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Education Opinion

A Few Reflections on the Elections

By Diane Ravitch — November 11, 2008 1 min read

Dear Deborah,

I have the advantage of writing you after the election. Unlike you, I was not active in the campaign (full disclosure: I contributed to Hillary Clinton in the primaries). Election night, nonetheless, was thrilling. For the first time, I felt the force of Barack Obama’s charisma that night, and it was powerful. His eloquence moved me. And I felt incredibly proud that our nation elected this man. The symbolism is unbelievable. I don’t know of any other nation in the world that has elected a person descended from a group that is a relatively small minority with a long history of having been oppressed. That speaks volumes about the American people and American democracy.

As I watched that evening, I kept having memories of growing up in Houston in the 1940s and 1950s. I went to racially segregated schools. Everything was segregated: water fountains, public buses, restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, sports teams, the stadiums, etc. As a young person, I made several trips to visit relatives in the Deep South—Alabama and Georgia—and it was even worse there in terms of the outrageous racism of the era and the blatant denial of basic human dignity and human rights to black people. It was awful, not just because of the denial of the right to vote or the existence of segregated schools. The daily customs were akin to apartheid. Black people were expected to show deference to white people, even stepping off the sidewalk to make room for them or entering a white home only through the back door.

I look back on the laws and customs of that era, and it is hard to believe now that those things existed. It is even harder to believe that this nation—only 50 years later—has just elected an African-American President.

I am very proud of my country and my fellow citizens.

What do you think this means for American education? Any clues?

Diane

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