Dr. David Kirkland (NYU) joins us for a meta discussion around school integration. He shares a powerful vision of integration from a racial justice framework; it is one that is grounded in democratic participation and the sharing of resources and one that involves us all in the deliberation of what counts as knowledge, the language of curriculum, and the fundamental design of education.
A thought leader on educational justice, Dr. David Kirkland (NYU) joins us for a meta discussion around school integration. He shares a powerful vision of integration from a racial justice framework; it is one that is grounded in democratic participation and the sharing of resources and one that involves us all in the deliberation of what counts as knowledge, the language of curriculum, and the fundamental design of education. Dr. Kirkland also encourages us to consider that integration is about fundamentally asking if we can organize our society in a different way, where our differences are seen as spaces that we not only celebrate but LET BE, where this forms the vibrancy of our being as a society. He gives us language to think with, hope and, yes, he gives us homework, too.
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The Integrated Schools Podcast is produced by Courtney Mykytyn and Andrew Lefkowits. Audio editing and mixing by Andrew Lefkowits. Music by Kevin Casey.
Courtney: Dr. Kirkland, can you tell us about being a part of the new resource center for school diversity & integration in NYC?
Dr. Kirkland: I’m a part of an amazing crew of individuals who have come together to be on the external advisory group to NYC schools & that is the school diversity advisory group & last week we released our first stages of recommendations, definitions & some description of our process for integrating NYC schools. As many people know, NYC has schools that are among the most segregated in the nation & we’ve asked questions since Brown & even before then how might we come together, what’s holding us back & I think now we are beginning to return to those conversations. They are going to be difficult & will require courage, but I do think we can begin to resolve some of those conversations through some collective efforts.
Courtney: NY is kind of way paving the way for doing a community-wide push for school integration. I think it started or was grounded with some serious activism & grassroots activism.
Dr. Kirkland: When NYC announced its diversity plan & the diversity plan was a part of its educational equity admissions, which was announced June 6, 2017, when it announced that plan, I was one of the key voices who came out for it. There has been a retreat or recession of critical educators around the question of integration, because they believe that integration is a bogus bargain.
The arguments here is that if we send black & brown kids to school with white people that the sending of our kids to school with white people is some kind of intervention. Many critics believe that the understanding of integration is fundamentally racist, which it is. The idea that in order to get a good education for your kids, they must have some proximity to whiteness, as if whiteness has some magic to it that can begin to challenge histories of inequity and social violence that is embedded in structures. And so many critics of integration have seen it as a bonus bargain that is tied to a larger project of white supremacy.
I see it differently, and the reason I see it differently is because I define integration differently. I define integration not as a theoretical question, but as an empirical question. The most diverse schools in New York City have achievement differences, graduation differences, discipline differences that are much smaller than the differences that we see in our most segregated schools. When you look at the most segregated schools here in NYC what you begin seeing are those disparities growing. The biggest disparities in graduation, for instance, are among more economically advantaged and less economically advantaged individuals.
So wherever you have a concentration of poverty—of vulnerability—juxtaposed against a concentration of privilege, you see the largest disparities, the largest gaps, in graduation, achievement, discipline, attendance. And so when we look at the empirical question of education, where we see educational inequity stand up is in a place of segregation.
And when we see segregation in NYC we have two types of segregated schools: One that serves concentrated vulnerable students, and segregated schools that serve a high majority of concentrated privileged students. And it’s something about that dynamic that creates not what I call achievement gaps or opportunity gaps—I think that gap metaphor is wrong. It creates barriers. Opportunity barriers. Or what I call opportunity monopolies, where individuals get to hoard not only opportunities, but they also get to deny others essential opportunities within education. And that is the fundamental definition of segregation.
The opposite of segregation is not integration. The opposite of segregation is access. Access to those opportunities. Therefore when we begin to look at this arrangement between vulnerability and privilege that articulates a segregated system, white supremacy as well as anti-black and brown racism that drives a system of segregation, we know that at the root of both integration and segregation are power. And integration, if we are going to redefine it, it simply means our ability to come together to share power collectively in order to make decisions and create the conditions for the best possible education that we can have for all of our young people.
