We welcome to the blog today a guest post by Mara Casey Tieken, author of Why Rural Schools Matter. From headlines to documentaries, urban schools are at the center of current debates about education. From these accounts, one would never know that 51 million Americans live in rural communities and depend on their public schools to meet not only educational but also social and economic needs. For many communities, these schools are the ties that bind. This book shares the untold story of rural education. Drawing upon extensive research in two southern towns, Tieken exposes the complicated ways in which schools shape the racial dynamics of their towns and sustain the communities that surround them. Vividly demonstrating the effects of constricted definitions of public education in an era of economic turmoil and widening inequality, Tieken calls for a more contextual approach to education policymaking, involving both state and community.
In today’s post, Tieken discusses the desegregation effect of Brown v. Board of Education, and the more recent reversion toward resegregation in U.S. schools.
Somewhere during these past six decades, our nation reversed course. What had been a slow march towards school desegregation has become instead a rapid retreat from that goal. This about-face is not accidental—and recent education policymaking is largely to blame.
This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that found racial segregation in schools unconstitutional. In large measure, the decision worked. Though it took many years—and the added weight of executive orders, U.S. troops, and the Civil Rights Act—slowly, the nation’s schools began to integrate. By the late 1980s, gains in desegregation were significant, particularly for black students. The South saw the largest gains: the year of the Brown decision, no black student was attending a majority white school, but, by 1988, 44 percent were. The South had become the most integrated region of the country.
Delight, Arkansas, was one of the success stories. In a state notorious for its civil rights history, this small rural district quietly works towards desegregation. Through several school closures and reorganizations in the 1960s and 1980s, the Delight school district came to encompass students from six small towns—three nearly all-white, two nearly all-black, and one more racially mixed. The process certainly had its faults: in the closure of its schools, the black community bore a cost the white community never did. Yet it also had a supportive leadership and teaching staff. As a former superintendent explained, “when kids came here, black or white, they were Bulldogs and we all pulled together.”
When I visited Delight for the first time in 2007, I found a desegregated district. Its one K-12 school, with 330 60students, was about 60 percent white and 30 percent African American (with the remaining 10 percent international students, due to a robust international program). More telling than numbers were the details: black students spent the night at the houses of white classmates, the rosters of AP classes listed both black and white students, and the school ran smoothly under the leadership of a black principal and a diverse school board. Delight sometimes struggled with racialized incidents—a racial epithet heard on the playground or a parent’s ignorant comment. But, however imperfectly and incompletely, it was moving towards the promise of Brown.
Today, though, we see a different reality: our nation’s schools are resegregating. Continue reading ‘Mara Casey Tieken: 60 Years after Brown, Resegregation Is on the Rise’ »