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The Resegregation of New York City Schools 

Photo source Jörg Schubert | CC BY 2.0

It’s no surprise that the public schools of New York City have become resegregated. It’s happening all over the U.S., so why should the Big Apple be any different? Read Jonathan Kozol’s The Shame of the Nation for a superior assessment of where public schooling is headed in the U.S. in terms of equality and access. Kozol has been on this quest since Death At An Early Age! When readers look at the voting map of New York City  in the 2016 general election, it is impossible to see anything other than a sea of blue. But the color blue hides all sorts of seismic movements in the way people behave at street level in the real world. It’s one thing to vote for a liberal or left candidate and an entirely different situation placing a child in a school that doesn’t reflect a parent or guardian’s social, economic and political values and prejudices. “Not with my child” is a cry that reverberates down across the decades since Brown v. The Topeka Board of Education.

I recently spoke with Heather, whose 7-year-old is a student in one of the “desirable” schools on the upper West Side of Manhattan. She spoke of school meetings where yelling among parents is common practice and such catcalls as “gentrifier” are hurled at those people who are tireless in attempting, and often succeeding, at getting their child/children into the so-called desirable schools in the city. These so-called desirable schools, which have special activities and learning activities often funded by the school’s parents’ group, are within walking distance of segregated schools. Readers will recall the term de facto segregation, rather than segregation by law and custom (read Jim Crow), following the Brown decision by the Supreme Court. By the ninth grade, students are administered a high-school entrance exam that determines which high school a student will attend the following fall. This is high stakes stuff and the result of failing to get into a chosen school is the chance of being relegated to a segregated school. Amazing stuff, but choosing the so-called “right” schools can extend all the way back to preschool… It’s a truly disturbing phenomenon, and the alternatives are many of the schools that Kozol highlights in The Shame of the Nation.

Readers don’t have to focus on the current climate of school selection in New York City to see that city’s battle over who controls schools and who attends and teaches in the schools of the city.  Albert Shanker, a founding member of the United Federation of Teachers, later the American Federation of Teachers, of which I have been a long-time member, cut his teeth in the controversial fight about the issue of the local control of schools in the late 1960s.

Perhaps Shanker is best known for opposing community control over schools in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district of New York City, which led to the 1968 strike after which teachers were dismissed from the school district by the [a] recently appointed black administrator.

While Shanker did fight strenuously to raise the working conditions of teachers, he will forever be associated with the battle in New York City schools that had racial overtones. Years later, he would support the U.S. role in Nicaragua and invite much criticism over that Cold War policy on the part of the leadership of the teachers’ union that he helped to found.

The issues of where children attend schools and who teaches those children reverberates down to the present within the debate of what kids deserve in terms of resources and how those children are treated in public schools across the U.S.

Segregation is an absolute evil because it separates people unnaturally. Separating children based on race or class or economic circumstances is a universal evil!

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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