Category Archives: Education

DeVos and the limits of the education reform movement

 By Jack Schneider, College of the Holy Cross

File 20180312 30979 1xvip4p.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Betsy DeVos, shaking hands at a school choice rally shortly before she became education secretary in 2017. AP Photo/Maria Danilova

Betsy DeVos exposed the education reform movement’s pitfalls in her highest-profile media appearance to date.

President Donald Trump’s education secretary got the job based on her years of advocacy for expanding “school choice,” especially in Michigan, her home state. Yet she stumbled when Lesley Stahl asked her in a widely watched CBS “60 Minutes” interview to assess the track record for those efforts.

“I don’t know. Overall, I – I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better,” DeVos stammered.

It’s not just Michigan or Midwestern conservatives. Policymakers and philanthropists across the ideological spectrum and the nation have teamed up to reform public education for decades, only to find that their bold projects have fallen short. Regardless of the evidence, however, top-down reform remains the standard among politicians and big donors.

As an educational policy scholar, I have identified a few reasons why school reform efforts so persistently get lackluster results, as well as why enthusiasm for reform hasn’t waned. Despite its long-term failure, large-scale education reform maintains consistent bipartisan support and is backed by roughly US$4 billion a year in philanthropic funding derived from some of the nation’s biggest fortunes.

 

 

 

 

 

Shiny objectives

DeVos may be a uniquely polarizing figure, but she is hardly the first federal leader to champion school reform.

Ever since 1983, when the Reagan administration published its “A Nation at Risk” report bemoaning the quality of American public education, politicians have rallied public support for plans to overhaul the nation’s education system. Over the past quarter century, leaders from both parties have backed the creation of curricular standards and high-stakes standardized tests. And they have pushed privately operated charter schools as a replacement for traditional public schools, along with vouchers and other subsidies to defray the cost of private school tuition.

All of these large-scale school reform efforts, whether pushed by the federal government or backed by billionaire philanthropists including the families of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, homebuilder and insurance mogul Eli Broad, late Walmart founder Sam Walton and DeVos herself have encountered setbacks.

Still, the larger ethos of reform hasn’t changed. And none of the leaders of this effort, including DeVos, appear to be wavering in their efforts, even when challenged with evidence, as happened during her cringe-inducing “60 Minutes” interview.

Former PBS NewsHour education correspondent John Merrow sums up his book ‘Addicted to Reform,’ which describes the pitfalls of the K-12 reform movement.

A cycle of failure

From George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind to Barack Obama’s Race to the Top and the Every Student Succeeds Act that was signed into law in 2015, the federal government has taken a highly interventionist approach to education policy.

But it has routinely failed to produce promised results. Today, educators, scholars and policymakers now almost universally regard No Child Left Behind as a washout. And many critiques of Obama-era reform efforts have been equally blistering.

Nevertheless, the core approach to federal education policy has not markedly changed.

The chief reason that all this activity has produced so little change, in my view, is that the movement’s populist politics encourage reformers to make promises beyond what they can reasonably expect to deliver. The result, then, is a cycle of searing critique, sweeping proposal, disappointment and new proposal. The particulars of each recipe may differ, but the overall approach is always the same.

Cookie cutters

Beyond this dysfunctional cycle, the other big reason the school reform movement has consistently come up short has to do with an approach that is both too narrow and too generic.

Ever since 1966, when Johns Hopkins University sociologist James S. Coleman determined in his government-commissioned report that low-income children of color benefit from learning in integrated settings, most education researchers have agreed that economic inequality and social injustice are among the most powerful drivers of educational achievement gaps. What students achieve in a school, in other words, reflects their living conditions outside its walls.

Yet rather than addressing the daunting issues like persistent poverty that shape children’s lives and interfere with their learning, education reformers have largely embraced a management consultant approach. That is, they seek systems-oriented solutions that can be assessed through bottom-line indicators. This has been particularly true in the case of conservatives like DeVos, who even in her stand against the public education “system,” has proposed a new kind of system – school choice – as a solution.

This approach fails to address the core problems shaping student achievement at a time when researchers like Sean Reardon at Stanford University find that income levels are more correlated with academic achievement than ever and the gap between rich students and less affluent kids is growing.

Sean Reardon, a Stanford University professor, discusses the gap between how low-income and rich students perform academically.

At the same time, reformers of all stripes have tried to enact change at the largest possible scale. To work everywhere, however, education reforms must be suitable for all schools, regardless of their particular circumstances.

This cookie-cutter approach ignores educational research. Scholars consistently find that schools don’t work that way. I believe, as others do, that successful schools are thriving ecosystems adapted to local circumstances. One-size-fits-all reform programs simply can’t have a deep impact in all schools and in every community.

Entrepreneurial outsiders

Perhaps this flawed approach to education reform has survived year after year of disappointing results because policy leaders, donors and politicians tend not to challenge each other on the premise that the ideal of school reform requires a sweeping overhaul – even though they may disagree about the best route. DeVos may be criticized for her dogmatic demeanor, but her approach is fairly mainstream in most regards.

Additionally, many leading reformers generally subscribe to the ethos of educational entrepreneurism. They consider visionary leadership as essential, even when leaders have scant relevant professional experience. That was the case with DeVos before she became education secretary. As outsiders operating within a complex system, however, reformers often fail take the messy real-world experiences of U.S. schools into account.

Finally, the reformers see failure as an acceptable part of the entrepreneurial process. Rather than second-guess their approach when their plans come up short, they may just believe that they placed the wrong bet. As a result, the constant blare of pitches and promises continues. And it’s possible that none of them will ever measure up, no matter the evidence.

The ConversationEditor’s note: This article incorporates elements of a story published on March 8, 2018, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a strategic partner of The Conversation US and provides funding for The Conversation internationally.


See our related Educational Oppression page.


Re-published with permission under license from The Conversation.

Jack Schneider, Assistant Professor of Education, College of the Holy Cross

What hundreds of American public libraries owe to Carnegie’s disdain for inherited wealth

 “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” – Andrew Carnegie

File 20171006 25775 gt1jmy.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1The Girard, Kansas Carnegie library. National Park Service

By Arlene Weismantel, Michigan State University

The same ethos that turned Andrew Carnegie into one of the biggest philanthropists of all time made him a fervent proponent of taxing big inheritances. As the steel magnate wrote in his seminal 1899 essay, The Gospel of Wealth:

“Of all forms of taxation this seems the wisest. By taxing estates heavily at death the State marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.”

Carnegie argued that handing large fortunes to the next generation wasted money, as it was unlikely that descendants would match the exceptional abilities that had created the wealth into which they were born. He also surmised that dynasties harm heirs by robbing their lives of purpose and meaning.

He practiced what he preached and was still actively giving in 1911 after he had already given away 90 percent of his wealth to causes he cared passionately about, especially libraries. As a pioneer of the kind of large-scale American philanthropy now practiced by the likes of Bill Gates and George Soros, he espoused a philosophy that many of today’s billionaires who want to leave their mark through good works are still following.

 

The Medford, Oregon public library, depicted in this postcard, is a classic example of Carnegie library architecture. Offbeatoregon.com

A modest upbringing

The U.S. government had taxed estates for brief periods ever since the days of the Founders, but the modern estate tax took root only a few years before Carnegie died in 1919.

