Schools and Segregation – Really?

As a former educator, I am still very passionate about the subject of education and lately there has been some interesting debate in this part of the country regarding not only that topic but the issues that come with.

The year 2009 was an election year for county school board seats in various counties throughout our state.  Whether the issues were who was the best candidate to fill the available seats, school finance, overcrowding, busing, what have you, the debate really heated up in Wake County (NC), the county with the largest population attending public schools.

Recently, the new Wake County School Board was sworn in and one of the first issues they addressed is the County socio-economic diversity policy which currently allows for busing students cross-county to ensure student population is balanced (see this story at  Newly elected School Board Officials proposed an assignment change that would end that policy and instead promote the idea of “neighborhood schools”.  Some are applauding the efforts of the school board while others are protesting that the very idea sends us backwards in time to segregation.  I believe that philosophy is further from the truth and let me explain why.

First, let me start with my educational background.

I grew up in the north, specifically Massachusetts.  There most towns/cities had an elementary (or a couple of elementary schools), a middle, and a high school governed by that town or city based on laws set forth by the state.  Within those same parameters, busing was also controlled by the town/city as well.  There might be some “regional” schools, specifically high schools, but for the most part each municipality has its own school system. In other words, schools were not linked by County as they are here. Our system worked pretty well and, I believe (for the most part) still does.

As a child, when I was old enough to ride the bus, I would take it along a route that would lead from my neighborhood to the center of town where the schools were a mere 4.5 miles on a route that took maybe 20 minutes.

Now, imagine being a child growing up today in Wake County, North Carolina where your town might have the same dynamic (an elementary or 2, a middle, and a high school or might share a high school with a neighboring town) BUT because the County wishes to practice a balance of socio-economic status you find that instead of going to your neighborhood school, you are heading to a school across the county where you get to by a bus ride that sometimes takes an hour or more to get to.

Doesn’t anyone see the glaring disadvantage here? The child is spending 2 or more hours on the road EVERY day.  It’s almost as if he or she is a “commuter”.  All he or she would need is a cup of coffee & the newspaper to get through the ride…or in today’s society, an IPOD or Smart Phone to entertain them on their way.

HELLO!  These are kids, not adults.  Two hours a day to get to and from school, eight hours in school, 3 or 4 hours (sometimes longer) for homework, add the extracurriculars into the mix, do you see my point?

And…when does a kid get to just be a kid?  When do they get to breathe?  After college?

Being in a neighborhood school has several advantages.

  1. Less amount of time spent getting there and back
  2. Parents can more easily arrange for study groups because the students working together all live closer together.
  3. Under most circumstances, teachers can plan parent conferences at scheduled times that are more convenient for both parties, especially considering the parent doesn’t also have to make that “commute” to the school to make it happen.
  4. Rather than spending money on gas, wear & tear on the buses, maintenance fees, etc. because of the added mileage the “commuter” trip takes, that money could actually be spent in the classroom where the teachers need it more and where it will ultimately benefit the child, your child.

I could go on.

There are some that might argue, “But my child gets a better education if they attend THAT school” over the one that’s right smack in their neighborhood. I disagree with that statement too.

It’s not what’s in the textbook that provides the education, it’s the application of it.

First and foremost (and this is what really irritates me about NCLB too) education does not take place only in the schools.  It may start there but it’s up to the parents to ensure that they are doing their part to give their child a quality education.  “But, I check my child’s homework every night” you might say.  That’s only a portion of it.  There are OTHER things parents can do to follow up with the education process.. and teachers have been telling that to parents for years.  It’s not what’s in the textbook that provides the education, it’s the application of it.  Teachers aren’t the only ones responsible for that application.  The parents are too!

“What does that have to do with the poor performing neighborhood school?” you might ask.  Do I really have to answer THAT question?

Sure, even I admit there are some teachers that probably shouldn’t be teaching (especially those burnt out ones and/or the ones that are just counting down the days to retirement with YEARS to go to get there).  There are probably some schools with outdated textbooks and limited supplies and while that sure as sugar is an issue, the bottom line is it’s not all up to the schools.  It’s up to the parents too.

