by Rose Sanders
This manifesto was written by Rose Sanders for C.A.R.E. – the Coalition of Alabamians Reforming Education. In response to CARE’s recommendation, Rose Sanders was appointed by the Governor of Alabama to co-chair the state Commission of Standards, Performance and Accountability which is drawing up a blueprint for education reform in Alabama.
May 18, 1995 marked the 100th Anniversary of Plessy v. Ferguson, a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States legitimated Jim Crow in America. Exactly 100 years ago, and a day later, that Court overruled the Plessy case in Brown v. Board of Education, and declared “separate and unequal” schools to be inherently unconstitutional.
More than forty years after Brown, racial tracking has replaced legal segregation as the chief perpetrator of a lower class status of African Americans and other people of color and poverty.
Tracking is an insidious circumvention of the Brown decision that uses the pretense of ability to maintain vast inequality in public schools by sorting students of color and poverty into inferior and separate classes, course of study, or schools . . . which lowers their self-esteem and ill prepares them to compete with their more highly educated peers.”
Often termed “leveling” or “ability grouping,” tracking is defended by people who believe students are actually sorted into these various levels according to their abilities. Most of the sorting, however, has nothing to do with measured abilities. Teachers and counselors subconsciously develop lower expectations of children of color and poverty assigned to the lower tracks, and consequently children develop lower expectations of themselves, thus creating and perpetuating self-fulfilling prophecy.
White children who score miserably are often placed in the higher tracks. Teachers and counselors unconsciously enveloped in the racist ways of the competitive and hierarchical culture which produced and surrounds them routinely assign children of color and poverty to the lower levels, on the assumption that inferior folks deserve inferior status, places, and resources. The tenet underlying Plessy – that black people are innately inferior – still permeates every aspect of our existence in this country.
Higher expectations, greater resources, the best teachers, smaller classes, a livelier and more interesting hands-on style of education are all awarded to the upper tracks, while the lower tracks are stigmatized as dumb and inferior. Both the opportunities and self-esteem of children in lower tracks are stifled. They too often accept and seek their inferior status, even when the system gives them an illusory choice. Disproportionate numbers of Blacks in low levels and whites in high levels, blacks in special education and whites in gifted classes, and blacks in urban “ghetto” schools and whites in suburban schools attest to that illusion. Decades, generations of lessening the self-esteem of a people is deadly and destructive to the human spirit, to the conception of self, to the will to achieve. Unlike the past, the oppression is hidden, the enemy is invisible, and the rebellion is directed inwards. Consequently, the results of tracking is helping to create rising tides of violence, crime, drug abuse, child abuse, teen pregnancy, high dropout rates, low test scores, underemployment and unemployment, poverty and misery. Tracking is a road to social disaster. Our children, our society is being dehumanized and demoralized.
In the past the black elite received no “affirmative action” or exemption from the “colored only” signs and practices, and their voices swelled the protests of the masses demanding an end to segregation and discrimination. Token integration in a land increasingly devoted to profit, not principle, has silenced their voices as they enjoy the material benefits of being on the other side of the “colored only” signs.
Black America is not “behind” because we are inferior but because we are forced into an inferior education, which maintain its inferior status in this “democracy.” When the highest court in the land reinforces that status, the results are devastating. If any race of people had experienced the same degradation, oppression, and inferior education as African Americans, a cycle of poverty and crime would encase them all.
While there has been a litigation movement aimed at integrating the schools, there never has been a Civil Rights Movement around the issue of public education in this nation. We have struggled and died for equal toilets and lunch counters, the right to sit where we want on public conveyances and the right to vote, but never have we put it all on the line for the right of our children to be humanely and decently educated.
Neither Brown nor the Civil Rights Movement has brought about significant and lasting change in the quality of the lives of the vast majority of African Americans. The heartbeat and pulse of Plessy are still strong in America’s public schools where the majority of children of color and poverty receive an education that is vastly and savagely unequal.
Plessy lives in every urban “ghetto” school with over-crowded classrooms, dilapidated buildings, underpaid or insensitive teachers, low expectations and a watered down useless or limited curriculum.
