surprising. Watching her leap into the breach caused by the COVID-19 emergency is troubling, though not unexpected.
In her book, Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), Naomi Kline describes the phenomenon of a crisis precipitating the redistribution of public dollars into the waiting hands of private players who offer a seemingly undeniable remedy. Years earlier, economist Milton Friedman popularized the notion that only a crisis produces real change, enabling reforms that were not previously thought possible. “When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable,” wrote Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom (1962, ix). Kline’s research led her to coin the term “disaster capitalism,” which she describes as “orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities.” (6)
The American education system was not created to support the liberation of the powerless. Instead, it was designed to instill skills, habits, beliefs, and discipline that would allow for better control of the masses. The colonizers who became the architects of this country built a system that perpetuates the status of white-skinned privilege and wealth, while leaving those in the lower and middle classes burdened with the laborious task of building and supporting our nation’s economy and infrastructure.
Throughout the history of the United States, minoritized racial groups and those who live in poverty have suffered disparities in education through laws and policies that prohibited them from socioeconomic advancement, physical safety, and basic civil rights. The anti-literacy laws enacted before, during, and after the Civil War are just one example of how white-skinned privilege and power was used to perpetuate the oppression of enslaved Blacks and concretize a system that generated more wealth for those in power.
Our current education system continues to enable inequity through policies and practices that claim to be fair, colorblind, and neutral, but tend to privilege a small, elite portion of the U.S. population. We can no longer live by the adage “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” when those who deserve a better education continue to be plagued by disparities. Addressing the persistent opportunity gap between our nation’s socioeconomic classes requires sustained engagement from leaders across every field of education.
Female leaders throughout history have made significant contributions to societal advancement, in such areas as the civil rights movement and education reform. Yet to this day, women still fight for equity, be it in the boardroom or the classroom. However, the good news is this occurs less often within the educational ecosystem today.
Is equity the norm within educational leadership?
I am a Mexican-American woman, a teacher, and a first generation college student. Therefore, I approach my work from many perspectives using different lenses, and my gender is but one part of my journey. I have had many opportunities in my career to provide leadership at different levels of educational institutions, reflecting what I believe to be a trend in the last decade, where more and more women have assumed leadership positions in educational institutions. Take for example the system in which I am a leader: The California State University. We have 23 campuses and the majority of our presidents are female. And while I can’t single out my gender from my other identities as a leader, what I can tell you is that women continue to make a difference in the field because of their passionate dedication to better education for all.
Freedom of speech is an ideal to which those who founded this country believed in. I recall President Barack Obama’s many talks about the “American Ideals” of freedom, justice, and liberty, which I believe, includes free speech. Inherent in President Obama’s message was the notion that these ideals were not fully realized by historically marginalized communities in the United States. The current climate of our society further challenges our ability to see “freedom of speech” as something that is unifying rather than polarizing. This has become an increasingly important topic in higher education. The Chronicle of Higher Education, for example, continuously highlights issues regarding the intersection of free speech and civil discourse that are impacting education in unprecedented ways.
Why are schools still segregated in 2019? The answer to this question is a complicated one. One with roots deep in the history of our educational system. The surface answer has to do with the fact that racist curricula and prejudice within our society still exist. Where you live determines where you go to school. Many times, the poorer, minority students live in lower income neighborhoods. And as children become racially isolated, it then trickles into our schools, resulting in segregation.
In fact, segregation is even evident in schools that are racially diverse. You’ll notice that most students in advanced placement classes are Caucasian or Asian. Who do we see in remedial classes? We see African American students, particularly African American males. Even with a diverse student population, the evidence of systemic segregation is scarily rampant. The deep vestiges of racism and segregation subtly permeate through our schools and it sets dangerous precedents.
This article, written by AACTE Director of Government Relations K. Ward Cummings, originally appeared in the Daily News Opinion section and is reprinted with permission.
The civil rights leader Malcolm X once famously said that the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday. If he were alive today, he might also include those weekday hours between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. when our children are in school.
This past May was the 65th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education. The occasion inspired numerous panel discussions, seminars and reports about how much or how little the state of education has changed in the last half-century. Sadly, considerable attention also was paid to the subject of how segregated American schools remain 65 years later.
This article, written by AACTE Dean of Residence Leslie T. Fenwick, originally appeared in the Washington Post Valerie Strauss column and is reprinted with permission.
“The Problem We All Live With” is the title of the famed Norman Rockwell painting inspired by the story of Ruby Bridges and school integration. In 1964, Rockwell created the painting for the 10th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education legal decision that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. The subject of Rockwell’s painting was inspired by Ruby Bridges, who was just 6 years old (born four months after the May 1954 Brown decision) when she integrated the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.
The rabid violence hurled at young Ruby (mainly that day by white women on the scene) is represented in Rockwell’s painting by a racial slur, the letters KKK and a splattered tomato — all appearing on the wall behind Ruby as she marches forward. Despite this terrorism, innocent Ruby walks close on the heels of the front two guards into an undeterrable future. The painting is triumphant. Ruby’s right to attend an American public school unshackled by segregation was ensured by the federal government and, that day, warranted the protection of U.S. federal marshals.
AACTE is excited to announce the release of its new video series on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in educator preparation. The videos address a wide variety of topics ranging from promising practices for recruiting and retaining teachers of color, to the importance of culturally relevant teaching for growing the special education teacher pipeline, and also promoting equal access to quality teachers, just to name a few.
The video series exemplifies the Association’s new strategic priority to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. AACTE and its members value the diversity of students, their families, and educators; equity in access to high quality instructional environments; and the inclusion of all students, defined as access and opportunity in PK-20 classrooms.