I’ll even admit there are schools in better economic shape but that’s simply because of their neighborhood and the income of the families in it.  That’s the reality.  BUT, because of the parameters set forth by the County and the state regarding ANY school, all schools should be given the same chance at a quality education.  Don’t you think by saving money on the busing, that using that money for the actual school in the neighborhood itself is more beneficial and thereby gives that school a chance at the same shot as the one in the higher economic bracket?

And it has NOTHING to do with segregation.

My point, your neighborhood school can be just as good as the one across the County if you let it, if you get involved, if YOU make that difference for your child, AND if the County can allocate more monies to it to make that happen.  Removing cross-county bus routes might actually prove to be more helpful than harmful to your neighborhood school and thereby to your child.

And it has NOTHING to do with segregation. I resent that is even a thought. I cannot fathom that’s what some people are calling it.  Get your heads out of the dark ages, people!  It’s not about the color of students (or their families), the race, the religion, the whatever.  It’s about giving your students and your families a better chance in your neighborhood through your neighborhood school.

I feel so strongly about the advantages to eliminating cross-county bus  routes as you can tell.  Neighborhood schooling is much more advantageous for any child and allocating the monies that were used for those 2-hour commutes to those cross-county schools will be a better solution for a majority of the students attending that neighborhood school.  I say “majority” because there will still be some parents that don’t quite get what education at home really means and so therefore, their child will suffer unfortunately.

However, if a parent feels their child should attend the school that they would have attended if busing to that school were still available, then I say to that parent, YOU be responsible for getting your child there.  Don’t punish the County (by requiring that they bus your child) or the other children & families who welcome the opportunity for this change.

Give neighborhood schooling a try.  Watch the seeds of that concept grow once there are more monies allocated to those schools, monies that would’ve been spent on unnecessary busing.

And if the County mis-appropriates the funds, then tell those School Board members they are to blame (and don’t vote ’em back in the next go around either).

That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it!


Lisa 🙂

4 Responses to “Schools and Segregation – Really?”
  1. JPCurrier says:

    Lisa, unfortunately, poor race relations is big business. Imagine all the poor souls who would be without a job at RAINBOW/P.U.S.H., NAACP, etc. That’s not to say we don’t have real race relational problems in this country, but I suspect it’s better then some would like to make it out to be.

    Which reminds me of a interview Don Imus had with Charles Barkley. The basketball star, who wrote “Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man?”, talked about what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King meant to him, Imus responded: “In my view, just as a white man, it doesn’t seem to me that a lot has changed since those days.”

    Barkley didn’t take the bait. He responded with this, as reported by Bernard Goldberg in “Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right”: “When Imus asked Charles Barkley if he agreed that not much had changed since the days of Selma, [Barkley] said, No, he most definitely did not agree. Sounding a lot like Bill Cosby, he told Imus, “We as black people have become our own worst enemy. If you’re out there killing other black kids, selling drugs, having kids you can’t afford, and not getting your education, you just compound the problem. Racism exists. But there comes a point when you have to say enough is enough.”

    That was in 2004. Sir Charles’ words ring about as true today as they did then. However, in my opinion, the most interesting words spoken in that interview were Imus’.

    What would a white, Southern California-born, Arizona-raised, talk-show host know about race relations in America? And how in the world could he judge them as being about the same as it was during the Montgomery Bus Strikes or Selma riots?

    We need to take stock of how far we’ve come to truly see how bad it is today.

  2. lasullivan says:

    Cathy, Thank YOU for the *applause*. So nice to see my thoughts aren’t totally out in left field. 🙂

    John, interesting comparison there & I completely agree with you on all accounts. I wish I could ask the question – “When are we all going to grow up & realize race should NOT be an issue? Period.” and actually have a plethora of responses that second, third, fourth, etc. that. Alas, even in today’s society I just don’t see that happening and quite frankly, not confident it will happen in my lifetime either. Yes, sad. VERY sad. 😦

  3. JPCurrier says:

    Interestingly, there’s a connection to forced busing today and the civil rights movement of the late 50’s/60’s.

    Transportation has been one the most volatile arenas for race relations in the South. Rosa Parks recalled in an interview how going to elementary school in Pine Level, Alabama, buses took white kids to the new school but black kids had to walk to their school.

    “I’d see the bus pass every day,” she said. “But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world”.

    Unfortunately, some would prefer that the bus continue to be that symbol of race relations here in the South.


  4. Cathy Wood says:


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