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Think. Discuss. Act. Education Reform

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“The Problem We All Live With”: School Segregation


The landmark Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case in 1954 declared school segregation unconstitutional. A major victory of the Civil Rights Movement, this ruling opened the door for school segregation. In the years that followed, busing programs carried students to neighboring schools, desegregating black and white students. In many areas, there was outrage. We think of the example of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, escorted by deputy U.S. Marshals to an all-white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960, for example.

Now, over 50 years later, few are talking about school segregation and integration. We don’t hear about it on the news. But the underlying issues still simmer under the surface. America’s schools, particularly in urban areas, are still extremely segregated—and the Black students are the ones most likely to suffer from failing schools districts.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter for the New York Times says that the solution is good old-fashioned integration. In the This American Life story below, she reports on a school district plagued by the issues of segregation and failing schools—and its story of accidental desegregation.

Listen to the story, either through the embedded link or by going to the link below. Then consider the questions below. The Prologue gives some background on the issue, but the main parts of the story are found in Act One and Act Two.

This American Life. July 31, 2015. “The Problem We All Live With.”

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What did you know about school segregation and desegregation/integration before coming to this Discussion? What did you learn or what previous thoughts were challenged?
  2. After listening to Nikole Hannah-Jones’ story, are you convinced that integration will provide the solution she suggests? Why or why not? Are there other factors involved that were not discussed that could contribute to the outcome?
  3. What are your reactions to the experience of Mah’ria and her mother, Nedra? What would you say to them if you could talk in person?
  4. What were your reactions to the statements of the Francis Howell parents at the parents meeting? What would you say to them?
  5. Simple ignorance and fear can motivate hurtful and racist comments as those shared at the meeting. How do you think these faulty opinions and hurtful attitudes can be combated in a community?
  6. Why do you think state and local officials are unwilling to admit the ways they are failing Normandy students? Why do you think integration is not a suggested option?
  7. Have you had a similar experience to anyone in this story—as a student, parent, teacher, community member, administrator, official, etc.? How does your experience inform your understanding of this issue? How does it shape what you see as possible solutions and remedies?
  8. What can you do with the information and stories shared in this Discussion?


  1. The effects of school segregation, though no longer officially mandated, are still very real in some areas of the United States, and there are students who still suffer. According to Hannah-Jones, school integration is still the best solution to help all students involved.
  2. We individuals and communities we must fight for all children—regardless of their race or background—to have a good education and share equal access to opportunities. This requires effort, determination, conviction, and dedication from all.

Diana Gruver

© 2018 CYS

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