Is School Reform About Replacing Blackness?

The Root's contributing editor Natalie Hopkinson argues in a piece for The Root DC that the "choice" movement in education is "about an escape from poverty and an escape from blackness, too."

Fifth-graders from Watkins Elementary School in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News)

The Root’s contributing editor Natalie Hopkinson writes in a piece for The Root DC that the “choice” movement is “about an escape from poverty and an escape from blackness, too.”

It’s a great question — one that gets to the heart of the tensions over “urban” school reform. What will our schools look like once they “succeed?” Will black girls stop playing hand games? Will black boys lose the urge to tap West African rhythms on their desks? Will children graduate bearing no trace of the poverty, riches, triumph, failure, and culture that form the complex kaleidoscope of blackness in this country?

It’s really an old question which W.E.B. Dubois famously described in his theory of a black double-consciousness more than a hundred years ago: “One ever feels his twoness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

DuBois’ simple theory should be nearing its expiration date. But the problem is when you consider education policy for the past six decades, there hasn’t been a war at all. From desegregation to today’s “school choice,” every single scheme has been designed to kill off the Negro soul — or at least provide an escape hatch from it. 

Sarah Garland’s new book on school desegregation in Kentucky, Divided We Fail illustrates this “escape” narrative well. The book tells the story of a group of black Kentucky students who successfully petitioned the Supreme Court when they were denied entry to the historically black Central High School’s magnet program due to racial quotas.

Read Natalie Hopkinson’s entire piece at The Root DC.

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