Courtney: Pushing back against the opportunity or achievement gap metaphor is really important. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Dr. Kirkland: I haven’t been ok with the achievement gap metaphor for years. Gloria Ladson-Billings is a renowned education scholar responsible for giving us culturally relevant pedagogy, which later becomes culturally responsive education or culturally sustaining education she also brought to education the critical race theory. When Gloria Ladson was president of the American Education Resource Association (AERA), in her presidential address, she begins to talk about the ‘education debt.’ Her argument was that “the achievement gap” suggests that there is something wrong with people who just cannot make ground. Those young people are left behind. That there is a deficiency or a deficit in some kids. And so what she begins to move toward is not blaming the kids for educational outcomes. Instead of talking about failing students, she asks the question ‘how are we failing students?’ When the notion of failure moves from the kids to the system then we have a different concept, we don’t have a gap, now we have what she calls ‘a debt.’ We are actually paying some students what we owe them through our public education system, guaranteeing them opportunities through education, and there are other kids that we’re not paying.
So within that idea this movement away from that gap metaphor gives us something else. It gives us a new language to talk about responsibility. It gives us a new language to talk about accountability, what we actually owe, our obligations, of what we actually owe to our young people. To me, that was important, but it didn’t go far enough, in some ways. Because in some ways, this idea of debt that we’re paying some kids and not others, we didn’t talk about the hoarding of opportunity that happens within the educational system. The very visible hoarding of opportunity that happens within our society. That some people not only have access to opportunity some people kind of cling to it, hold onto it. We need to understand that.
So what happens is we don’t have an achievement gap or opportunity gap, right, because the gap metaphor is sufficient at explaining the ways that we have privileged some & disadvantaged others. What we have are barriers that are constructed between vulnerable individuals and privileged individuals, and that those barriers are being kept up because of policies within the system, and because of other arrangements we have made within the education system. Opportunities displaced from one side of that barrier and it gets kept exclusively on the other side of that barrier. So what I see is a barrier, as opposed to a gap. What I see are obstructions to some individuals gaining access to opportunity and access to privilege, and what I see is other groups of students having in some ways a monopoly on that privilege.
So when I begin to talk about opportunity barriers, opportunities to move forward, it leads to another conversation around these economies of opportunities, opportunity monopolies where certain individuals they get pretty much all the opportunities whereas other individuals get relatively few.
Andrew: That’s a great way to put it. At Integrated Schools we talk a lot about the difference between integration & desegregation & what we as an organization are hoping to be a part of is moving the needle on integration, not just the re-assigning of kids to different schools because, we see across the country, even if you can move the needle on desegregation, you often end up just re-segregating kids as soon as they get into the building, whether that’s gifted & talented or dual-language.
Dr. Kirkland: That’s right. Segregation takes a lot of different forms. When we begin to think about the logic of segregation, ways that systems of exclusion and systems of separation are seen as educational policy—special education, the idea of restricted environments, non-restrictive & special education—gives us another segregationist policy within education that adversely affects students of color.
We know that young men of color, Black & LatinX, in places like California, some Southeast Asian young men, are more likely to be placed in special education than their white counterparts. At some rates it’s 6-8 times more likely. And we know that they are more likely to be placed into restrictive environments. When we look at gifted and talented programs, we know that those programs are more likely to serve people who have come from some economic advantage. So here we have, scripted within educational policy, not de facto segregation but de jure segregation, segregation by policy that breaks down by socioeconomic status as well as race. So we have a special education policy that creates segregation by concentrating vulnerability; we have gifted policies that concentrate privilege, in a sense creating the same type of thing that we see in whole-school segregation.
Andrew: And so do you think fundamentally the benefit of fighting for integration is that white-privilege sits on top of our entire society & so the ability to get opportunity tends to follow white kids? Like why not just try to push back against the opportunity hoarding and provide more opportunities in segregated spaces? Why take the next step toward integration?
Dr. Kirkland: That’s a wonderful question. One thing that I will say in terms of that question, I don’t want to say that opportunity follows white kids. I want to say is that we have designed a social system, an educational system, an educational market, that provides white kids not only with more opportunities but with the ability to hoard those opportunities, through systems of segregation, to the effect of constructing opportunity monopolies. And then we create all other types of opportunities based on that opportunity hoarding. So if you have access to AP courses, to algebra, or to these other things, you also gain access to college. You also gain access to real other opportunities within that system. And if you don’t have those opportunities from day one, you lack access. So, from pre-K all the way through college. And it becomes this reinforcing system of a chain of opportunity processes. So I wouldn’t say that whites organically just have access to these opportunities, that these things follow them.
