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Segregation in public schools restricts students’ opportunities

Credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Editor Credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Editor
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Half a century after Brown v. Board of Education, a recent Washington Post story began: “A federal judge Tuesday ordered a rural county in southwestern Mississippi to stop segregating ... African American students into all-black classrooms.”

That such a lede, much less the actual event, can exist today is an embarrassment to our nation. It evokes a darker past that seemingly is still present, one in which fundamental human rights were denied.

The Walthall County school system has for years allowed white students to transfer from predominantly black schools to a school that has mostly white students. The end result of these transfers is the creation of many segregated classrooms and disproportionate enrollment at different county schools.
Racially motivated transfer options are not the only problem with the Walthall County schools. Segregation exists even within individual buildings. Schools often grouped white students into a few specific classes, meaning that even schools that had an overall diverse population were often segregated on a smaller scale. There was a predominance of classes that had only white or only black students.

Though this transfer process may not be as direct as the legal discrimination that existed in the Jim Crow era, its final effects are similar, and its premise is just as terrible.

By dividing schools and classrooms by race, Walthall County and its citizens are promulgating the racist ideas that have plagued America, particularly the South, for so long. Instead of learning from diversity, students in Walthall County will only be exposed to views similar to their own.

One might argue that Walthall County is an anomaly, that the rest of the country understands the benefits of diversity. But then one looks to Raleigh, N.C., where the Wake County school board decided last month to discard a commitment to diversity in schools, according to The News and Observer in Raleigh. Though this decision was made to create community-based schools and not expressly to encourage segregation, it still indicates a decreased emphasis on diversity.

If the United States is to continue its progress toward a more equal society, the next generation must be able to appreciate diversity. This requires exposure to different people and ideas, forcing students to re-evaluate their beliefs. If school populations are monolithic, this exposure will not happen, and it will be that much more difficult to progress as a society.

In the hours and days after the 2008 Presidential elections, many pundits claimed that America had developed a “post-racial society.” They proposed, despite widespread evidence to the contrary, that the nation was colorblind. Instances like the one in Walthall County show that these claims are merely idealistic hopes. The reality is that discrimination and racism still exist, and they remain a way of life in many parts of the country. If we are to truly move past the era of racism, children must not follow in their parents’ footsteps. They must be able to recognize that diverse cultures are valuable.