Are Segregated Schools Better for Black Students? Are Segregated Schools Better for Black Students?
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Are Segregated Schools Better for Black Students?

by Nikhil Swaminathan

July 21, 2010
Stuart Buck, a legal and education scholar who is currently a distinguished doctoral fellow in education reform at the University of Arkansas, recently published a book called Acting White: The Ironic Effect of Desegregation

Buck describes the thesis of the book as:

If we look at the historical record, there is no evidence that black schoolchildren back in the days of slavery or Jim Crow accused a studious schoolmate of “acting white.” To the contrary, white people occasionally accused educated blacks of trying to be white. As historian Leon Litwack points out, nineteenth-century whites sometimes “equated black success with ‘uppityness,’ ‘impudence,’ getting out of place,’ and pretensions toward racial equality. ‘He think he white’ was the expression whites sometimes used to convey that suspicion, or ‘He is too smart,’ ‘He wants to be white and act like white people,’ and “He think he somebody.’” A Northerner who had moved to Georgia after the Civil War noted that “in the days of Slavery, the masters ridiculed the negroes’ efforts to use good language, and become like the whites.” Yet today, the “acting white” criticism that was once occasionally used by racist whites has been adopted by some black schoolchildren. This is a mystery, is it not? What happened between the nineteenth century and today?   The answer, I believe, springs from the complex history of desegregation. Although desegregation arose from noble and necessary impulses, and although desegregation was to the overall benefit of the nation, it was often implemented in a way that was devastating to black communities. It destroyed black schools, reduced the numbers of black principals and teachers who could serve as role models, and brought many black schoolchildren into daily contact with whites who made school a strange and uncomfortable environment that was viewed as quintessentially “white.”  

Over at Bloggingheads.tv, John McWhorter, a senior fellow public policy at the conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and Stanford Law School Professor Richard Thompson Ford discuss Buck's ideas. Both are of the opinion that there are advantages to all-black schools. McWhorter, for instance, asserts that critics of schools, such as KIPP Academies, who claim that the schools are "segregated," are missing the point entirely. Ford, on the other hand, laments the loss of black role models that was a consequence of integration.

Do you think integration, while it's hard to argue with its nobility and the spirit of equality behind it, could have cost several generations of black schoolchildren an unstigmatized shot at being academically successful?

Watch the full video of their discussion.

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Are Segregated Schools Better for Black Students?