What I would say is that we have a system that through segregation has constructed itself whereby some groups get opportunities and other groups don’t. That’s the system that we want to break. The system that we want to break is the system that does not see all of our kids evenly, and certainly does not treat them equitably. The system that we want to break is a system where power is hoarded, where power is not shared.
The NYC Department of Education’s definition of integration or new definition of integration that is inspired by a racial justice framework is that: Integration is universal access to educational environments such as schools and classrooms where power is shared by all people. The idea is to bring people together in the expansion and fair distribution of resources, opportunities and freedoms.
To me that’s power because right now, we don’t have a fair or even distribution or the sharing of power that brings people together through the expansion of fair distribution of resources, opportunities & freedoms. So integration from a racial justice framework is that – hey, give me not only my 40 acres and a mule, but also allow me to participate in the representative democracy. Allow me to participate in the sharing of resources as they get distributed in order to promote education. Allow me to participate in what counts as knowledge, what counts as curriculum, what counts as the language of instruction, what counts as standard or non-standard. Allow me to participate in the fundamental design of education. Don’t just allow me to participate in the education system that you have designed, that so recognizes your cultural values, your social values, that gives you more resources and more freedom within that.
So what we are arguing for in terms of integration is far different from what has been argued for in terms of integration.
Courtney: I want to keep on the subject of language & how we are thinking about this & one of the things that you talk about, very powerfully to me, is the broken or crisis narratives around urban schools.
Dr. Kirkland: I think there are a few things. Before I talk about crisis narratives, I do want to pick on this thing called broken schools. In my mind, the schools aren’t broken. Perhaps the system is, but the schools are working as they have been designed to work. They have been working based on a system that seeks to privilege some individuals.
And here we have to move the conversation beyond white privilege. I think that privileges are important for everyone to have—what we call ‘white privilege,’ being able to go to school and feel safe—everyone should enjoy that. I don’t want to take that away from white students or more economically advantaged students, in fact, I believe that every child should be able to go to school and experience safety, should be able to experience love, should be able to expand themselves by being exposed to a variety of cultures, should also have an opportunity to love the culture and the language and the skin that they exist in, that all of these things should happen together, and it shouldn’t be just one group who gets to enjoy those things.
So the privilege conversation, I want to move beyond it. Because I think that privileges, within a system of education, aren’t necessarily the culprit. Privileges are things we should give all our kids. The philosopher Lewis Gordon begins to distinguish between what he calls privilege and license. He says that white privilege are things that we think everyone should enjoy— the privilege of safety, food, comfort. He says, but some people have luxury. The idea of luxury is that there is an extravagance that comes in addition to their privilege. He goes on to argue that luxury isn’t even the problem. He argues that the problem is a license – that there is a thing called white license, the idea, the fundamental framework, the ideology that not only are you privileged, not only do you have luxuries that go beyond your privileges, but you also feel entitled within that system, that you have license to that system. You have a license to say what is valued, and what is not. A license to articulate how resources get used. You have a license to construct the language and the definitions of success and failure. You have a license to disregard.
Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow calls this “disregarding” a new form of racism. She calls it indifference, a more potent form of racism, the idea that we don’t have to care, and we certainly don’t have to care enough to humanize individuals within a system.
So back to that conversation about broken schools, the reason I say we don’t have broken schools, and what the crisis of schooling is, is that we have resigned some bodies, to the status of nobody, as Marco Matilde says. We have assigned some students to the status of being expendable. We had the crisis in education that we have with LatinX, Black, Southeast Asian students in places like Minnesota and LA, if we had the type of educational crisis that is happening among those students with white students, we wouldn’t be indifferent. The President of the United States might call a state of emergency and release extra funding to pour into our schools. Instead of building walls, he might begin to build bridges & curriculum.
We know that this happened before when Russia launched a satellite to space, we released billions of dollars into our educational system. Because we saw that there was a crisis in education. We summoned the courage to educate our best and our brightest in ways that would expand the possibility of our democracy, but we put a label on it. We put a label that it was for whites only. And that is fundamentally the problem.
