Learning in a Burning House: Educational Inequality, Ideology, and (Dis)Integration

Article excerpt

Learning in a Burning House: Educational Inequality, Ideology, and (Dis)Integration by Sonya Douglass Horsford, New York: Teachers College Press, 2011, 129 pages, $26.95, paperback.

Scholars have documented the negative impact of desegregation on African American communities in studies that have noted the lack of progress in Black academic achievement. In Learning in a Burning House, Sonya Douglass Horsford expands on that analysis in a book that also offers clear recommendations on how to ensure equity and achievement in our schools and our society.

Dr. Horsford's solutions are based on a solid analysis of the problem. Citing the best scholarship on the subject, she concludes that racism actually undermined school desegregation efforts and that education policies have been based on the "illusion" of racial "progress . and inclusion." Instead, Dr. Horsford persuasively contends, policies should be based on a "moral vision of equal education" that "targets racism and racial injustice." As an education expert who testified on behalf of the NAACP in 2 1 school desegregation cases nationwide, I can support Dr. Horsford's conclusions. Under court-ordered desegregation plans, Black students were bussed to schools in White communities and reciprocity was rare. In these majority-White schools, the bussed students were sometimes re-segregated into all-Black classes and had to endure hostility and the softer - but devastating - racism of the low expectations of their teachers.

Dr. Horsford makes it clear why desegregation failed in the following passage:

Although many scholars continue to argue and advocate for. . . education policies designed to promote integration, the value of those strategies, when they are forced, contrived and resisted by those who do not want their children to attend school with 'other people's children,' renders school integration empty, (p. 101)

The value of understanding past policy failures is evident to Dr. Horsford because - as a senior resident scholar at the Lincy Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas - she has focused on the history and politics of education in the U.S. and role of schools in society.

Dr. Horsford is equally adept at citing documentation of current manifestations of classroom racism in urban schools with Black and Latino student populations. She cites "Emotional Abuse of Students of Color: The Hidden Inhumanity in Our Schools," an article by ?. B. McKenzie (2009), a veteran educator with experience as a school principal. Dr. Horsford notes that the article was based on research on the racial attitudes and practices of White teachers and cites a passage from that article that says teachers abused students by "criminalizing and pathologizing, disrespecting and blaming, and humiliating and excluding (p. 102)."

In contrast, narratives in Dr. Horsford's book add to research that documents memories of top-notch teaching and a nurturing learning environment in Black schools that operated under segregation until the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision. In one chapter, she documents the decline in the number of Blacks serving as superintendents, principals, and teachers - the unintended consequences of a segregation ban that resulted in the closing of many all-Black schools. Other scholars have also cited the decline in the ranks of Black educators but Dr. Horsford's book stands out because her research is augmented by the unique perspectives of former Black school superintendents, men and women who attended segregated institutions as students and demanded high expectations and achievement in their districts during their years as administrators. …