Rick Kahlenberg is probably too hopeful in regard to socio-economic integration, but this is the reason why I would hate to give up on it. During the 90s, my old school was a classic inner ring suburban school. There was "no there there;" not even any Black churches were in the area. Our neighborhood had a huge incarceration rate, but we did not have a critical mass of extreme poverty. Once, 1/5th of the starters in the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament were our graduates. Back then, the majority of our "skill players" came from two parent families, and the majority of the rest had been coached in Little League by those fathers. With the proliferation of magnet and charter schools, our student leaders were creamed off, and by the time the school was closed we were as hardcore as big city schools. We were a school with no social fabric in a community with no social fabric.
This year we moved back across the railroad tracks to a remodeled school. Interspersed with a dozen churches, our street has four secondary schools offering distinct choices to a diverse Black community. We and the alternative school next to us used to be considered the last bad options, but that may be changing. We sit astride a five mile strip of land that has laid fallow for a century because of Jim Crow. With the rise of the Medical Center and $4.00 gas, however, the area is being recognized for its prime location.
When the economy dropped after September 11, there was no lag time between predictions of economic hardship, and family crises that resulted in suffering kids responding with defiance and violence. I had no idea of how the current economy would effect our school year. But so far, we have been pleasantly surprised. Whether they have been pushed back to us by the economic downturn or pulled by economic opportunity, about a quarter of my students have returned from the suburbs or magnet schools.
Maybe it’s "deja vu all over again." When desegregation turned violent in the 1960s, the neighborhood next to our new school was featured in Life Magazine because of its welcoming sign, "Color Us Together." The grandchildren of the White liberal residents have long ago left, but is a new day coming? Wouldn’t it be something if we could weave a reintegrated social fabric within and without our renewed school building? - John Thompson