To the Editor:
The well-publicized issues in Ferguson, Mo., stemming from the shooting of Michael Brown reveal yet again the persistent problems in America regarding race relations. No doubt, we are still living with the ramifications of a complicated and unhappy history. But pervasive residential, social, and educational separation lie at the heart of our inability to grow toward a post-racial society.
One potentially powerful tool to combat ignorance and prejudice—if reimagined to leverage the richness of our student populations—is our K-12 education system. What if every child across the United States (as much as geographically possible) learned and played in classrooms with students from a range of ethnicities, races, and socioeconomics?
Research from the National Coalition of Diverse Schools shows that when students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds learn together side by side, prejudice and stereotyping among those students is reduced.
But how do you forge interracial friendships in racial isolation? How do you improve social cohesion when schools are separated by government-enforced district lines in neighborhoods that are increasingly segregated?
There’s a movement of charter schools using innovative practices to expand diverse schools: the National Coalition of Diverse Charter Schools. Members include the well-known Success Academies in New York City and High Tech High schools in San Diego, and the lesser-known, but academically and socially excellent, Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy in Rhode Island, part of the system where I work.
We cannot be afraid to be bold in order to bring together our increasingly diversifying society. If we want to see attitudes evolve, we must seriously consider redistricting or exploring innovative models for integration like the diverse-schools coalition. Let’s make sure all of America’s young hearts, minds, and colors blend, play, and learn together in one classroom—the way it should be. The way it should always have been.
Chief Communications Officer
Rhode Island Mayoral Academies
A version of this article appeared in the September 24, 2014 edition of Education Week as Diverse Classrooms Facilitate Interracial Friendships