That was one reason why the great philanthropist counseled his fellow ultra-wealthy Americans to give as much of their money away as they could to good causes – including the one he revolutionized: public libraries. As a librarian who has held many leadership roles in Michigan, where Carnegie funded the construction of 61 libraries, I am always mindful of his legacy.

Carnegie’s modest upbringing helped inspire his philanthropy, which left its mark on America’s cities large and small. After mechanization had put his father out of work, Carnegie’s family immigrated from Dunfermline, Scotland, to the U.S. in 1848, where they settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.

The move ended his formal education, which had begun when he was eight years old. Carnegie, then 13, went to work as a bobbin boy in a textile factory to help pay the family’s bills. He couldn’t afford to buy books and he had no way to borrow them in a country that would have 637 public libraries only half a century later.

In 1850, Carnegie, by then working as a messenger, learned that iron manufacturer Colonel James Anderson let working boys visit his 400-volume library on Saturdays. Among those books, “the windows were opened in the walls of my dungeon through which the light of knowledge streamed in,” Carnegie wrote, explaining how the experience both thrilled him and changed his life.

Books kept him and other boys “clear of low fellowship and bad habits,” Carnegie said later. He called that library the source of his largely informal education.

Carnegie eventually built a monument to honor Anderson. The inscription credits Anderson with founding free libraries in western Pennsylvania and opening “the precious treasures of knowledge and imagination through which youth may ascend.”

 

This postage stamp depicted the steelmaker in a library, halfway through a book.

Supporting communities

Carnegie believed in exercising discretion and care with charitable largess. People who became too dependent on handouts were unwilling to improve their lot in life and didn’t deserve them, in his opinion. Instead, he sought to “use wealth so as to be really beneficial to the community.”

For the industrial titan, that meant supporting the institutions that empower people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps like universities, hospitals and, above all, libraries.

In Carnegie’s view, “the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves.” Free libraries were, in Carnegie’s opinion, among the best ways to lend a hand to anyone who deserved it.

Carnegie built 2,509 libraries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 1,679 of them across the U.S. in nearly every state. All told, he spent US$55 million of his wealth on libraries. Adjusted for inflation, that would top $1.3 billion today.

Some were grand but about 70 percent of these libraries served towns of less than 10,000 and cost less than $25,000 (at that time) to build.

A lasting legacy

Through Carnegie’s philanthropy, libraries became pillars of civic life and the nation’s educational system.

More than 770 of the original Carnegie libraries still function as public libraries today and others are landmarks housing museums or serving other public functions. More importantly, the notion that libraries should provide everyone with the opportunity to freely educate and improve themselves is widespread.

I believe that Carnegie would be impressed with how libraries have adapted to carry out his cherished mission of helping people rise by making computers available to those without them, hosting job fairs and offering resume assistance among other services.

Public libraries in Michigan, for example, host small business resource centers, hold seminars and provide resources for anyone interested in starting their own businesses. The statewide Michigan eLibrary reinforces this assistance through its online offerings.

The Michigan eLibrary, however, gets federal funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services. And the Trump administration has tried to gut this spending on local libraries. Given Carnegie’s passions, he surely would have opposed those cuts, along with the bid by President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers to get rid of the estate tax.

 

George Soros, right, eyed the busts of Andrew Carnegie on a mantel, as he sat with the late David Rockefeller in 2001 when they were among the first recipients of the Carnegie Medals of Philanthropy. AP Photo/Richard Drew

Outside of government, Carnegie’s ideas about philanthropy are still making a difference. In the Giving Pledge, contemporary billionaires, including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, have promised to give away at least half of their wealth during their lifetimes to benefit the greater good instead of leaving it to their heirs.

Following in Carnegie’s footsteps, the Gates family has supported internet access for libraries in low-income communities and libraries located abroad. Several billionaires, including Buffett, have publicly professed their support for the estate tax. A philosophy of giving and public responsibility may be one of Carnegie’s most enduring legacies.

The ConversationEditor’s Note: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a strategic partner of The Conversation US and provides funding for The Conversation internationally as does the Carnegie Corporation of New York.


Article republished with permission under license from The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why schools still can’t put segregation behind them

By Derek Black – Professor of Law, University of South Carolina

A federal district court judge has decided that Gardendale – a predominantly white city in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama – can move forward in its effort to secede from the school district that serves the larger county. The district Gardendale is leaving is 48 percent black and 44 percent white. The new district would be almost all white.

The idea that a judge could allow this is unfathomable to most, but the case demonstrates in the most stark terms that school segregation is still with us. While racial segregation in U.S. schools plummeted between the late 1960s and 1980, it has steadily increased ever since – to the the point that schools are about as segregated today as they were 50 years ago.

As a former school desegregation lawyer and now a scholar of educational inequality and law, I have both witnessed and researched an odd shift to a new kind of segregation that somehow seems socially acceptable. So long as it operates with some semblance of furthering educational quality or school choice, even a federal district court is willing to sanction it.

While proponents of the secession claim they just want the best education for their children and opponents decry the secession as old-school racism, the truth is more complex: Race, education and school quality are inextricably intertwined.

Rationalizing Gardendale’s segregation

In some respects, Gardendale is no different from many other communities.

Thirty-seven percent of our public schools are basically one-race schools – nearly all white or all minority. In New York, two out of three black students attend a school that is 90 to 100 percent minority.

In June 2017, New York City released a plan to diversify its public schools. The plan includes an advisory group that will evaluate current diversity pushes and recommend additional ones by June 2018. Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock

In many areas, this racial isolation has occurred gradually over time, and is often written off as the result of demographic shifts and private preferences that are beyond a school district’s control.

The Gardendale parents argued their motivations were not about race at all, but just ensuring their kids had access to good schools. The evidence pointed in the other direction: In language rarely offered by modern courts, the judge found, at the heart of the secession, “a desire to control the racial demographics of [its] public schools” by “eliminat[ing]… black students [from] Gardendale schools.”

Still, these findings were not enough to stop the secession. As in many other cases over the past two decades, the judge conceded to resegregation, speculating that if she stopped the move, innocent parties would suffer: Black students who stayed in Gardendale would be made to feel unwelcome and those legitimately seeking educational improvements would be stymied.

Simply put, the judge could not find an upside to blocking secessionists whom she herself characterized as racially motivated.

As such, the court held that Gardendale’s secession could move forward. Two of its elementary schools can secede now, while the remaining elementary and upper-level schools must do so gradually.

The problem with conceding to segregation

Unfortunately, there’s no middle ground in segregation cases. No matter what spin a court puts on it, allowing secessions like Gardendale’s hands racism a win.

While it’s true that stopping the secession may come with a cost to members of that community who have done nothing wrong, our Constitution demands that public institutions comply with the law. That is the price of living in a democracy that prizes principles over outcomes.

From left to right, George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall and James M. Nabrit stand in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. 1954. The lawyers led the case against the Board of Education of Topeka to end segregation in schools. AP Photo

In this case, the constitutional principles are clear. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that there is no such thing as separate but equal schools: Segregated schools are “inherently unequal.”