Plessy lives in every “integrated” building where black and white children enter the same front door but are educated in separate classes where they receive vastly unequal education under the guise of “ability grouping”.
Plessy lives in every magna school, in every gifted class, in every special education class and in any form that purports to justify the enormous difference in black and white achievement by test scores, the bell curves or other racist or biased measures of intelligence and achievement.
Plessy lives in every effort to reform education, which purports to raise standards for all children but which in fact gives children at the bottom a better but still “inferior and unequal” education.
Plessy lives in the decisions of this Supreme Court, which sustains the racial status quo and denies the victims of 100 years of unrelenting discrimination and abuses compensatory education and affirmative action or relief.
We, therefore, resolve and commit to bury Jim “Tracking” Crow and any means of achieving the degradation of our children and community. We further resolve to resurrect the spirit and intent of the Brown decision and to rebirth a movement to and inequality in this democracy once and for all.
We commit to kill and bury Plessy and its notion of black inferiority and white superiority.
We recognize that the unprecedented violence and crime in our community is a historical consequence of years of dehumanizing mis-education which lessen self-esteem and dulls the will to achieve and crushes the human spirit.
We reaffirm our belief in the genius of our children and their boundless ability to create, invent and change the course of history and the universe.
We reject all notions or beliefs that our children are inferior and unable to learn at high levels.
We acknowledge the gains we have made in removing the colored only signs from water fountains, the buses and school buildings; and we give praise to those who prayed, marched, suffered and died to kill the spirit and letter of the Plessy decision.
We make known that our children are at risk because of denied opportunity, not denied ability, and we absolutely reject notions or practices that treat them like inferior beings.
We also make known that the glaring disparate numbers of blacks in low levels, vocational, special education; and whites in preparatory, gifted, and college preparatory, attest to racism in our system, not the shallowness of their genes.
In memory of Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Black History Week, we reject the inferior status this nation has relegated our children to 100 years, and we will no longer silently accept unequal schools, unequal resources and unequal taxation and unequal exposure to our history and culture.
We will raise our expectations for them as high as the stars and as wide as the ocean.
We insist that the spirit and letter of the Brown decision abounds in every school, in every class, in every corner of America urban and rural, north and south, east and west.
We respect the vision of those courageous Justices who in 1954, wrote their vision of equality for all children into law, but we will fight and oppose the racism that permeates the current Supreme Court and Injustice system that maintains the racist status quo.
We acknowledge our spiritual lessons and the words of Jesus Christ who taught us that what you do to the least of these, you do also unto me; and when you unequally educate the least of these, it is sinful and shameful and you do it unto me.
We recognize that the chronic violence and crime in our community is not an accident or coincidence but a historical consequence of years of dishonest and vastly unequal education that has crushed the spirit and hope of our children. We recommit to resurrect that spirit. We recommit to give birth to a new Civil Rights movement unparalleled in our history. We recommit to resurrect their hope and their joy. We recommit to insist that education is a constitutional right which will provide the legal foundation for insisting on a quality education for all children. All men and women may not be created equally but all children can be equally and equitably educated if we simply believe that all children can learn.
It’s time to kill and bury Plessy, and to resurrect and implement Brown. It is incumbent upon all African Americans, indeed upon all Hispanic Americans, all Native Americans, and all other Americans of color and poverty to develop and nurture a system of public education that will respect and encourage the genius our of children to flourish and prosper.
We will use this hundredth anniversary of Plessy to re-examine and recommit to ending inequality in our schools by any just means necessary. If integration can be achieved in the process, all well and good. However, the focus must be on quality and equality, not on the mere physical presence of both races in one school building. We must begin with the simple premise that all students can learn at high levels an d that the best for the best is “best” for the rest. There is no tracking in private schools, and Asian educational eminence in the United States is founded upon the belief of the Chinese and Japanese that effort, not ability, counts in school.
Only an inferior nation would continue for another century to provide an inferior education to the majority of her children. Only an inferior “thinking” people would continue to accept their inferior status once the light of truth and knowledge uncovers the key to their true liberation. It is time to kill and bury Plessy for good. It’s our choice. It must be our mission.