Educational gains and losses

Published 8:16 pm Saturday, June 23, 2012

By Joseph L. Bass
Guest Columnist

Since the 1960s, America has experienced important educational gains and losses. Our current challenge is to retain the gains and overcome the losses.

In the late ‘40s and ‘50s, report cards often included messages to parents advising them to not speak badly of teachers and schools in front of children. For children to achieve, they have to have confidence in teachers and the educational process. These standard messages advised parents to come to school and talk with teachers and administrative staff if they had concerns about school instead of “bad mouthing” teachers and schools in hearing of children. Views expressed at home have powerful influences on children’s thinking, views, and actions.


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Until the ‘60s, many schools were segregated either through busing or “red line” mortgage practices that effectively segregated neighborhoods. There were white schools and schools for “children of color.” Governments spent a lot of money on white schools and little on colored schools. There was little government encouragement for black children to strive toward an education.

There were many negatives in this arrangement; the only positive was that parents, regardless of race, supported the schools their children went to. With parental support, even in negative, racist conditions, some black children gained quality educations. Thurgood Marshall wasn’t born with an outstanding legal education.

There should not have been segregation 100 years after the Civil War, but there was. In the 1954 desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the U. S. Supreme court declared segregated schools unconstitutional. Many cases followed with integration orders from the court, but there was massive public resistance to their implementation in many areas. During the decades that followed, America rightfully gained legally integrated schools.

What we lost was parental and community support, short circuiting the educational process and undermining the credibility of teachers and school staff. Today our media is full of stories about our failing schools. Parents, community members, civil rights organizations, and our media stopped following the advice found on old report cards.

During the decades schools were being integrated, much was done that harmed our educational system and caused psychological damage to the participants. Major harmful action involved racist views expressed by some white and black parents that schools should not be integrated.

Some white parents, many of whom spent their personal money to create private segregated schools, thought their children’s education would be harmed by black students. Some black parents thought white teachers would attempt to indoctrinate their children in white culture, and their children would be “not black enough.” Some might scoff at such an idea, but, in fact, that is what white teachers in government schools attempted to do with Native American children.

Currently many Americans have negative views of schools and their results. These negative views come from harmful actions taken during the ‘60s and after. By the ‘80s, some students were “graduated” from schools without being able to read or do basic math. Universities advised minority university students against taking challenging courses, steering them into “soft” programs to increase minority graduation rates. The results of these actions further harmed the public’s view of schools.

Current actions by government are based on assumptions that schools are isolated from the communities they serve, assuming they function like a machine instead of recognizing the importance of the dynamic parental and community support that has been lost. Nothing is being done to recreate the strong support for schools that existed prior to the ‘60s.

Our current challenge is to retain the gains and overcome the losses.


Joseph L. Bass writes on behalf of Suffolk’s Community Action Coalition. Contact him at