Rather than stick to these principles, the judge in the Gardendale case seemingly tried to strike a bargain with segregation. As long as Gardendale appoints “at least one African-American resident” to its school board and does not do anything overtly racist moving forward, the court will allow the city to pursue its own agenda.

The sordid roots of school quality – and inequality

The ruling in Gardendale is a step toward reinforcing an unfortunate status quo in Alabama.

Alabama is one of a handful of states that amended its state constitution in an attempt to avoid desegregation in the 1950s. The amendment gave parents the right to avoid sending their kids to integrated schools and made clear that the state was no longer obligated to fund public education. Alabama preferred an underfunded and optional educational system to an integrated one. Courts quickly struck down the discriminatory parts of the new constitution, but the poor state education system remained.

Today, student achievement in Alabama ranks dead last – or near it – on every measure. Most communities don’t have the resources to do anything about it. Funding is relatively low – and unequal from district to district. Even after adjusting for variations in regional costs, a recent study shows that the overwhelming majority of schools in Alabama are funded at ten percent or more below the national average and another substantial chunk is thirty-three percent or more below the national average.

Parents trapped in under-resourced schools understandably feel like they need to take action. But rather than demanding an effective and well-supported statewide system of public schools, parents with the means often feel compelled to isolate their children from the larger system that surrounds them.

And while whites and blacks struggle over the future of Gardendale’s schools, the real culprits – the current state legislature and the segregationists who gutted public education in Alabama decades ago – go unchallenged.

In 2006, the Nebraska legislature approved a plan to divide Omaha public schools into three districts: one predominantly white, one black and one Hispanic. Lawmakers argued that resegregation would give black parents more control over their schools. AP Photo/Nati Harnik

The path forward leads through equal public education

The education system in Alabama, like in so many other states, is rigged against a large percentage of families and communities: Those with less money tend to get a worse education. Until these states reform their overall education funding systems, the inequalities and inadequacies that they produce will continue to fuel current racial motivations.

The lawsuit in Gardendale was a poor vehicle for fixing Alabama’s education system: The state’s overall education system was not on trial. The only issue before the court was a racially motivated district line in one small community.

But our small communities are connected to larger education systems.

In my view, we cannot fix those systems by way of more individual choice, charters, vouchers or school district secessions. The fact is, educational funding is down across the board, when compared to a decade ago. If we want all students to have a decent shot at better education, we need to recommit to statewide systems of public education. Only then will our base fears and racial biases begin to fade into the background.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

DeVos Just Put Interests of ‘Predatory Profiteers’ Over Student Loan Borrowers

Memo DeVos sent Tuesday rescinds student loan borrower protections put in place by Obama administration

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday withdrew student loan borrower protections put in place by the Obama administration, a move that steps away from accountability and opens the door for "rogue" servicers, according to critics.

DeVos outlined the change in a memo (pdf) sent to James Runcie, the chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid (FSA), in which she laments "a lack of consistent objectives" and other "shortcomings" in the current loan processing system, which as one observer sees it, was, in fact clear, and "was built to make repaying loans easier."

The Washington Post explains the education secretary's action:

DeVos has withdrawn three memos issued by former education secretary John King and his under secretary Ted Mitchell. One of the directives, which was later updated with another memo, called on Runcie to hold companies accountable for borrowers receiving accurate, consistent and timely information about their debt. The 56-page memo called for the creation of financial incentives for targeted outreach to people at great risk of defaulting on their loans, a baseline level of service for all borrowers and a contract flexible enough to penalize servicers for poor service, among other things.

The Obama administration requested routine audits of records, systems, complaints and a compliance-review process. It also directed Runcie's team to base compensation on response time to answering calls, completing applications for income-driven repayment plans, errors made during communications, and the amount of time it takes to process payments. Another memo insisted FSA consider a company's past performance in divvying up the student loan portfolio.

"The guidelines," Cory Doctorow wrote at BoingBoing, "were enacted after the Government Accountability Office found that the Department of Education's outsourced debt-collectors were cheating borrowers and engaging in other corrupt, negligent, and criminal practices." That oursourcing refers to the fact that "the federal government pays hundreds of millions of dollars to companies such as Navient, Great Lakes, and American Education Services to manage $1.2 trillion in student loans," the Post writes.

Bloomberg writes: "With her memo, DeVos has taken control of the complex and widely derided system in which the federal government collects monthly payments from tens of millions of Americans with government-owned student loans. The CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] said in 2015 that the manner in which student loans are collected has been marred by 'widespread failures.'"

According to MarketWatch, the Education Department "is currently in the midst of awarding a new lucrative servicing contract to a single entity," with Navient being a finalist. The CFPB sued that company in January "for systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment." Yet the change ordered by DeVos "could make Navient a more likely contender for that contract, government officials said," Bloomberg adds.

Student loan borrower advocates decried the changes made by DeVos.

It "will certainly increase the likelihood of default," said David Bergeron, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who worked over three decades at the Education Department, to Bloomberg.

"Secretary DeVos—with the stroke of a pen—has reinstated the Wild West of student loans where servicers get to play by their own rules, and borrowers get fleeced," said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

"Her decision rescinds the most basic protections student debtors have when dealing with servicers, like expecting their bills to be accurate and their payments to be processed on time. And she's opened the door for rogue operators such as Navient, which overcharged service members and veterans millions of dollars, to win even more lucrative government contracts. If Secretary DeVos were serious about curing America's trillion dollar student loan crisis, she would strengthen, not rescind, these protections," she continued.

The development comes less than two weeks after the Education Department said that over 550,000 borrowers who were led to believe that their loans would be forgiven after ten years of work in the public service, may in fact be on the hook for those payments.

"Instead, she is enabling and empowering bad actors. It's just another clear example of Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration putting the interests of predatory profiteers over the needs of the little guy—in this instance, the millions of people trying to go to college or acquire career skills without being crippled by debt," Weingarten said.

The change also drew condemnation from Americans for Financial Reform, a Wall Street accountability nonprofit coalition, which said it moved "the department toward less accountability and worse service for student loan borrowers."

The group continued: "In order to have accountability, there must be real consequences when servicers violate the law. Secretary DeVos's actions today moves us away from true accountability, and creates dangers for the very student loan borrowers the Department is responsible for protecting."


Free Money for College


Republished with permission under license from CommonDreams.

MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE – College Founder, Activist, Humanitarian

Mary Jane McLeod Bethune (born Mary Jane McLeod; July 10, 1875 – May 18, 1955) was an American educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian and civil rights activist best known for starting a private school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida. She attracted donations of time and money, and developed the academic school as a college. It later continued to develop as Bethune-Cookman University. She also was appointed as a national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of what was known as his Black Cabinet. She was known as "The First Lady of The Struggle" because of her commitment to gain better lives for African Americans.

Born in Mayesville, South Carolina, to parents who had been slaves, she started working in fields with her family at age five. She took an early interest in becoming educated; with the help of benefactors, Bethune attended college hoping to become a missionary in Africa. She started a school for African-American girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. It later merged with a private institute for African-American boys, and was known as the Bethune-Cookman School. Bethune maintained high standards and promoted the school with tourists and donors, to demonstrate what educated African Americans could do. She was president of the college from 1923 to 1942, and 1946 to 1947. She was one of the few women in the world to serve as a college president at that time.

