People must be treated equally

By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

I’m enjoying teaching a multicultural history class through the Upward Bound program at Eastern New Mexico University this summer.

But it’s chilling that history seems to be repeating itself.

My class is a six-week course for college-bound high school students, which focuses on Native American, African American and Mexican American/Hispanic cultural contributions to U.S. history.

As we began our final section on African Americans, I have an unsettling feeling. We will be talking about the historic 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case in which the Supreme Court concluded that in public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place and thus allowed schools to desegregate.

But just last week, our nation’s highest court struck down voluntary desegregation of public schools and rejected the use of race as a criteria to assign students to certain schools.

This comes at a disturbing time in American history. According to the Civil Rights Project of Harvard University, segregation is increasing in America’s public schools. This creates disadvantages for students of all ethnic backgrounds.

For one, a lack of contact with students of other ethnic backgrounds inhibits the development of a skill essential to future personal and professional success — the ability to function effectively with diverse groups.

I witnessed this first-hand in the 1970s, before Portales Municipal Schools were “desegregated.” W.E. Lindsey School in north Portales was more than 90 percent Hispanic. There was a significant difference in academic achievement between students from different schools when they all began attending the one city junior high together.

When I was in sixth grade, the schools were desegregated. Now students from the same grade all go to one school. The school district pays more in busing costs, but the improvements are noticeable.

While Hispanics still fall behind in education nationally, more Portales students are excelling in schools and are active in extra-curricular activities than in previous decades.

There is also less tension between races. The inevitable beginning of the school-year fights between the “Mexicans” and “Stomps,” are a thing of the past.

One can argue that schools are becoming segregated again because people are voluntarily segregating themselves in neighborhoods of their own race. But a good question that Bonnie Erbe asks in a 2006 article in U.S. News & World Report is, “Are we going to sit idly by and allow voluntarily segregated neighborhoods to produce involuntarily segregated schools?”

Income also becomes a factor. U.S. trends show that low-income people, often of a racial minority group, live in metropolitan areas, while higher-income groups are moving to suburbs.

A June 30 Times magazine article suggests that money can be the key factor in equalizing schools, something that was a major problem with segregated schools of the past. But then we must ask, how will we ensure students have equally trained teachers? Will schools in lower-income communities need more teachers if they have higher proportions of students at lower academic levels? And does this create inequity again?

Ted Shaw, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., gets to the heart of the matter by saying, “If we have a problem with race in this country, as we do, we ought to address it forthrightly.” But America shies away from open dialogues between races.

We have learned from the past that segregated schools, even involuntarily segregated schools, result in poorer academic achievement and higher teacher turnovers in largely minority student populated and low-income school districts. If the trend continues, students will not get an equal education. Many children will get left behind.