Teachin' Spanish For America

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 25 2011

Voluntary Segregation?

I don’t know if you have heard about this, but I was wondering what you all thought about it.  To summarize, there’s a school in Pennsylvania that for a short period of time each day, offers what it calls “mentoring” that is separated by race, gender, and language.  It’s being termed by some “voluntary segregation.”

I haven’t decided how I feel about it yet (which is bad, because I have a paper about it due tomorrow).  I’m very cautious to starting running around and yelling about segregation over six minutes’ worth of non-instruction time.  And I do understand the reasoning behind it, especially believing in a lot of the multicultural education ideas (that TFA, for the most part, also believes in)  in which it’s detrimental to ignore race completely.

But I’m still worried, because this isn’t really what I would envision multiculturalism to be.  No one is being subsumed into white male dominance in these moments (or at least, if they are, it’s less), but no one is learning about and with each other either.

I just don’t know.  I figured you smart folks might have something to say about it, and I figured it was relevant.


3 Responses

  1. Wess

    I wonder what they plan to do for six minutes each day?
    Also–I liked the principals’ quote about not running from the data, but it seems like any results of simply gathering in small groups to talk about paths for success could easily be wrongly attributed to splitting up students by race/gender/language.

  2. loulou

    I’m having trouble articulating what I want to say about this [I *think* I get there in last paragraph, so feel free to skip to the end], but here goes:

    This appears to be one of those little local stories that got picked up by a bunch of different media outlets and blogs, which then generated a whole lot of outraged comments from readers and viewers nationwide.

    And I understand and sympathize with that response –but I’m wondering if the indignation generated by a program like this (which appears to be trying to do a good thing, even if we’re not sure about its methods) is somehow a feel-good substitute for outrage and indignation about how completely and totally segregated our schools already are.

    In the city where I live right now, the city school district is (vastly) majority black and Hispanic and well over 75% of the students received free lunches. The schools are ranked the lowest in the state and the graduation rate is well below 50%. The city schools are completely ringed by wealthy, majority white suburban school districts, several of which regularly appear on lists of the nation’s best high schools. Unfortunately, as readers of TeachForUs well know, that’s not even remotely anomalous in this country–but that’s real and true segregation. But to fix that kind of segregation — well, that would at best require a lot more time and energy and commitment and willingness on the part of the public to completely reconceptualize how we fund public education and whose kids get to go to school where. And probably a lot of individuals willing to stand up and do things that (from a certain perspective) seem to maybe not be in their best interest — like maybe sending their kids to a not-stellar school, just in the name of educational diversity and equality. Or agreeing (or insisting) that their property taxes leave their own communities in order to support schools in lower-income districts. Or maybe even moving.

    Whereas the Pennsylvania segregation — that’s easy. The media made a fuss, people posted outraged comments on websites, and the school cancelled the program. A quick easy victory for the forces of good. And it lets a lot of well-intentioned people feel like they’re on the right side of issue, without having to put themselves on the line in any real way.

    So I guess I’m less interested in whether the mentoring program is right/wrong/good/bad than I am in why it created the particular kind of furor it did. And what that furor says about us–as citizens and as a nation.

    Actually, let me rephrase that: I’m more interested in the *consequences* of that furor. Because it seems to me that stories like this seem to question the status quo and end up actually reinforcing it, only with an added layer of moral righteousness. So we can join together in condemning this school district in PA, because OF COURSE segregation is bad and evil and a program like this is just re-opening the door to the days of separate-but-equal–but in joining together and condemning, we’re completely overlooking the degree to which schools already ARE segregated and we’re positioning today’s educational landscape in opposition to what existed 50 years ago as more egalitarian and enlightened. Which ends up framing the whole issue in terms of how much progress we’ve made, rather than how much we still have to do. Which is an odd and troubling dynamic.

    • I don’t think the PA segregation IS easy, which is why I brought it up. And I think that it has interesting implications that make it entirely relevant and important to talk about. Of course I think that there are other things that we should be talking about as well, but I don’t think this topic should be dismissed as a distraction.

      I think that the “gut” reaction that you describe against the concept of segregation makes a great introduction into questions of WHY that is so, and why, fifty-plus years after de-segregation, we are having this conversation. I think that conversation is an important, and not necessarily and easy, one–and I think that it leads to many of the discussions that you mention.

      What I have been focusing on mentally is the questions it raises about multiculturalism. What is “respecting” a culture? Is that what they say they’re doing, or trying to do? What does segregation really mean? And are their use of “data-driven” methods–doesn’t that sound like TFA? How are they using the data? What is “the data”?

      I just don’t think it’s doing what you say it’s doing in your last paragraph. And I still want to talk about it.

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