Bethune was also active in women's clubs, which were strong civic organizations supporting welfare and other needs, and became a national leader. After working on the presidential campaign for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, she was invited as a member of his Black Cabinet. She advised him on concerns of black people and helped share Roosevelt's message and achievements with blacks, who had historically been Republican voters since the Civil War. At the time, blacks had been largely disenfranchised in the South since the turn of the century, so she was speaking to black voters across the North. Upon her death, columnist Louis E. Martin said, "She gave out faith and hope as if they were pills and she some sort of doctor."

Honors include designation of her home in Daytona Beach as a National Historic Landmark, her house in Washington, D.C. as a National Historic Site, and the installation of a memorial sculpture of her in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C.

The historic Daytona Beach home of Mary McLeod Bethune was built around 1904-05 and was purchased for Mrs. Bethune in 1913. She lived in the home until her passing in 1955.  Mrs. Bethune's home received the designation of National Historic Landmark by the United States Secretary of Interior on December 2, 1974.

The Daytona Beach,Fl home of Mary McLeod Bethune on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site preserves the house of Mary McLeod Bethune, located in Northwest Washington, D.C., at 1318 Vermont Avenue NW. National Park Service rangers offer tours of the home, and a video about Bethune's life is shown.

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House

Bethune made her home in the townhouse from 1943 to 1955. She purchased it for $15,500. Bethune lived on the third floor, while the National Council of Negro Women occupied the first and second floors.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial is a bronze statue honoring Mary McLeod Bethune, by Robert Berks. The monument is the first statue erected on public land in Washington, D.C. to honor an African American and a woman. The statue features an elderly Mrs. Bethune handing a copy of her legacy to two young black children. Mrs. Bethune is supporting herself by a cane given to her by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The statue was unveiled on the anniversary of her 99th birthday, July 10, 1974, before a crowd of over 18,000 people. The funds for the monument were raised by the National Council of Negro Women, the organization Mrs. Bethune founded in 1935. It is located in Lincoln Park, at East Capitol Street and 12th Street N.E. Washington, D.C.

Historical Educator, Madelyn M. Sanders, is a member of Women In History; a group that educates through the dramatic representation of notable women in U.S. history. Her characterization of Mary McLeod Bethune is her favorite. Ms. Sanders notes, “What better way to educate children and adults on the accomplishments of our female ancestors, than through first person characterizations?  There is a special pride I feel each time I portray one of these outstanding historical figures.”

Mary McLeod Bethune as Portrayed by Madelyn Sanders

Mary McLeod Bethune Song


Part of the Court.rchp.com 2017 Black History Month Series

Derrick Albert Bell Jr. – First Black Harvard Law Professor

Derrick Albert Bell Jr. (November 6, 1930 – October 5, 2011) was the first tenured African-American professor of law at Harvard Law School and is largely credited as one of the originators of critical race theory. He was a visiting professor at New York University School of Law from 1991 until his death. He was also a dean of the University of Oregon School of Law.

Education and early career

Born in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Bell received an A.B. from Duquesne University in 1952. He was a member of the Duquesne Reserve Officers' Training Corps and later served as an Air Force officer for two years (stationed in Korea for one of those years). In 1957 he received an LL.B. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. After graduation, and after a recommendation from then United States associate attorney general William P. Rogers, Bell took a position with the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department.

Bell was one of the few black lawyers working for the Justice Department at the time. In 1959, the government asked him to resign his membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) because it was thought that his objectivity, and that of the department, might be compromised or called into question. Bell left the Justice Department rather than giving up his NAACP membership.

Soon afterwards, Bell took a position as an assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), crafting legal strategies at the forefront of the battle to undo racist laws and segregation in schools. At the LDF, he worked alongside other prominent civil-rights attorneys such as Thurgood Marshall, Robert L. Carter and Constance Baker Motley. Bell was assigned to Mississippi. While working at the LDF, Bell supervised more than 300 school desegregation cases and spearheaded the fight of James Meredith to secure admission to the University of Mississippi, over the protests of governor Ross Barnett.

Bell was quoted as saying in The Boston Globe

"I learned a lot about evasiveness, and how racists could use a system to forestall equality,"  … "I also learned a lot riding those dusty roads and walking into those sullen hostile courts in Jackson, Mississippi. It just seems that unless something's pushed, unless you litigate, nothing happens."

In the mid-1960s Bell was appointed to the law faculty of the University of Southern California as executive director of the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Harvard Law School

In 1969, with the help of protests from black Harvard Law School students for a minority faculty member, Bell was hired to teach there. At Harvard, Bell established a new course in civil rights law, published a celebrated case book, Race, Racism and American Law, and produced a steady stream of law review articles.

Protests over faculty diversity

In 1980, he started a five-year tenure as dean of the University of Oregon School of Law, interrupted by his resignation after an Asian-American woman he had chosen to join the faculty was refused by the university.

Returning to Harvard in 1986, after a year-long stint at Stanford University, Bell staged a five-day sit-in in his office to protest the school's failure to grant tenure to two professors on staff, both of whose work promoted critical race theory. The sit-in was widely supported by students, but divided the faculty, as Harvard administrators claimed the professors were denied tenure for substandard scholarship and teaching.

In 1990, Harvard Law School had 60 tenured professors. Three of these were black men, and five of them were women, but there were no African-American women among them, a dearth Bell decided to protest with an unpaid leave of absence. Students supported the move which critics found "counterproductive", while Harvard administrators cited a lack of qualified candidates, defending that they had taken great strides in the previous decade to bring women and black people onto the faculty. The story of his protest is detailed in his book Confronting Authority.

Bell's protest at Harvard stirred angry criticism by opposing Harvard Law faculty who called him "a media manipulator who unfairly attacked the school", noting that other people had accused him of "depriv[ing] students of an education while he makes money on the lecture circuit".

Bell took his leave of absence and accepted a visiting professorship at NYU Law, starting in 1991. After two years, Harvard had still not hired any minority women, and Bell requested an extension of his leave, which the school refused, thereby ending his tenure. Later in 1998, Harvard Law hired civil rights attorney and U.S. assistant attorney general nominee Lani Guinier, who became the law school's first black female tenured professor.

In March 2012, five months after his death, Bell became the target of conservative media, including Breitbart.com and Sean Hannity, in an exposé of President Barack Obama.

The controversy focused on a 1990 video of Obama praising Bell at a protest by Harvard Law School students over the perceived lack of diversity in the school's faculty. Bell's widow stated that Bell and Obama had "very little contact" after Obama's law school graduation. She said that as far as she remembers, "He never had contact with the president as president". An examination of Senior Lecturer Obama's syllabus for his course on race and law at the University of Chicago revealed significant differences between Obama's perspective and that of Derrick Bell, even as Obama drew on major writings of critical race theory.

NYU School of Law

Bell's visiting professorship at New York University began in 1991. After his two-year leave of absence, his position at Harvard ended and he remained at NYU where he continued to write and lecture on issues of race and civil rights.

Scholarship

Bell is arguably the most influential source of thought critical of traditional civil rights discourse. Bell’s critique represented a challenge to the dominant liberal and conservative position on civil rights, race and the law. He employed three major arguments in his analyses of racial patterns in American law: constitutional contradiction, the interest convergence principle, and the price of racial remedies. His book Race, Racism and American Law, now in its sixth edition, has been continually in print since 1973 and is considered a classic in the field.

