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July 06, 2010

Does Separate, But Equal Yield Better Academic Outcomes?

Perhaps when it comes to learning:

...suppose integration doesn't change the culture of underperformance? What if integration inadvertently created that culture in the first place? This is the startling hypothesis of Stuart Buck's Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation. Buck argues that the culture of academic underachievement among black students was unknown before the late 1960s. It was desegregation that destroyed thriving black schools where black faculty were role models and nurtured excellence among black students. In the most compelling chapter of Acting White, Buck describes that process and the anguished reactions of the black students, teachers, and communities that had come to depend on the rich educational and social resource in their midst.

Buck draws on empirical studies that suggest a correlation between integrated schools and social disapproval of academic success among black students. He also cites the history of desegregation's effect on black communities and interviews with black students to back up a largely compelling—and thoroughly disturbing—story. Desegregation introduced integrated schools where most of the teachers and administrators were white and where, because of generations of educational inequality, most of the best students were white. Black students bused into predominantly white schools faced hostility and contempt from white students. They encountered the soft prejudice of low expectations from racist teachers who assumed blacks weren't capable and from liberals who coddled them. Academic tracking shunted black students into dead-end remedial education. The effect was predictably, and deeply, insidious. The alienation typical of many young people of all races acquired a racial dimension for black students: Many in such schools began to associate education with unsympathetic whites, to reject their studies, and to ostracize academically successful black students for "acting white."

I find this idea fascinating. This may be one of those inconvenient times when reality is a lot messier than academic theories. Studies have cast doubt on the salutory effects of diversity:

"New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighborhoods residents of all races tend to 'hunker down.' Trust (even of one's own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer...Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television. Note that this pattern encompasses attitudes and behavior, bridging and bonding social capital, public and private connections. Diversity, at least in the short run, seems to bring out the turtle in all of us."

And it's not just racial/ethnic diversity that may hinder academic achievement - both boys and girls seem to benefit from single sex education. The real tragedy is that even with the supposedly "leveling" effect of modern technology, at the end of the day we still bond mainly with people just like ourselves:

The diversity of core discussion networks has markedly declined; discussion networks are less likely to contain nonkin -- that is, people who are not relatives by blood or marriage; although the decline is not as steep as has been previously reported.

Wouldn't it be ironic if it turned out that all this forced inclusivity is pushing us in the wrong direction - making us a less tolerant and diverse society?

Posted by Cassandra at July 6, 2010 08:48 AM

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I have to wonder if their study looked at what are probably the most integrated - both racially and economically - schools in the country: DoD schools.

I've read before that minority students in DoD schools have historically outperformed other minority students nationwide, and that the gap between minority students at DoD schools and other schools has historically been much narrower than elsewhere.

DoD schools have been an outlier in this area for years, possibly due to cultural differences within the military itself that carry over to servicemembers kids and thus the schools.

Posted by: Heartless Libertarian at July 6, 2010 01:18 PM

The first part of this, regarding the effects of integrating education, fascinates me. First, because I grew up in the Deep South and I remember when my high school was integrated. The situation was exactly what is described. I would simply add that it was not just the black students who were looked down on: it was the black teachers also.

Second these ideas fascinate me because of the black people I knew when I was growing up. In the midst of extremely difficult conditions, they were incredibly hard-working and valued education greatly. I believed firmly that once people of such formidable character were offered decent opportunities they would be unstoppable. It's interesting to read a theory that seeks to explain what derailed that process.

Posted by: Elise at July 6, 2010 01:21 PM

... because I grew up in the Deep South and I remember when my high school was integrated. The situation was exactly what is described. I would simply add that it was not just the black students who were looked down on: it was the black teachers also.

You know, it's funny - I grew up (until I was 13) up North. When I moved down South I had a very Neil Young-esque picture of how prejudiced "those people" were. The irony is that my schools up North were starkly predominantly white.

When they started busing in kids from a predominantly black school, the main effect I saw was packs of kids roaming up and down the halls intentionally trying to pick fights. Didn't quite fit with my "Room 222" vision of enlightened race relations. All of a sudden there were fights everywhere and big burly gym teachers standing out in the halls to pull people off each other.

I have no idea what it was like for those kids to get bused to a predominantly white, affluent school district but I do know that even if they were uncomfortable/intimidated, they didn't act that way. They came off as angry and spoiling for a fight.

I'm old enough now (and was smart enough then) to realize that things aren't always exactly as they seem. Bullies, for instance, aren't usually confident at all. They're insecure.

But what I saw play out at one middle school and two HS's was the exact opposite of the script I'd seen play out over and over on TV (i.e., mean prejudiced white kids bully and harass the poor black kids who are only trying to avoid trouble).

I got into a HUGE fight with my best friend (daughter of a legal German immigrant) because she had the nerve to say, "Look - my ancestors weren't even IN America when slavery existed and yet I'm getting picked on simply by virtue of my skin color".

