Tag: American education

Lest We Forget: Segregated Communities, Integrated Division

Sarah Underwood—

“Integration was one of the worst things to happen to black kids. We lost our community,” said a former student whose segregated Floridian high school closed in 1969. It’s nearly impossible to read that without feeling troubled. Weren’t black communities oppressed during Jim Crow? How could anyone feel nostalgic for his segregated high school? Author Stuart Buck does not agree with the first part of the student’s statement, and in no way does he advocate segregation. His book, Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation, does, however, find evidence to support the second claim.

Before the integration of American schools, freedmen and their descendants found safe havens in black schools and churches. While most other social settings meant encounters with whites who were often offended by the very presence of black people, schools in particular offered a chance for young black people to see principals and teachers as role models who not only had the same color skin but similar experiences. Integration relegated black pastors to menial work, and black educators were often fired altogether. The only two settings that had created a sense of community and protection for young black people became “something controlled by and meant for” whites only.

Desegregation broke up close-knit communities, as black students were bused out to distant white schools. During segregation, black teachers had been respected members of their communities who knew parents and students and pushed their students to succeed. Of segregated schools, one black alumnus remembered, “My teachers would not accept mediocre work, because they knew that I could not function in a racist world being a mediocre person.” Nobody recalled—at least in written record—that their peers in segregated schools thought education was “the province of white people.”

Buck does not, of course, say that segregated schools were a good idea, only that desegregation brought a new set of problems. Sometime after 1965, one of these problems eventually devolved into the criticism by black students of their studious peers: “acting white.” He quotes another scholar as acknowledging that “acting white ‘is’ the most negative accusation that can be hurled at black adolescents.” The accusation, Buck says, is a natural response. With no black role models in their schools and no social outlet entirely free of racism, one (tragic) way to create a cohesive, protective unit was to rebel against the white students and teachers’ example. A black child working hard in school seemed to be collaborating with the institutions that had shattered whatever safety black communities had managed to create during segregation.

Buck quotes the head of Harvard’s Afro-American Studies Department as noting “if anybody had said anything like [“acting white”] when we were growing up in the ‘50s, first, your mother would smack you upside the head and, second, they’d check you into a mental institution.”  He also finds several black valedictorians and honor-roll students who today acknowledge they are accused of “acting white” on a daily basis. It is indeed dangerous to profess nostalgia for the days of white-only and black-only schools, but something of it has to return before the achievement gap between black and white students can close. That “something” is not further segregation, but a better integration: the development of a true community.


Sarah Underwood is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and a former Yale University Press intern. Her column, Lest We Forget, appears on the Yale Press Log.

The one-room schoolhouse: a little red American icon

In this fascinating video produced by the Teachers College Record, historian Jonathan Zimmerman discusses the little red schoolhouse as an icon of American culture and a key touchstone to be reckoned with in the pursuit of educational reform.


To read an excerpt from Zimmerman’s book on the Yale University Press website, please click here.

Finkin and Post on the tenets of academic freedom

For the Common Good: Principles of American Academic Freedom: Matthew W. Finkin and Robert C. Post Though the nation’s college students may be contemplating a different kind of academic freedom at this time of year, Professors Matthew W. Finkin and Robert C. Post have published a new book that outlines the rights of professors in the American university. That work, For the Common Good, served as the subject of a recent interview with the authors in Inside Higher Ed.

The pressures of funding sources, tenure, and free speech certainly all play a role in defining academic freedom; however, Finkin and Post believe that debates about educator rights often neglect to define terms and tenets with enough specificity. Their book aims to solve that problem.

For further reading on the role of the academy, check out Yale President Richard Levin’s The Work of the University.

Kronman in the Yale Daily News

Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life: Anthony T. KronmanThe Yale Daily News ran an article on Anthony Kronman’s new book, Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life. The article, found here, discussed the impact of Kronman’s ideas upon the Yale campus, including how Kronman “inspired” University President Richard Levin for his annual freshman address.

Education’s End makes a passionate plea to revive the humanities’ lost tradition of preparing young people to address life’s most important question, what living is for. Tony Kronman explores how political correctness and the research ideal have led the humanities astray, and he argues that the study of life’s meaning is an essential component in higher education.

Anthony T. Kronman tells Inside Higher Ed why great books are still great

Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life: Anthony T. Kronman In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Anthony T. Kronman, author of Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life, discussed higher education’s movement away from from the most important questions in life.

Read the entire interview.

Kronman’s book makes a passionate plea to revive the humanities’ lost tradition of preparing young people to address life’s most important question, what living is for. Kronman explores how political correctness and the research ideal have led the humanities astray, and he argues that the study of life’s meaning is an essential component in higher education.