Bell and other legal scholars began using the phrase "critical race theory" (CRT) in the 1970s as a takeoff on "critical legal theory", a branch of legal scholarship that challenges the validity of concepts such as rationality, objective truth, and judicial neutrality. Critical legal theory was itself a takeoff on critical theory, a philosophical framework with roots in Marxist thought.

Bell continued writing about critical race theory after accepting a teaching position at Harvard University. He worked alongside lawyers, activists, and legal scholars across the country. Much of his legal scholarship was influenced by his experience both as a black man and as a civil rights attorney. Writing in a narrative style, Bell contributed to the intellectual discussions on race. According to Bell, his purpose in writing was to examine the racial issues within the context of their economic and social and political dimensions from a legal standpoint. Bell’s critical race theory was eventually branched into more theories describing the hardships of other races as well, such as AsianCrit (Asian), FemCrit (Women), LatCrit (Latino), TribalCrit (American Indian), and WhiteCrit (White). These theories weren’t developed in contention with another; they were developed to study each prudently, separately and analytically. These were developed based off the 6 propositions many race theorists can agree on. The propositions are as follows:

  • First, racism is ordinary, not aberrational.
  • Second, white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material, for the dominant group.
  • Third, “social construction” thesis holds that race and races are products of social thought and relations.
  • Fourth, how a dominant society racializes different minority groups at different times, in response to shifting needs such as the labor market.
  • Fifth, intersectionality and anti-essentialism is the idea that each race has its own origins and ever-evolving history.
  • Sixth, voice-of-color thesis holds that because of different histories and experiences to white counterparts', matters that the whites are unlikely to know can be conveyed.

CRT has also led to the study of microaggressions, Paradigmatic kinship, the historical origins and shifting paradigmatic vision of CRT, and how in depth legal studies show law serves the interests of the powerful groups in society. Microaggressions are subtle insults (verbal, nonverbal, and/or visual) directed toward people of color, often automatically or unconsciously.

For instance, in The Constitutional Contradiction, Bell argued that the framers of the Constitution chose the rewards of property over justice. With regard to the interest convergence, he maintains that "whites will promote racial advances for blacks only when they also promote white self-interest." Finally, in The Price of Racial Remedies, Bell argues that whites will not support civil rights policies that may threaten white social status. Similar themes can be found in another well-known piece entitled, "Who's Afraid of Critical Race Theory?" from 1995.

His 2002 book, Ethical Ambition, encourages a life of ethical behavior, including "a good job well done, giving credit to others, standing up for what you believe in, voluntarily returning lost valuables, choosing what feels right over what might feel good right now".

In addition to his writings, Bell was also a revered and accomplished teacher. His constitutional law courses took a critical but comprehensive student-centered approach, and he was well known for his kindness towards students.

Teaching

Less is written about Bell's teaching than his scholarship, but he was also a passionate and creative law teacher. He taught primarily classes in constitutional law at NYU Law. Bell rejected the conventional law school pedagogy of the Socratic method, preferring a more student-centered approach. Student argued hypothetical and real pending cases in his classes in mock appellate argument format, and they also wrote appellate briefs and wrote and discussed short op-ed papers on the cases. They were evaluated based on these writings, rather than on a final exam. Bell implemented this seminar-style format even in a large constitutional law class of 75 or more students. To do so, he hired one recent graduate to serve as the Derrick Bell Fellow and assist him. His courses also employed a number of student TAs who had taken his course previously, to assist current students in preparing for their oral arguments. Additionally, Professor Bell took many other measures to "humanize the law school experience." He would have food and drink for the students during the break in the middle of every class, and he would occasionally have students sing a class song, or have them sing "Happy Birthday" to a fellow student or TA. The final class in constitutional law would be a talent show where students would perform skits, songs, and poetry about various constitutional law topics.

Professor Bell was well known for his kindness to students. One fact often missed by the media is that even conservative White male student liked him personally, because he encouraged and invited him to challenge his views and gave them space to do so in his classes. Some even became his Teaching Assistants. Professor Bell gave his pointed opinions on many issues in class, but he did not expect anyone to accept those views uncritically. This critical engagement, combined with his goal of "humanizing the law school experience" is best characterized as Professor Bell's "radical humanism." 

Science fiction

Bell also wrote science fiction short stories, including "The Space Traders", a story in which white Americans trade black Americans to space aliens in order to pay off the national debt and receive advanced technology. The story was adapted for television in 1994 by director Reginald Hudlin and writer Trey Ellis. It aired on HBO as the leading segment of a three-part anthology entitled Cosmic Slop, which focused on minority-centric science fiction.

Death

On October 5, 2011, Derrick Bell died from carcinoid cancer at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, at the age of 80.  "At the time, the Associated Press reported: "The dean at NYU, Richard Revesz, said, 'For more than 20 years, the law school community has been profoundly shaped by Derrick's unwavering passion for civil rights and community justice, and his leadership as a scholar, teacher, and activist.'"

Bell has been memorialized at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law with the Derrick A. Bell Constitutional Law Commons which was opened on March 20, 2013 in the school's Barco Law Library. Bell was also honored with the renaming of the school's community law clinic that provides legal assistance to local low-income residents to the Derrick Bell Community Legal Clinic. Two fellowship positions within the school are also named for Bell.


Part of the Court.rchp.com 2017 Black History Month Series


Article text republished under license from Wikipedia.

John Morton-Finney: Renaissance man

John Morton-Finney, (June 25, 1889 – January 28, 1998) was born in Uniontown, KY, the son of a former slave father and a free mother and was one of seven children. He became a soldier, educator, lawyer, and civil rights activist.

When Morton-Finney's mother died, his father was unable to care for the large family and sent John to live with his grandfather in Missouri.

In 1911, Morton-Finney joined the U.S. Army and became part of the Buffalo Soldiers, a name given to an all-black cavalry regiment in pre-World War I days.

Painting of Buffalo Soldiers

Cheyenne warriors gave the regiment its name in 1867 because the Native Americans likened their hair quality to the hair of a buffalo and as a testament to the soldiers' fierce fighting abilities.

Morton-Finney served in the 24th U.S. Infantry Regiment from 1911-1914 and went to the Philippines. He rose to the rank of sergeant and applied for an officer’s commission. In 1913, his commander told him that, although he had the intelligence and the education to be an officer, he was disqualified due to his race. When the commander said that he wouldn’t be able to go to the officer’s club, Morton-Finney responded that he didn’t want to go to the officer’s club; he wanted to be an officer. He earned a citation from General John J. Pershing for his service in the Philippines.

After serving in the Philippines, he returned to the states in 1914 and, two years later, completed a degree at Lincoln College in Missouri. He took a teaching job in a one-room schoolhouse in Missouri. But when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917,  he rejoined the military and served honorably in France with the American Expeditionary Force. 

After the war, he earned degrees in math, French, and history. At Lincoln College, he heard about a new French teacher, Pauline Ray, with a degree from Cornell University. Morton-Finney signed into her class and won her heart. They were married and moved to Indianapolis in 1922 and John went back to teaching. He taught junior high math and social studies at Indianapolis Public Schools #27 and #17 where he also served as principal.