And you know what? She was. That's kind of a textbook example of how real life doesn't always confirm our ideas of how people really act. On the positive side, I got along pretty well with just about everyone.

I actually saw more racial ugliness directed towards whites by blacks (and I dated a black guy in 10th grade for several months) than the other way around.

I like that Issues and Views website - there are some pretty amazing articles on black history there. This is a good example of the kind of thing I wish more students learned about:


Amazing people. I am a firm believer that the worst thing anyone can do for one's character is expect too little of them. And I don't think that has a darned thing to do with race or sex.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 6, 2010 02:01 PM

Of course racial resegregation has been going on for quite some time and charter schools are leading the way:


Posted by: Craig at July 6, 2010 02:42 PM

Is it "resegregation"? Or simply Americans learning to look beyond race and exercise their voluntary right of free association?

I'm just curious, Craig. Do you think we're better off having the government coerce us into arrangements that don't actually do what they purport to do and leave minorities worse off? Are blacks/women too stupid to decide for themselves how best to get what they want out of life?

Who gets to tell them how they should live or where they should go to school, and why should any of us trust the government to make major decisions like that for us?

I worked my a** off when my kids were growing up so I could send them to the best schools at each duty station. And after 2 years of paying for one private school, I took them out and home schooled them when it became apparent it was a "white flight" school because I didn't want them exposed to trash.

I have a hard time with folks who think race or sex is the most important thing about any human being. And I certainly don't trust the government to tell me where I should live, where my kids should go to school or that I should be "satisfied" with a public school system that is often substandard and dysfunctional. I've never understood why Obama (who went to a pricey private school himself and sends his daughters to Sidwell Friends) opposes giving less affluent black families the choices he enjoys.

Or that I worked so hard for.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 6, 2010 02:53 PM

Heartless Libertarian comes at a notion I have from a different angle:

What if it's not the "diversity" (as Liberals use the word-- basically, racial only) that screws folks up, it's the lack of common feeling?

DOD schools: WE are military kids.

Sexually separated schools: WE are boys, WE are girls.

Racially separated schools: WE are black, We are white, WE are Filipino, WE are (whatever racial group)

On down the line through religion, politics and home schooling.

Age doesn't seem to work very well, because it's such a squishy thing-- although I seem to remember that having a "homeroom" group improved grades.
(My high school instituted a "homeroom" for each entire grade as a result of that study-- every morning, EVERYONE in a grade went to the same class. It was Social Studies and English, I think. The idea being that we'd bond.)

Different cultures, values, manners, personalities and such make conflict, which is going to distract you from learning. No wonder folks who minimize that get better results.

Posted by: Foxfier at July 6, 2010 03:43 PM

What I think Cassandra is getting at, Foxfier, is the idea that maybe it isn't racially segregated schools that really underline the idea that "we are black" or "we are white." Maybe it's those schools that focus our attention on the differences.

In other words, it might be more possible to have a general fellow-feeling towards human beings who are different from you, if you don't rub up against them every day. Rubbing creates friction, after all.

The thing is, that actually does appear to be true. I don't know how DOD schools compare, as my father was out of the Army by the time I started school, but my impression from talking to soldiers with kids in school is that there can be significant racial friction.

Now, that doesn't mean I'm inclined to segregation. Sometimes, in life, you can indeed get better results by hiding from sources of pain, and pretending problems don't exist. Those better results will only be temporary, though -- they might last as long, in this case, as the end of high school.

And then, the awakening!

Better to learn it up front. Those who are inclined to be just to others will start thinking about it, and practicing for it, earlier. Practice makes perfect.

Posted by: Grim at July 6, 2010 03:54 PM

I would never want to live in a world that was completely segregated (either by fiat or custom). At the same time I think sometimes we do go too far trying to "equalize" differences I'm not sure can be equalized away. I think this is true whether you're talking culture, race, sex, whatever.

It can cause resentment and backlash.

Race wasn't much discussed in my house growing up and yet somehow I grew up knowing racism was wrong and that you take people one by one. When I went out into the world I saw differences between groups of people. I didn't really overanalyze them.

I either got along with someone or I didn't. Growing up in the military, you grow up in a less segregated world: people work together but don't necessarily socialize on their off hours. Some do, but people do tend to group according to perceived differences. I don't *necessarily* see anything bad about this. It's not *necessarily* good, either.

It just "is". I was raised to believe that people should try hard to understand each other's differences but that there was a uniform standard of acceptable behavior that applies to everyone. I still believe that. It's not that I can't - or won't - make some allowances. I do that on a daily basis, just as I do when I'm trying to figure out what the (*&^% you manly men think :p

I think the "common feeling" (or maybe just common values) aspect is very important.