That the crisis in education right now is that we have so engineered and allowed for a system—and this is what segregation and integration is about—we have so allowed for a system within our multicultural, pluralistic democracy that suggests that the system should only serve particular individuals depending upon the gender they are, the color of their skin, the faith that they espouse, the socioeconomic background of their parents, particularly their father. We have constructed a system that says we will serve you based on arbitrary, capricious indicators, and if you don’t fall in the right place, the system is not only not designed to serve you, the system, and those who are in control of the levers of the system, don’t care. I agree with the Supreme Court in 1954. That separate is inherently unequal.
If we’re going to move to progress, if we’re going to move to valuing & take the crisis as we understand it now, this is a crisis that looks back in history at us. A history that says we can value some, but we certainly do not value all equally or evenly. If we look at that crisis squarely, we have to admit that we haven’t done much to resolve it & what we have done to resolve it certainly hasn’t moved our young people in directions where we see an education system that actually protects, supports, values, sustains & advances them in the ways that it has for these students.
Courtney: I’m thinking a lot about how parents in different parts of the country are talking about, “I’d like to send my kid to such & such global-majority school or urban school, but the school systems are just so broken. I just can’t do it, it’s just broken.” So it prevents a stepping-in, right? Because there’s a sense of personal sacrifice – like you’re sacrificing your kid & so the ways in which we talk about broken schools &, I agree with you, the schools are functioning exactly as intended, how do we transform that conversation so that those faces are spaces that weigh-in & privileged parents can embrace in a much different way?
Dr. Kirkland: Well, I want to answer that question in two ways. I think we’ve become fond of giving ourselves reasons as to why not now. We’ve become fond of saying, “Well we can’t do what’s necessary to create a better world because this is the way the world is.” Without the understanding that the world is constructed. The world is created. We made the world the way that it is, which means we can remake it in another way.
The broken schools that white parents fear sending their kids to will not change, unless we go in and change them. And guess who got the resources & guess who has the political capital according to all social science & research that I’ve read?
You know, many of them, and part of that is the problem because when they do go in, they go in not with an agenda for the community, not building with & in solidarity with these individuals who are having misfit there, you know, understanding those experiences there, they go in with their own individual agenda & it creates tension. And not only does it create tension, but it creates levels of resentment that is tied to a more lingering racial history & racial past.
And I think the true conversation those parents are having is – what can I get for my kids & what can I get now for them without having to do all the work that it’s going to require to engineer & make a better world for all kids? I think that is fundamentally the problem. That we can actually make better schools if we decide to make better schools to come together, to have some type of collective participatory enterprise that is not based on gentrification, but is based on something else, that is about bringing people together, to share power, not about occupation, not about invasion, but about brotherhood or sisterhood & being the best neighbors to our fellow citizens in order to create an education of better conditions that will benefit everybody.
And I do believe that when some parents begin to make that decision, not only will they help to create better education systems for their kids, but they will be responsible for making better education systems for all kids. Their efforts will become the model by which we frame our future. Because we have to.
If this country is going to endure, we have to resolve this question. We have to resolve the question about how we collectively can create a society that does not just benefit me, but benefits all. And I do think that is a big question, but it is not an insurmountable question, it’s a question we can collectively grapple with any question & collectively address. And I do believe that those parents who decide to join in the project of power-sharing, join in the project of bringing people together around collective empowerment, in order to rethink how we do schooling in this country, I do believe those parents will gain benefits for their kids that they cannot even imagine.
As a society, where poverty begins to diminish… Martin Luther King said a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. I do believe that the promise of hope anywhere becomes the promise of hope everywhere. That when we create a society where the conditions are so where we begin to erase the fine lines of poverty, the lines of disparity where everyone can seek out & live out the American dream – life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness, where no one is on the margin, none of us have to be frightened that we will be marginal. And everyone benefits in that conversation. Everyone benefits in that dynamic.
That’s why those parents should do it. And not just those parents, but all parents. And all community members & even to those who don’t have kids but are part of our society, that is why we should all join in this process because it is one of the most important processes that is tied to the American project.