In 1925, Morton-Finney completed an IU master's degree in education and French. He taught languages in segregated schools for African-American students, ending up at the newly opened Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis.

Crispus Attucks High School

Finney was the first teacher hired when Crispus Attucks High School opened in 1927 and taught in several Indianapolis Public Schools. 

The school was intended to provide a model for the education of African American students. Fluent in six languages, Morton-Finney became the head of the foreign language department at Attucks, the largest foreign languages department at any Indiana high school at the time. Morton-Finney taught Greek, Latin, German, Spanish, and French. According to his daughter, Gloria, John Morton-Finney invited presidents from black colleges to speak to the students. He made it possible for Crispus Attucks students to obtain scholarships to attend college.

An ordinary person might have been satisfied to stop there, but Morton-Finney was far from ordinary — or satisfied. In 1935, he earned his first law degree, the first of five. Morton-Finney was admitted to practice law in the state of Indiana in 1935.  In 1944, Morton-Finney earned an L.L.B., and then in 1946, a J.D., both from IU. 

In 1971, at the age of 82, he brought suit to challenge Indiana school boards to cease setting the mandatory retirement age at 66.  He lost and was forced to retire from his teaching position after 47 years. 

johnmortonfinneyIn 1991, Morton-Finney was inducted into the National Bar Association Hall of Fame in Washington, and in the same year, he visited with President George Bush in the Rose Garden of the White House. Morton-Finney reported that President Bush was the second U.S. president he had met — the first was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

President Bush cited Morton-Finney as a model for educating ourselves and others. "If he's still ready and willing to learn, so can we all be," the president said. "And if he's always looking for new ideas and new ways of thinking, so must the entire system of American education."

In his long and remarkable life, John Morton-Finney earned 12 degrees, his last at 75 from Butler University. At the age of 100, colleagues report that he still attended law school seminars "with the eagerness of a first-year student." He practiced law until he was 107 and died on January 28, 1998, at the age of 108.

He was the last surviving member of the Buffalo Soldiers and received a full honor military memorial service and was laid to rest at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, IN.


Part of the Court.rchp.com 2017 Black History Month Series

33 Movies for Black History

We've included 21 full-length movies you can watch now on your computer or device and 12 additional movie trailer recommendations to watch during black history month and beyond. Unfortunately, we cannot possibly list every good move related to black history and there are plenty of excellent movies not included on this list. However, we hope you discover something new and enjoy watching.

Full Movies Which Were Available on the Date of Publication

The Vernon Johns Story (1994 Full Movie)

Vernon Johns (April 22, 1892 – June 11, 1965) was an American minister at several black churches in the South. He is best known as the pastor 1947-52 of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama. He was succeeded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The video has been deleted, trailer now shown below.

King (1978 Full Movie)

King was a television miniseries based on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. It aired for three consecutive nights on NBC from February 12 through 14, 1978. 

The Rosa Parks Story 2002

Something the Lord Made (2004 Full Movie)

Based on the true story of Vivien Thomas, a carpenter that wanted to be a doctor, unable to attend college he works for a real doctor as a janitor. Realizing what this young man is capable of the doctor gives him real tasks and as a team, they go to conquer what other people thought impossible. Based on a true story. Vivien Thomas became a black cardiac pioneer and his complex and volatile partnership with white surgeon Alfred Blalock, the world famous "Blue Baby doctor" who pioneered modern heart surgery.

Keep the Faith, Baby – Adam Clayton Powell Movie 2002

Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (November 29, 1908 – April 4, 1972) was a Baptist pastor and an American politician, who represented Harlem, New York City, in the United States House of Representatives (1945–71). He was the first person of African-American descent to be elected from New York to Congress. Oscar Stanton De Priest of Illinois was the first black person to be elected to Congress in the 20th century; Powell was the fourth. Re-elected for nearly three decades, Powell became a powerful national politician of the Democratic Party and served as a national spokesman on civil rights and social issues. 

Deacons for Defense 2003

The Deacons for Defense and Justice was an armed self-defense group of African-Americans that protected civil rights organizations in the U.S. Southern states during the 1960s.

The Tuskegee Airmen 1995

The Tuskegee Airmen was a group of the first African-American military aviators (fighter and bomber) in the United States Armed Forces who fought in World War II. Officially, they formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. All black World War II military pilots who trained in the United States trained at Moton Field, the Tuskegee Army Air Field, and were educated at Tuskegee University, located near Tuskegee, Alabama.

Ghost of Mississippi 1996

A Mississippi district attorney and the widow of Medgar Evers struggle to finally bring a white racist to justice for the 1963 murder of the civil rights leader. Medgar Wiley Evers (July 2, 1925 – June 12, 1963) was a black civil rights activist from Mississippi who worked to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi and to enact social justice and voting rights. He was killed by a white segregationist.

Panther 1995

In October of 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was created in response to challenge police brutality in Oakland.

The Marva Collins Story 1981

Marva Delores Collins (August 31, 1936 – June 24, 2015) was an American educator who started the highly successful Westside Preparatory School in the impoverished Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago in 1975.

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge 1999

Dorothy Jean Dandridge (November 9, 1922 – September 8, 1965) was an American film and theater actress, singer and dancer. She is perhaps best known for being the first African-American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the 1954 film Carmen Jones

The Josephine Baker Story 1991

Josephine Baker, born in St. Louis, MO, was a singer and entertainer who skyrocketed to international fame as a performer in Paris. Baker renounced her U.S. citizenship because of racism and became a French national and war hero during WWII.

The Jacksons: An American Dream (1992)

Based upon the history of the Jackson family, one of the most successful musical families in show business, and the early and successful years of the popular Motown group The Jackson 5.

The Temptations 1998

Biography of the singers who formed the hit Motown musical act, The Temptations.

Miss Evers Boys

The true story of the U.S. Government's 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, in which members of a group of black test subjects were allowed to die, despite a cure having been developed.

The Jackie Robinson Story 1950

Biography of Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player in the 20th century. Traces his career in the Negro Leagues and the major leagues.

The Spook Who Sat By the Door 1973

A black man plays Uncle Tom in order to gain access to CIA training, then uses that knowledge to provide tactical training to street gang members to plot a Black American Revolution.

Sounder 1972

About a loving and strong family of black sharecroppers in Louisiana in 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, facing a serious family crisis when the husband and father, is convicted of a petty crime and sent to a prison camp.

A Woman Called Moses 1978

Based on the life of Harriet Tubman, the escaped African American slave who helped to organize the Underground Railroad, and who led dozens of African Americans from enslavement in the Southern United States to freedom in the Northern states and Canada.

Ray 2004

The story of the life and career of the legendary rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles.

Hoodlum 1997

A fictionalized account of the gang war between the Italian/Jewish mafia alliance and the Black gangsters of Harlem that took place in the late 1920s and early 1930s based on real events and characters. The film concentrated on Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (Laurence Fishburne), Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth), and Lucky Luciano. 

The video has been deleted, trailer now shown below.

12 Black Movie Trailers to Stream or Rent

Rosewood 1997

Based on historic events of the 1923 Rosewood massacre in Florida, when a racist white lynch mob killed blacks and destroyed their black community.

