The true definition of integration

Publication Date: Wednesday Aug 13, 1997

The true definition of integration

The term "desegregation" is normally reserved to the legal/legislative domain . . . The term "integration," on the other hand, pertains to a social domain; it does and should refer to individuals of different background who opt to interact.

by Henry Organ

There has been considerable interest nationwide recently in the subject of school busing. There are two terms often appearing in relevant discussions: "school desegregation" and "school integration," and they are used as if inseparable and interchangeable. In addition, "busing" is being shuffled back and forth between them, further compounding the discussion. The terms are not inseparable and interchangeable, and therein might be the problem.

I was a participant in the Civil Rights Movement on the Peninsula in the '60s, was an appointed member to a public school district board for a brief period in this era, and I am an African American. I would like to offer a different perspective of the terms and issues, based on this background.

The term "desegregation" is normally reserved to the legal/legislative domain, and it was the legalization of discrimination in public institutions based on race that many fought against in the '60s. The term "integration," on the other hand, pertains to a social domain; it does and should refer to individuals of different background who opt to interact.

Busing was/should have been viewed as a means of achieving desegregation, primarily; other phenomena, such as social integration between and among students, were tertiary at best. Social interaction between and among youth/students should be left to youth/students, and not pseudo engineered by institutions.

Based on these premises, the national discussion on these subjects should be toward addressing the remaining roots of de facto discrimination in public school. A prime contemporary example of de facto racial discrimination in education is in the drawing of school district lines. These simple lines of racial gerrymandering, many drawn decades ago, were facilitated by redlining and its predecessor, restrictive covenants. Of course, these acts, though committed decades ago and now illegal, remain in effect today.

From these sinister practices come the demographics of student populations, and the eligibility to seek election to governing boards of school districts. Governance, of course, dictates hiring policies, contracting for goods and services, selection of curricula, and other important activities that can be avenues of de facto discrimination. Again, attacking these quiet and nonetheless ill-begotten practices has nothing to do with school integration, but combatting de facto segregation based on race.

Where there appears to be desegregation in student bodies does not automatically result in social interaction of students of different racial backgrounds within the same school. Because of invalid testing practices, stereotypical expectation of students by faculty, etc., the result is often "tracking" of students. Consequently, students of color may rarely be in the physical proximity of other students--except, perhaps, in hallways and physical education classes. Again, attacking the problems of testing, tracking, etc., has nothing to do with social integration of students, but the further demise of de facto racial segregation in school.

Obviously, the problem of de facto racial discrimination is of one of labyrinthine dimensions. Whereas there are no simple approaches to these highly interrelated problems, there is a proposal to the problem that might bear consideration. It is one that is not directly associated with social integration, but is directly associated with addressing de facto segregation. Most of all, the proposal, if implemented, would be quite educational, directly and indirectly, which is the school's primary mission.

The recommendation being offered could be initiated in the near term, without changing district lines, and at no incremental cost. And, over the long term, it should bring about better understanding among future generations.

The proposal is to place more teachers of color in the classrooms of de facto segregation preschool and elementary school rooms throughout the country. Perhaps Palo Alto and Menlo park would be model communities to begin.

Henry Organ is a Menlo Park resident. 

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