The other thing that I want to say to that question is that so much of the conversation on integration has privileged white parents to the detriment of all the work that parents of color have done in order to bring together our country. Like when I talk about power, I usually talk about power with prepositions. There’s power over. Like the type of oppressive power that you see with gentrification. Gentrification is not integration. Gentrification is a type of occupation that sets the power over the people that already exist there & sometimes it forces those people out of their space.
There’s also collective power. Power with others. Like empowerment & there’s power within. This type of internal power & these two types of power, to me, are important. They forge something. They forge opportunity. They forge potential. They forge hope. And the thing is, this is the type of power that people of color have all been active around in order to survive. In order to survive under conditions where they have not been recognized or valued. That they have been fighting the fight of integration even when white parents weren’t interested in fighting the fight of integration.
So when we start the conversation with how can we get white parents involved, we in some ways, erase all of the work that those black mothers & their children, little girls, the Little Rock 9, the assault that they took, both the micro aggressive & macro aggressive assault. Imagine what it was like to have to be walked to school & someone with a machine gun strapped to their hip in order for you to get there safely. Imagine sitting in a classroom where all the other students don’t like you & the parents of those students don’t like you & even the teacher that stands before you looks at you with pity & disgust. Imagine what that was like. Imagine those parents who sent their kids there – imagine everything they have done.
And when we start the conversation with white parents, we planted a larger narrative of white supremacy. At the detriment of everything that parents of color have done – the sacrifices of their children, the sacrifices of themselves in order to push this country forward.
So, to answer your question in two ways. White parents should do it because it’s the right thing to do & we all should do it because integration & fighting for integration & bringing the people together to share power in order to make decisions & to participate in a world that we want to believe in, in a world that we want to think – we all should do that. But the second part is fundamentally, fundamentally problematic. We have to recognize first & also that a lot of work has been done by communities of color, by people of color, by parents of color, children of color. It needs to be recognized it needs to be held up in the same way that we seem to cater to white parents, it needs to be celebrated & valued & validated, affirmed, respected & put in the front of the conversation, always.
Andrew: I wonder a little bit about the root of the problem. On some level there is a racism root of a lot of a lot of the problems, but it seems like the only way we get to a place where we accept that some schools are performing the way that they are seems like we have to think differently about certain populations of kids. We have to not have the same expectations for those kids. We have to not believe that some kids can achieve what all kids can achieve.
Dr. Kirkland: I think you’re right, but I want to go back with the notion of racism being at the bottom. I’ve come to believe that racism is real. Racism is certainly driving many of the fissures that we’re seeing in society. But I don’t think that racism is the root. I know that many people look at racism as the root, but I don’t think racism is the root. I think that part of our inability to get to that place.
Now, one root of racism is fear. Another root of racism is average, that type of greed that makes one desire to hold on to power. I do think that a root of racism might be capitalism, which plays with the greed & fear & creates the type of hoarding that we see in society – social ranking based on race is like social ranking that was based on family & class & more modern & social settings we’ve always had in some ways these casts & at the root of these casts is the idea of a performance of humanity that wants to project itself above others. I think it’s important for us to get there.
The other part is exposure. That our worlds become so small. We read the newspaper that thinks like us, we look at the news channel that kind of echoes our thoughts, we hang out with people who are not too far away from where we are, we live in a fairly small world. That type of titlism, especially when it comes to the level of the ways that we think & the ways that we change & be & how we see ourselves, the mirrors that we get to put up for ourselves & the ways that we hear in other parts of ourselves that may be less advantageous that is another fabric, that is another root.
And there is a question about what it means to see some kids from a deficit perspective in order to see your kids not from that perspective. Toni Morrison writes in Playing in the Dark that white men owes much to its construction of black lens because without black lens you have no white lens. Without something to stand on, you’re at the same elevation as everyone else. And because of the human hunger and need to be lofty because of this human drive to hold their head up to a place where other people cannot, we create these steps, these staircases, these stones that we stand on & that becomes the fundamental architecture of what Naomi Whey has called the cries of connection – our ability to disconnect from others.
That ability to disconnect from others creates the crucible of racism that begins to thrive. It’s the reason why some parents can care about their kids & kind of objectify other kids – not care about other kids. It’s the reason why we hold onto & cling to barriers that some people are in some ways genetically or culturally or socially deficient. At the root of it is a fear, lack of exposure, the idea that we want to be better, a supremacy or the idea of supremacy that these things are based on.