Amistad 1997

Based on the true story of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship La Amistad, during which Mende tribesmen abducted for the slave trade managed to gain control of their captors' ship off the coast of Cuba, and the international legal battle that followed their capture by a U.S. revenue cutter. The case was ultimately resolved by the United States Supreme Court in 1841.

Roots 1977

Roots was an American television miniseries based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family; the series first aired on ABC-TV in January 1977. (Goodbye Uncle Tom is another 70s Slave Movie which was virtually banned from the U.S.)

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Hidden Figures 2016

Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film about female African-American mathematicians at NASA.

Malcolm X 1992

Malcolm X is a biographical drama about key events in Malcolm X's life: defining childhood incidents, his criminal career, his incarceration, his conversion to Islam, his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam and his later falling out with the organization, his marriage, his pilgrimage to Mecca, and his assassination on February 21, 1965. 

American Violet 2008

A single mother struggles to clear her name after being wrongly accused and arrested for dealing drugs in an impoverished town in Texas.

Belle 2013

Based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle in 18th century England.

A Soldier's Story 1984

Not a true story, but an excellent look at the what was at stake for black people through the lens of the perceived humanity of our black soldiers.

Glory 1989

The film is about one of the first military units of the Union Army during the American Civil War to be made up entirely of African-American men (except for its officers), as told from the point of view of Colonel Shaw, its white commanding officer. 

The Cotton Club 1984

The Cotton Club was a famous night club in Harlem. The story follows the people that visited the club, those that ran it, and is peppered with the Jazz music that made it so famous. The Cotton Club was whites only but featured all black entertainment during the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.

Mississippi Burning 1988

Two FBI agents with wildly different styles arrive in Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of some civil rights activists.

The Retrieval 2013

A fatherless 13-year-old black boy, who survives by working with a white bounty hunter gang who sends him to earn the trust of runaway slaves and wanted black men.


Part of the Court.rchp.com 2017 Black History Month Series

Charles Hamilton Houston – The Man Who Killed Jim Crow

One of the most influential figures in African American life between the two world wars was Charles Hamilton Houston. A scholar and lawyer, he dedicated his life to freeing his people from the bonds of racism.  Houston played a significant role in dismantling the Jim Crow laws, which earned him the title "The Man Who Killed Jim Crow".

Charles Houston grew up in a middle-class family in Washington, D.C. His father, William Le Pre Houston, was an attorney, and his mother, Mary Hamilton Houston, a seamstress. 

Charles Houston with his Father and Mother

Houston enrolled at Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was one of six valedictorians in 1915. Determined to be a lawyer like his father, Houston taught English for a couple of years back in Washington in order to save enough money to attend Harvard Law School. Houston noticed while teaching, that blacks had not advanced meaningfully in the past 20 years and were becoming increasingly victimized by segregation in the public and private sectors.

As the U.S. entered World War I, Houston joined the then racially segregated U.S. Army as an officer and was sent to France. Houston was an artillery officer in France. He witnessed and endured the racial prejudice inflicted on black soldiers. These encounters fueled his determination to use the law as an instrument of social change. 

Lieutenant Houston in Artillery Unit, World War

Houston returned to the U.S. in 1919 and attended Harvard Law School. He was a member of the Harvard Law Review and graduated cum laude. Houston was also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He received his JD from Harvard in 1923 and that same year was awarded a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship to study at the University of Madrid. When he returned to Washington to join his father’s law firm, he began taking on civil rights cases. He was admitted to the Washington, DC bar in 1924.

William Houston practiced law in Washington, D.C., for more than four decades, and taught legal office management at Howard University’s law school.

Howard University School of Law: Preparing for Struggle

Mordecai Johnson, the first African-American president of Howard University, named Charles Houston to head the law school in 1929. Houston brought an ambitious vision to the school, he set out to train attorneys who would become civil rights advocates. At the time, courses were offered only part-time and in the evening. Houston created an accredited, full-time program with an intensified civil rights curriculum. In Houston's capacity as Dean, he had a direct influence on nearly one-quarter of all the black lawyers in the United States, including former student Thurgood Marshall. Houston transformed a second-rate law school into a first class institution that churned out generations of brilliant black lawyers. His determination to train world-class lawyers who would lead the fight against racial injustice gave African Americans an invaluable weapon in the civil rights struggle.

Howard Law School Course Syllabus

Houston diversified the course offerings and made sure students received more rigorous training for work in the field of civil rights. 

This 1931 memorandum from Houston asked all law school staff to provide an overview of their courses and stated his intention to strengthen the curriculum.

Original HU Law School Building

This row house in downtown Washington was the home of the Howard University law school when Charles Houston was dean. He strengthened the school’s academic standards and instilled a sense of social mission. Under Houston, the law school graduated a group of highly effective civil rights lawyers, the most illustrious of whom was Thurgood Marshall.
Professors at the law school plan a year of coursework.

Houston knew many of the foremost legal minds of his day and brought them to Howard as program advisors and speakers.

In this photograph he poses with Mordecai Johnson, president of the university, and Clarence Darrow, the famed lawyer who defended the theory of evolution in the Scopes trial in 1925.

Charles Houston arguing a case in court

Houston continued to argue cases in court and work for equality in the legal community during his years as dean of Howard’s law school. When the American Bar Association refused to admit African American attorneys, he helped found the National Bar Association, an all-black organization, in 1925.

A New Legal Team at the NAACP

In 1934 Charles Houston left the Howard University School of Law to head the Legal Defense Committee of the NAACP in New York City. Seeking out bright, dedicated attorneys to join the mission, he built an interracial staff that defended victims of racial injustice. Among the lawyers recruited was Thurgood Marshall, Houston’s star student from Howard’s law school.

In July 1938 policy disagreements and health problems caused Houston to relinquish the leadership of the NAACP legal committee to Thurgood Marshall. Summing up Houston’s contribution to the struggle against segregation and racism, Marshall later remarked, “We owe it all to Charlie.”

Through his work at the NAACP, Houston played a role in nearly every civil rights case before the Supreme Court between 1930 and Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Houston's plan to attack and defeat Jim Crow segregation by demonstrating the inequality in the "separate but equal" doctrine from the Supreme Court's Plessy v. Ferguson decision as it pertained to public education in the United States was the masterstroke that brought about the landmark Brown decision. In Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1939), Houston argued that it was unconstitutional for Missouri to exclude blacks from the state’s university law school when, under the “separate but equal” provision, no comparable facility for blacks existed within the state.

Houston’s efforts to dismantle the legal theory of “separate but equal” came to fruition after his death in 1950 with the historic Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision, which prohibited segregation in public schools.

 

In the documentary "The Road to Brown", Hon. Juanita Kidd Stout described Houston's strategy, 

"When he attacked the "separate but equal" theory his real thought behind it was that "All right, if you want it separate but equal, I will make it so expensive for it to be separate that you will have to abandon your separateness." And so that was the reason he started demanding equalization of salaries for teachers, equal facilities in the schools and all of that." 

Houston took a movie camera across South Carolina to document the inequalities between African-American and white education.

Then, as Special Counsel to the NAACP Houston dispatched Thurgood Marshall, Oliver Hill, and other young attorneys to work to equalize teachers' salaries. Houston led a team of African-American attorneys who used similar tactics to bring to an end the exclusion of African-Americans from juries across the South.

