To the Editor:
Reading “The Integration Decision” (Commentary, July 18, 2007) prompted me to share my experiences teaching math at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, the city’s original voluntarily integrated magnet school. Founded in the late 1970s, it was deemed a National Blue Ribbon School in the 1990s. Fortunately for me, it needed a white teacher for racial balance when I joined the faculty in 1989.
Returning to the public schools after a decade teaching in a private school posed challenges. My teaching load increased to nearly 40 students in each of five classes and featured a broad spectrum of attitudes, behaviors, and math skills. I welcomed the ethnic diversity: Both my regular and honors-level algebra classes were a mixture of black, Hispanic, and white students, along with recent immigrants from Russia, Asia, and Central America. This was the voluntary integration for which the school was founded.
But oddities seemed to contradict this admirable goal. The school created race-based clubs—Young Black Scholars, Young Hispanic Scholars, Young Asian Scholars. Each encouraged excellence by ethnicity and sponsored special school events. There was nothing comparable for white students. The well-funded gifted program required teachers to refer students for evaluation. We were advised not to send too many white kids, so racial balance could be achieved.
The school provided academically enriched classes, but not all students were willing participants. For some bright and personable minority students, acting out in class was cool, while “acting white” by cooperating with teachers was not. One parent whom I phoned to discuss his son’s antics said, “Listen, lady, the boy’s hormones are raging, and there’s nothing I can do.” When I urged students to take college-prep courses seriously, some told me not to worry, as they would get into college because they were black. Others asked why I cared what they did.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education will affect schools using race-based admissions policies. But there are also powerful factors that affect students’ success in integrated schools, and which deserve serious study.
Betty Raskoff Kazmin
A version of this article appeared in the August 15, 2007 edition of Education Week