When we begin to understand what these ingredients are, we can begin to attack the cause of the racist disease. See racism as a symptom of something else, rather than just attacking racism as a symptom of something that’s much deeper. And I know this may not be politically correct to say, but it’s not to say that racism isn’t a problem. Racism is fundamentally very much a problem, but it may not be the root. It may not be the self-causing thing that we need to begin to explore & look at when we are talking about having conversations with people & society with social disablement & hatred & thinking that others are inferior.
Andrew: That’s powerful. If what we are actually talking about is the ways that we divide ourselves, the ways that we look to hold our heads above other people to find our ways to the top, if we aren’t fighting back against that underlying thing, then, if we fix the racism, we haven’t actually fixed the problem. We just find some other way to try to hold ourselves above other people.
Dr. Kirkland: We have homogenous populations where you have the kid who grows up without a father & has a single mother, well that kid is a little less-than. Or if they live on the other side of the tracks in a trailer when he goes to school & you all live in a bigger house. Or if a person happens to be a size that’s not socially acceptable or if they have a gender or identity that what we wouldn’t consider typical. These things articulate themselves in a variety of ways.
But at the fundamental base when we get to the root, it’s going to require that we ask questions about whether or not our hunger for elevation, the idea that we are constantly in competition with our brothers & sisters, whether or not that’s the way we want to continue to organize ourselves.
This is what integration is fundamentally about. It’s about asking that question about can we fundamentally organize ourselves in a different way where our differences aren’t seen as a problem, but where our differences are seen as places where we can not just celebrate, but let live & exist, alongside each other. Let’s be in a world where we’re different, forms of vibrancy. That’s important. Integration begs that we ask a different set of questions of ourselves & about the world that we want to live in.
Courtney: One of the things that come into education in general, particular with segregation is this idea of pity. At those schools, we can feel badly for those students who aren’t getting XYZ things or don’t have access to XYZ opportunities. But pity itself is such a distancing position. And it’s incredibly toxic.
Dr. Kirkland: There’s an arrogance to pity. That arrogance says it’s fundamentally a guilt to those who can pity is expressing the type of life & type of racism, which Michelle Alexander calls indifference, that you can’t distance a problem from yourselves. It allows you to say that you are in some way superior, like white supremacy, & that someone else is inferior – anti-brown, anti-black racism. It feeds within these larger narratives that we’ve been talking about.
Part of the arrogance of pity is the conclusion that it draws, the assumption, that something is fundamentally wrong with other individuals, but also the conclusion that suggests there is something fundamentally right about me. That one can hoard opportunity. That you go to school – we get some students who can enjoy school, they get Starbucks, they have escalators, they have marble-casing on the stairwells, they enjoy these extremely luxurious conditions. Where as you have other students who go to school everyday & they are met by metal detectors, they don’t have windows in the schools &, when they do, those windows are barred. The school functions much like a factory, mixed with a prison.
Individuals who pity the students who go to those schools, without pitying the position of luxury & extravagance that they live in while other people don’t have those positions, it speaks to a larger narrative of dehumanization that exists within those who would pity. It’s like if I have a mansion with 100 rooms & I only live in 1 & 99 go unlived in every night & I see someone homeless on a cold street & I pity them for not having a home, the problem is not theirs. The problem is – where is my compassion? I have 100 rooms, I have more than enough. What happened to me? Fundamentally, what happened to me that I cannot, for another human being, embrace their humanity in ways that could fix me by having too much? There is such a thing, I know our society doesn’t want to suggest that you can have too much, but there is a such thing as having too much.
And the problem with equity, given the social condition of the world, the problem with equity for so many people, especially with those who have too much, the problem with equity is giving anything up feels like oppression. And to achieve equity some people are going to have to give things up so that other people can rightly gain even if those gains are about having the basics. There are some people who are going to have to give some things up. To me that’s an illustration of another problem, a larger problem, that ties into the ways that we have been dehumanized.
We have been dehumanized towards not only indifference, we’re dehumanized in a way that props ourselves up. This belief that the things we have are earned & the things that we have & possess belong to us based on our own merit. And some of those things, some of those tangles, need to be untangled & they need to be torn down.
