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Debate: Minority schools

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Should there be public schools open to only one race?

Background and context

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, and a violation of the 14th Amendment, which grants equal protection under the law to all citizens, regardless of race. In the decades that followed, school systems took steps - oftentimes unwillingly - to obey that ruling, sometimes busing students considerable distances in order to achieve mandated racial integration. Even so, de facto segregation has remained common, largely because of demographic patterns and school systems that are built around neighbourhoods: if virtually all of the residents of a school district are of only one race, the school is, as a result, populated by only one race as well. In recent years, however, there has been growing sentiment for a new kind of de jure segregation, one that is deliberate, rather than accidental: it has been argued that black males, in particular, are better served educationally in all-black (and all-male) schools - and that public school systems should provide such an option. Opponents of single-race schools are skeptical about the purported benefits of such institutions, and they reject any system, however well-intentioned, that violates the judicial ban on segregation.


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Pro

  • All black schools improve the quality of the education received by black students: The civil rights movement fought segregation because black schools were habitually inferior to white schools; the real issue was the quality of the education being received by black students. If studies show that black students will be better educated in all-black schools, then school systems must act to serve those students as well as possible.



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Con

  • Constitutional prohibitions of school segregation are non-negotiable: Segregation in public institutions is unconstitutional, and permitting it in schools, for whatever reason, will justify other kinds of segregation that are less well-intentioned.


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Pro

  • Society as a whole will benefit from single-race schools. Students who attend such schools perform better academically because the school has given them a proud sense of their cultural identity, and a disciplined sense of responsibility. Those qualities will make them better citizens after they leave the school system.



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Con

  • The logic behind single-sex, single-race schools is patronizing and self-defeating. It is assumed that African-American males cannot learn when there are white students present, or when there are girls present. Would anyone suggest that white students are incapable of learning when blacks are present? The assumption that blacks are incapable breeds a feeling of inferiority, not pride.


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Pro

  • Even though the state requires mandatory education, the Constitution respects the right of free choice and free association: Catholics, for example, are free to attend schools with all-Catholic populations, and girls can go to schools that serve only girls. The result is that students are allowed to attend the schools that serve them best. But this should not be a privilege given only to those who can afford private schooling. Public school students, too, deserve options that serve them - and those options should include single-sex, single-race schools. Equality under the law does not mean sameness.


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Con

  • The Constitution respects the right of free association in the private sector - and so it is allowable to have men’s clubs, and women’s clubs, as well as boys’ schools and girls’ schools. But the public sector is distinctly different. Citizens are guaranteed access to public services, irrespective of race, sex or creed. The state cannot create schools that, by design, exclude any part of the population.


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Pro

Integration does not necessarily represent the blending of disparate cultures into a unified whole; often, it means the dominance of one culture. African-American students learn in distinctive ways, and they should not be forced into schools that promote white culture and white learning styles.

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Con

Society must respect the cultural identity and cultural heritage of all of the people who make up America. This may require some reforms in the way that schools currently operate in order to teach more inclusively. And yet, we must aspire to common understandings and common ways of doing things. A fragmented, atomized country cannot function or prosper. We must not endorse schools that promote a sense of separation, rather than a sense of unity.

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Pro

After graduation, either in college or in the workforce, African-Americans will have to function as members of a minority. It is important for them, while still in school, to have a "majority experience" - that is, to be part of a community in which they are regarded as the norm rather than the exception.

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Con

The working world is not segregated; indeed, one of the most dominant characteristics of American society is its diversity - ethnic, racial and religious. One of the primary purposes of school is to prepare students for the working world, and it makes no sense to prepare them with a faulty model: if the world at large is not segregated, the school should not be segregated, either.


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