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Black-Majority Schools May Aid Race Relations

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The best social relations between the races in desegregated schools may occur where blacks are in the numerical majority--provided the white students accept the principle of integration.

So concludes Martin Patchen, a Purdue University sociologist, in Black-White Contact in Schools: Its Social and Academic Effects, a book on the Indianapolis school system published this month by the Purdue University Press.

That finding, Mr. Patchen concedes, runs counter to other researchers' assertions that a racial composition of 20 to 50 percent black probably is best.

"It's perhaps ironic that the very situation which many people wish to eliminate through desegregation--a black-majority classroom--may be where some of the best social relations are going on," Mr. Patchen said. He theorized that blacks feel more comfortable when they are in the majority, while whites cease to worry about a "black takeover" of the school. "In essence, the issues that divided the groups no longer existed," he said.

The book is based on student surveys and other data from 11 high schools in 1970-72, when Indianapolis was integrating schools voluntarily, albeit under pressure from the federal government and civil-rights groups. Since the period studied, the city has come under a federal court order requiring more extensive desegregation, including the busing of some inner-city black students to suburban school districts.

Nonetheless, Mr. Patchen believes, some of his findings remain valid--not only in the much-changed Indianapolis area, but elsewhere.

Among the other conclusions:

Racial attitudes improved overall in integrated schools, but black students tended to view whites as unfriendly and "stuck up," while whites viewed blacks as unfriendly and disruptive.

Friendly contact between the races was frequent where blacks were a "large minority" (20 to 50 percent), but so were racial tensions.

In settings where 10 percent or less of the students were black, black youngsters tended to develop positive attitudes toward whites, but the attitudes of whites improved very little.

"While racial mixing can bring some academic benefits in some circumstances, racial mixing should not be relied upon as the main tool to improve the academic achievement of minority students," Mr. Patchen said. Improved curriculums and relations between teachers and students seem to have a greater effect, he added.

There's a good reason to smile during February, National Dental Health Month.

A new survey by the National Caries Program of the National Institute of Dental Research offers hope that the younger generation will have fewer inlays than do today's adults.

Among schoolchildren today, the survey found, the incidence of dental caries, or cavities, has decreased 32 percent in the last decade.

The decline coincides with existence of the National Caries Program, established by the National Institutes of Health to "[reduce] the prevalence of dental caries to a level where it is no longer a major public health problem in the U.S."

Officials from the program can offer no single reason for the decline in tooth decay. However, they cite as factors community water fluoridation, the increased popularity of fluoridated toothpaste, professional applications of fluoride to the teeth, and the "dramatic growth" in fluoride-treatment programs in schools. About 10 million to 12 million students now participate in such programs, officials estimate.

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