Here’s what others have said about Education’s End:

  • President Emeritus of Williams College Francis Oakley says, “Kronman unfolds here a sustained argument marked by subtlety, force, nuance, and considerable appeal.”
  • A “bold and provocative book” written with “eloquence and passion,” says Michael J. Sandel, author of The Case against Perfection and Public Philosophy.
  • “A brilliant, sustained argument that is as forthright, bold, and passionately felt as it is ideologically unclassifiable and original.,” says Jonathan Schell, author of The Unconquerable World:  Power Nonviolence and the Will of the People. He goes on to say that “although Kronman’s specific area of concern is higher education, his argument will reach far beyond campus walls.”
  • Alvin Kernan, author of In Plato’s Cave, applauds Kronman for his “carefully reasoned position of what happened, why it did, and what needs and can be done about it.”
Anthony T. Kronman is Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School. Since stepping down as Dean of the Law School in 2004, he has been teaching in the Directed Studies Program at Yale and devoting himself to the humanities.

Comer wins Grawemeyer Award in Education

Leave No Child Behind: Preparing Today's Youth for Tomorrow's World: James P. ComerIn a press release, the University of Louisville announced today that Dr. James Comer, Maurice Falk professor of child psychiatry at Yale University, has been named the  winner of the 2007 Grawemeyer Award in Education for his work Leave No Child Behind: Preparing Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s World (Yale University Press 2004). The book details Dr. Comer’s School Development Program, a proven model that for thirty-five years has demonstrated how public schools can enable students from all backgrounds to learn at a high level and prepare for a fulfilling adult life.

In the program, teachers, parents, administrators and others at more than 600 low-performing U.S. schools are making decisions by consensus to improve the educational experience for students, noted the press release. The level of student achievement has gone up at many of the participating schools.

Comer, winner of the 17th Grawemeyer education prize, was selected from among 32 nominations. Elliot Eisner won the award in 2005 for his work, The Arts and the Creation of Mind (Yale University Press 2004).

The Grawemeyer Foundation at the University of Louisville annually awards $1 million – $200,000 each for works in music composition, education, ideas improving world order, religion and psychology. The Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion is given by the university and the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Awards founder Charles Grawemeyer, an industrialist, entrepreneur and University of Louisville graduate, wanted to reward powerful ideas or works in the sciences, arts and humanities.

Where Do Teachers Come From?

The Trouble with Ed Schools: David F. LabareeAs summer days give way to school days, you may find yourself asking, “Where do teachers come from?” Many of them come from ed schools, institutions that get little respect. They are portrayed as intellectual wastelands, as impractical and irrelevant, and as the root cause of bad teaching and inadequate learning.

During August, Jay Mathews, the Washington Post education columnist, wrote on the debate surrounding ed schools. In “Learning from the Masters: Some of the best lessons in teaching happen after ed school,” Mathews did an informal email survey, asking some education schools if they were teaching “winning classroom strategies.” These strategies included visiting students and parents at home, paying students virtual dollars based on their work, and having students call teachers on their cell phones after school if they had questions about homework. Mathews remarks that “these practical, if unorthodox, teaching methods have helped produce some of the largest achievement gains in the country, yet none was learned at an education school.” These methods were developed through trial and error or watching other teachers.

The response to Mathews’ survey was scant, but he noted that it was summer break:

“The few ed school people I heard from seemed unfamiliar with many of the strategies, and more than once I was told that teaching methods in the curriculum must be confirmed by research. The problem is that education research is often so vague, impractical and controversial that it isn’t much help to a new teacher.”

In a follow-up article, Mathews said that many of the education school people [who responded to the article] said that “as interesting as such methods were, they could not teach them until they had been verified by research.”

“At least half of readers said much of that column was wrong. Willis D. Hawley, professor of education and public policy at the University of Maryland, said he thought the unannounced visits were more likely to offend than please parents. When he checked with Kathy Hoover-Dempsey, chair of the department of psychology and human development at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, she shared his view, although like the good social scientists they are, both acknowledged they have seen no research yet on the issue.

…But several teachers said they shared my impatience with the ed school love of theory and research. One ed school instructor said she was told to stop using several practical methods in her class because her supervisors felt the students weren’t ready for them. This was after she heard from several students that it was the most valuable course they had taken. . . . So are the ed schools right to keep their distance from the ideas of the most effective inner city teachers, at least until their methods are proven by research? Or should they do everything they can to make sure our teachers in training know exactly what works for the best veteran instructors?”

In The Trouble with Ed Schools, now available in paperback, David F. Labaree explains how the poor reputation of the ed school has had important repercussions, shaping the quality of its programs, its recruitment, and the public response to the knowledge it offers. He examines the historical developments and contemporary factors that have resulted in the unenviable status of American schools of education. He also looks at the historical developments and contemporary factors that have resulted in this unenviable status and offers valuable insights into the problems of these beleaguered institutions while maintaining an ambivalent position throughout the book, admiring ed schools’ dedication and critiquing their mediocrity, their romantic rhetoric, and their compliant attitude.