Andrew: There are these big issues around sort of societal level problems, what do you think the power is in at the school level? If we are working towards integration, at the school level, why should our energies be focused there, rather than housing or workplace or other areas that we could focus?
Dr. Kirkland: Of course those things are interrelated. Neighborhood & residential segregation does drive to school segregation. Of course, our inability to integrate the workforce completely where everyone has a job & everyone gets paid drives to the inequality we see within school & I think we’d be naive to suggest there’s not a relationship amongst these.
But, I think there’s some things schools can do alone. I do think school segregation isn’t just de facto – a matter of consequences or a matter of chance. I think some of school segregation is de jure – it’s a matter of policies that have been written over the long run. I gave you policies that dealt with student placement & when you begin to think about student placement, some almost generated by race between gifted & talented programs, magnet schooling & special education programs & discipline programs – like who gets kicked out & discipline becomes another type of academic placement program. These are forms of segregation that are driven by policy. They are driven exclusively by school policy.
When we look at the biggest casualty of Brown, the biggest casualty wasn’t just that people were forced to be with one another before they were ready, or the illusion of desegregation for integration, but it was black & brown teachers. Pre-Brown we had several black teaching ports. After Brown, the black teaching ports began to disappear. So we need to bring back the black teaching ports because we understand that all students benefit from having a diverse teacher experience. There is research that suggests that all students like having a teacher of color. So we do have these policies that have created the situation of school segregation that we see.
We need to back up & take a look at policies at a local level & see how they contribute to segregation. And then we need to begin to think of ways to incentivize schools & districts to integrate. And see integration as something that is desirable, within the metric of schooling. Just like we see test scores as important, we should want to see a diversity among teachers, a diversity of curriculum material, a diversity of how we spend resources, a diversity of how we restore & discipline our young people, a diversity of our enrollment practices of our students. We should see that as a gold standard of education & we should reward schools who commit to creating integration across those domains. To me, just as there is so much segregation that’s been constructed & maintained through a web of policies, I do think we can create incentives & policies that can begin to untangle or disentangle that way & create conditions that will inspire integration.
Courtney: I agree. Are there any last things you’d like to leave with our listeners who are parents who have enrolled their kids in global-majority schools, because our listener population is mostly white and/or privileged, or who are thinking about kindergarten or middle school for next year? Any last things?
Dr. Kirkland: Yes. Read the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. Read Brown I & read Brown II. Read also both decisions in the Michigan/Milliken decision. Milliken I & II around why desegregation is not integration & how we need to move beyond desegregation to anti-segregation & pro-integration. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Read Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law. Read anything by Vanessa Walker who deals with the history of segregation in the US & its impact on our schools. Listen to podcasts & read things by Nikole Hannah Jones. She is one of the national thought-leaders on the conversation around integration & segregation in the US. She deserves to be listened to. I would also say take a look at Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, Marc Lamont Hill’s book, Nobody, Bryan Stevenson’s, Just Mercy, Ta-Nehisi Coates’, We Were Eight Years in Power that deals directly with the question of resources in the terms of compensatory payback, which we now know as reparations but also read Ta-Nehisi Coates’, Between the World & Me.
These books give an amazing & excellent foundation both in terms of a history, a deep history, of how our country has segregated itself & how policies, programs & decisions played a big role in that segregation. And also we need a context behind what a segregated society means for those who exist in & live in concentrated vulnerability.
The last thing I would say is begin to distinguish diversity, inclusion & integration as a form of transformation, social transformation are not the same. Diversity is like being asked to the dance. Inclusiveness or inclusion is like being asked to dance. But integration, from a racial justice perspective, as in transformation, is the ability to dance on your own terms, to your own song, in your own way, your own beat & that is what we want. We don’t just want to be invited, we don’t want to be asked to dance, we want to be able to dance to that song that most resonates with us, to the things that makes our feet move & the ways that our feet move & the ways other people’s feet move may be different than ours & that is ok. We want that type of world & so we are going to have to do some digging. We are going to have to be clear about what we’re talking about when we talk about integration. Integration is a worthwhile thing to aspire towards because at the end of integration, we have a better world, not just for ourselves & others, but for our futures & that’s what we need to aspire to.