The neighborhood where we bought our first house was very diverse racially, but it was mostly military. The neighbors I got along with, borrowed stuff from, talked to, let my kids play with, were the ones whose values I shared.

I had my kids in private school. So did my next door neighbor, a black warrant officer whose oldest daughter was in law school and all of whose kids got straight A's and said "yes sir" and "ma'am" and came home and did their chores first before coming out to play.

We had the same views regarding not letting our boys play with kids who weren't (in our lofty opinions) "raised right": you can play with whoever you want so long as you remember your OWN family's rules. If I see you can't handle that freedom, it will be taken away.

Their youngest was a real pistol - all boy. But he was polite and well brought up and I imagine he grew up to be a hard worker like his Mom and Dad.

I guess I think the ability to get along with others is part inborn personality and part how you were raised. I'm not sure it can be forced as much as we'd like to think it can. What absolutely CAN be mandated is that minimum standard of behavior and yet that seems to be the first thing that gets thrown out the window.

I think that's why there sees to be a bit less friction in the armed forces - the standard is taken for granted and if you violate it, you are held accountable.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 6, 2010 04:22 PM

Grim, I think we're saying the same thing in different ways-- it's the feeling of unity that matters, not what the disunity is; if you force a Baptist school to admit Buddhists, black and white Baptists will contrast themselves against the black and white Buddhists, ESPECIALLY if you keep making a big deal about it.

Come to think of it... if you tell kids over and over and over how different they are, they're going to eventually listen. If you tell them over and over that they should be either mad or guilty because someone who looks a little like them did something or had something done to them, they're going to be irritated.

Of course, if you DO actually act colorblind, then the racebaiters are going to accuse you of forcing folks to act white, anyways, so it's all a big headache to no pay.....

Posted by: Foxfier at July 6, 2010 05:21 PM


I figure people (even within groups) are different enough to make it worthwhile to find out who and what they are. Somehow, race, sex, culture gets wrapped up in all of this. How do you tell what part's attributable to race, what part to sex, what part to personality, what part to experience?

Who the hell has time? I don't. I don't care. We are what we are. I hear guys say, "All guys..." all the time and I always think, "How do you know? All women aren't X or Y or any of the above?"

You're not trying to get along with "all men", "all women", "all whites", "all blacks" but *this* man/woman/white/black person. The rest is just an excuse not to find out what you really need to know.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 6, 2010 05:29 PM

I went to an all female college the first time around, and think it was a very good thing. There were fewer gender-based distractions i.e. people wasting preparing to flirt with the guys in class, and no one fighting over members of the opposite sex, at least not in the dorms or classrooms. We certainly mixed and mingled with guys, but not during business hours.

I wonder if in DoD schools, the higher number of two-parent, well-structured households has an effect on minority achievement. If you control for married parents, all ethnic and economic groups do better in school. But I'm an outsider: YMMV.

Posted by: LittleRed1 at July 6, 2010 07:13 PM

I am a product of DoDDS schools. I started school in San Antonio, K-2 (we lived in a regular neighborhood, so none of my classmates were military). Next was Augsburg American Elementary, 3-6 grades. Mostly military kids with a smattering of civilian kids whose parents worked for DoD in some fashion (several of my classmates were teachers' kids). Next was Bassett Junior High (7-9) in El Paso. Public school, but that's where the kids on post went. This was the first time I ever experienced racial tensions first-hand. Mostly, it was between blacks (the "rappers") and Latinos (they called themselves "cholos" [sp?], though I understand that is now a derogatory term), and I don't think any of the military kids (or not very many) were involved. I spent one year at Austin High in El Paso: again, that's where the military kids went, but it was mostly civilians (and not exactly upper class). My friends in El Paso were fellow Army brats and a handful of (Latino) civilian kids. A month into my junior year, we headed back to Augsburg. When we returned, I did actually know people: remember those teachers' kids? I did make new friends, a mix of fellow military brats and civilian kids. Augsburg was a smaller US community. I graduated with only 50 people, which was a lot smaller than some of the other military communities (like Stuttgart, K-town or Frankfurt) that had high schools as big as any you find here in the States. We never had any racial tensions. Yes, there were different cliques (headbanger, preppies, athletes), but you might be surprise how much intermingling occurred between them. Guess it was more of a thing with there were so few of us (relatively speaking) that we didn't dwell on the differences. We were all American kids living in Germany. I had friends from many ethnic/racial backgrounds: whites kids, Latino kids, black kids, Asian kids. Officers kids were friends with enlisted kids. Same with civilian kids (whose families tended to be more well-off). It was very much "mix & match". I very much liked my experiences in the DoDDS schools in Augsburg.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at July 6, 2010 10:19 PM

Wouldn't it be ironic if it turned out that all this forced inclusivity is pushing us in the wrong direction - making us a less tolerant and diverse society?

NOt if it was intentional.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 7, 2010 02:05 AM