Charles Houston was one of the most important civil rights attorneys in American history. A lawyer, in his view, was an agent for social change—“either a social engineer or a parasite on society.” 


Part of the Court.rchp.com 2017 Black History Month Series


Much of the content above has been republished under license from the Smithsonian and Wikipedia

Hidden Racism of Charter Schools

There was an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today, "Some St. Louis charter schools worry their popularity threatens diversity". The article stated, "A few of the city’s charter schools are becoming so popular that they’re struggling to stay accessible to low-income families." On the surface, this may seem like some innocent accident, but it may have been part of the design.

The easiest way to hold back or control a group is people is to control their education. Just as Southern slave owners understood that denying slaves an education reduced the capacity of slaves to think, substandard education reduces the capacity to do for yourself and increases reliance upon others. See our Educational Oppression page.

The St. Louis Public School System has and will continue to decline. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I taught in the St. Louis Public Schools. Even then, you could see the games being played with the desegregation program.

Many of the best and brightest black students were being taken out of the city system and the county was transferring some of its poorly performing or trouble maker white students into the city system. Hundreds of millions of city school dollars ended up going to county schools which helped pay for modern facilities and amenities. The obvious results were declining enrollment, older facilities in disrepair and lower student performance which opened the door for charter schools.

Charter schools stripped, even more, dollars from the public school system and were not accountable in the same ways as public schools since they were considered independent even though they were funded with public education funds.

Below you will find excerpts and links to three different sources that make a pretty good argument for the racist nature whether planned or unintentional.

The Racist History of the Charter School Movement

The now-popular idea of offering public education dollars to private entrepreneurs has historical roots in white resistance to school desegregation after Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The desired outcome was few or, better yet, no black students in white schools. In Prince Edward County, Virginia, one of the five cases decided in Brown, segregationist whites sought to outwit integration by directing taxpayer funds to segregated private schools.

Two years before a federal court set a final desegregation deadline for fall 1959, local newspaper publisher J. Barrye Wall shared white county leaders’ strategy of resistance with Congressman Watkins Abbitt: “We are working [on] a scheme in which we will abandon public schools, sell the buildings to our corporation, reopen as privately operated schools with tuition grants from [Virginia] and P.E. county as the basic financial program,” he wrote. “Those wishing to go to integrated schools can take their tuition grants and operate their own schools. To hell with 'em.”  

Attorney David Mays, who advised high-ranking Virginia politicians on school strategy, reasoned, “Negroes could be let in [to white schools] and then chased out by setting high academic standards they could not maintain, by hazing if necessary, by economic pressures in some cases, etc. This should leave few Negroes in the white schools. The federal courts can easily force Negroes into our white schools, but they can’t possibly administer them and listen to the merits of thousands of bellyaches.” 

NAACP Sounds the Alarm on Charter Schools, Warns of Racist Discipline Policies, Segregation, Lack of Oversight and Accountability

The NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, recently passed a resolution at their national convention in Cincinnati calling for a ban on privately managed charter schools.  The resolution said the following:

* “Charter schools have contributed to the increased segregation rather than diverse integration of our public school system.”

* “Weak oversight of charter schools puts students and communities at risk of harm, public funds at risk of being wasted, and further erodes local control of public education.”

* “[R]esearchers have warned that charter school expansions in low-income communities mirror predatory lending practices that led to the sub-prime mortgage disaster, putting schools and communities impacted by these practices at great risk of loss and harm…”

Understanding the “New” Racism through an Urban Charter School

In 2005, a research paper, published by Beth Hatt-Echeverria, a White female assistant professor of Education at Illinois State University and Ji-Yeon Jo, a Korean female independent researcher, discuss a subtle form of racism based uncovered by research conduct at Eagles Landing Charter School. Excerpts from their findings are below.

“There is a charming story by Dr. Seuss…In a society of beings called Sneetches, there were plain and star bellied speeches. The star-bellied Sneetches were the ‘best’ and dominated the plain-bellied folks. Recognizing the injustice of the situation, the oppressed Sneetches decided to paint stars on their own bellies. Now there was equality! But not for long. The original star-bellied Sneetches had their stars painfully removed and claimed, of course, that plain bellies were now marks of superiority. Power structures do not crumble easily.”

Even though there has always been racism in American history, it has not always been the same racism. Political and cultural struggles over power shape the contours and dimensions of racism in any era”. The “contours and dimensions of racism” change as if dancing with civil rights to ensure that White privilege remains the lead dancer. As legislation and policies occur to provide opportunities for people of color, Whiteness shifts to make certain White privilege remains dominant. Giroux (1999) claims that the new shape of racism is a White, conservative backlash to racial minority rights and changing demographics of U.S. cities such as increases in the U.S. Latino population.

As race became paramount in shaping U.S. politics and everyday life from the 1980’s on, racial prejudice in its overt forms was considered a taboo. While the old racism maintained some cachet among the more vulgar, right-wing conservatives, a new racist discourse emerged in the United States. The new racism was coded in the language of ‘welfare reform,’ ‘neighborhood schools,’ ‘toughness on crime,’ and ‘illegitimate births.’ Cleverly designed to mobilize White fears while relieving Whites of any semblance of social responsibility and commitment, the new racism served to rewrite the politics of Whiteness as a ‘besieged’ racial identity.

One of the ways that racism transforms and shifts to maintain White privilege is through the (re)defining of Whiteness as what is “moral” and “normal” in such a way that Whites, especially the upper middle class, benefit.

Eagles Landing Charter School arose from a group of White parents and White educators being frustrated with the local school system. All of the original Board members were parents and teachers connected to one local middle school. A key characteristic of the middle school was that over the past five years it had become more racially integrated. Students of color were beginning to become a majority in the school.

The following statements seemed to be the mantra of the original board members: Class sizes are too large. Too much violence. Too many drugs. Teachers should be allowed more voice. These statements are similar to Giroux’s (1999) description of the new racism as involving coded language that addresses issues of race indirectly by discussions of “Toughness on Crime,” “Welfare Reform,” and “Illegitimate Births.” When interviewing White students, teachers, and parents, the majority of them mentioned some form of the statements above as an explanation as to why they were going to the charter school. Additionally, many of them had left the previously mentioned middle school. On the contrary, many of the African-American students chose to attend the charter school because it was located close to their homes.

Initially, Echeverria and Jo saw the school positively, but then they both felt like the school was almost too perfect. The school staff had maintained some control concerning the student interviews. However, a group of Black students wanted to speak to the researchers without any school staff present. 

For these Black students, the school was not only a very negative experience but it was directly influencing their school achievement. They were experiencing differential treatment, lower expectations by teachers, and alienation. It was the hidden transcript that encouraged us to ask how the ideals and realities were so different in the school and how the teachers and administration constructed their “innocence” in contributing to the experiences of the Black students.


Additional articles:

Charter Schools Propping Up the School-to-Prison Pipeline – US News& World Reports

In Missouri, Race Complicates a Transfer to Better Schools – New York Times

Colonizing the Black Natives: Charter Schools and Teach for America – Seattle Education

School types: The difference between public, private, magnet, charter, and more

Public, Private, Charter, Magnet – What's the Difference?