Delaware school system under attack

    Should school children from Wilmington go to a school close to home? What to do about that is the subject of John Watson’s essayworks.

     John Watson’s commentary.

    You would think that by now, 59 years after the Supreme Court ruling officially desegregating public education, that our educational system would have solved, rather than created kinks in the process of educating our children. That they would make sure we have the best teachers of all races who are able to embrace and understand students from all cultures.

    But it seems we have a lack of understanding of minority students by white teachers with little or no sensitivity training in how to deal with this entirely new unexpected situation.

    There are those who say this seems to be biggest reason for the high drop out rate of black male students in Wilmington.

    Neither side identifies with the other, because they come from different racially separated communities. This is not a criticism of either side, but it’s an important part of the mix when we deal with the proper education of our children nationwide and here in Delaware.  Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams and New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon have taken it upon them selves to help solve the problem.

    An excellent piece in the News Journal reports information in letters they sent to school officials voicing their concerns about the connection between student drop outs and problems in our city streets.  As Mayor Williams put it, “This can no longer continue for us as a society. Our school leaders need to be pushed into doing better.”  And County Executive Gordon says their letters are the beginning of “a long intense process” of correcting the problems in Wilmington schools. They are critical of so many black students being bused to suburban white Schools while very few white students are bused into Wilmington. They said this doesn’t go un-noticed by the Wilmington community that sees it as a “one way street” Wilmington, which was the way the original forced busing plan was viewed.

    Concerns in Christina District

    Meanwhile, we have some ridiculous concerns about Christina School Board meetings being held in Wilmington. The paper reports suggestions by the board that those board meetings are too dangerous because too many people attend. There is no mention in the piece about any unruly or threatening activity. My question is, who are they afraid of, if anyone? Or are they reluctant to face a group of concerned citizens with questions and concerns they can’t, or won’t, answer?

    What’s next? Are they going to move the meetings to an area hard for some to attend for lack of transportation, and then accuse them of not attending because they don’t really care about their children? I won’t be surprised if that happens. So now, for the first time I know of, the Christina School Board will have a police officer on guard to protect them from THREATS, they say, were made by County Councilman Jae Street, in a letter he sent to them calling for Superintendent Freeman Williams and several other board members to resign, because of the dispute with the state over bonuses for teachers and the Race to the Top funding program.

    Councilman Street’s answer is one I have heard him make many times, when I interviewed him. He says, he is not threatening any one, but promises to keep the pressure on them to correct their mistakes. And knowing him as I do, history tells us he often succeeds and always with out threatening any one.

    Forced busing

    Getting back to the forced busing issue, it was never a good or intelligent way to respond of the Supreme Court 1954 ruling desegregating public education. Busing white and black students to sit together in a class room leads to more confusion then a better education. That’s the job of the teacher in front of the class room. I received an excellent education in a segregated school system because our teachers cared about us getting a proper understanding of what they were teaching, and refused to accept a poor test score if they knew we were better students. So we had to take the test again. That’s what learning is all about. It has nothing to do with who you sit beside in a school room.

    As I remember it, the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling was not about forced busing to integrate classrooms. It was about neighborhood schools, where white students could no longer be bused to a nearby school, while black students stood long periods in bad weather waiting for their bus, that took them to schools, many miles from the neighborhood school. In my home town of Farmville, Va. (Prince Edward County where they closed the schools for five years rather then obey the Supreme Court desegregation ruling) black students were bused in from surrounding counties for both the elementary and high school. Now some of you will say neighborhood schools are leading to re-segregation. That would be black and white students in black and white neighborhoods, with only one race in those schools. Well, in case you didn’t know it, laws enforcing segregated education are totally different from segregation by location.

    It occurs to me a lot of that can be changed if the real estate business stopped guiding, and convincing whites and blacks to buy and rent in neighborhoods of their own race. As a talk show host, the issue came up for debate many times from my listeners. I’m told the practice is still going on. It seems to me unless people stop allowing it, the practice will continue for a very long time.

    All of the concerns about the Delaware education system, voiced in the News Journal report, by County Councilman Jae Street, Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams and County Executive Tom Gordon, are very valid and need to be corrected. But one of the main concerns, white teachers teaching black students, and that is the reason that often adds to the student dropout rate, especially among black males, needs to be examined more closely.

    Maybe we hear so little about it because some will call it racism. Well some of the research I have done, and my interviews with Delaware educators, both black and white, over the years say other wise. It’s not about racism. It’s about the two races finding better ways to deal with each other, and make sure they teach their children (black and white) not to be racist. By the way, if you think I’m a racist, that’s your problem, not mine.

    I know where of I speak, since I was involved in helping to desegregate public education. Like Delaware, my Virginia home town was one of the five cases involved in the Supreme Court 1954 ruling. As Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren said in handing down the desegregation decision, “The separate but equal doctrine adopted in Plessey vs. Ferguson has no place in the field of public education”.

    I was a member of the strike committee at R.R. Moton High School in Farmville, Va. We were lead by Barbara Johns who called in the Richmond NAACP Branch Office after we took the school out on strike. We were warned about breaking the law that mandated public education for many of us who were too young to drop out. We ignored the law and, with the hand of divine intervention, did what had to be done. What was right ignoring what was wrong. We lost many battles but as history shows, we won the war. But unfortunately, there are still lots of work to be done in bringing the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling to its full meaning.

    John Watson is a former Wilmington talk show host who now calls NewsWorks.org one of the places where he shares his opinion.  He invites anyone who wishes to comment to do so here.

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