Integration Interrupted: Tracking, Black Students, and Acting White after Brown

Integration Interrupted: Tracking, Black Students, and Acting White after Brown

Integration Interrupted: Tracking, Black Students, and Acting White after Brown

Integration Interrupted: Tracking, Black Students, and Acting White after Brown

Synopsis

An all-too-popular explanation for why black students aren't doing better in school is their own use of the "acting white" slur to ridicule fellow blacks for taking advanced classes, doing schoolwork, and striving to earn high grades. Carefully reconsidering how and why black students have come to equate school success with whiteness, Integration Interrupted argues that when students understand race to be connected with achievement, it is a powerful lesson conveyed by schools, not their peers. Drawing on over ten years of ethnographic research, Karolyn Tyson shows how equating school success with "acting white" arose in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education through the practice of curriculum tracking, which separates students for instruction, ostensibly by ability and prior achievement. Only in very specific circumstances, when black students are drastically underrepresented in advanced and gifted classes, do anxieties about "the burden of acting white" emerge. Racialized tracking continues to define the typical American secondary school, but it goes unremarked, except by the young people who experience its costs and consequences daily. The rich narratives in Integration Interrupted throw light on the complex relationships underlying school behaviors and convincingly demonstrate that the problem lies not with students, but instead with how we organize our schools.

Excerpt

For more than ten years, motivated by debate on the black-white achievement gap, I have been conducting research in schools, observing mainly black students in their daily activities and listening to their stories about their schooling experiences, their successes and disappointments, and goals and aspirations. I was moved and inspired by the students’ innocence, their faith in the promise of education, and the candor with which they spoke about their lives at school and at home, and their hopes for the future. Having read so many reports describing disengagement, pessimism, and hopelessness among black youth, I was somewhat surprised by how much the students I encountered seemed to believe in the idea that education is the key to success and, therefore, strived to do well in school.

I derived many insights from the classroom observations, and the students’ disclosures and the stories they told, but many of those insights came only with further research and much reflection. Initially, I was puzzled. What I saw and heard seemed to contradict both some of the more consistent research findings reported by others and media portrayals of black and lowincome students. For example, I was struck by the exuberance and excitement about learning that the young black students I observed displayed in their elementary school classrooms. Their attitudes and behaviors were not consistent with the idea that black students are “culturally disinclined” to do well in school.

In this book, I take a close look at life in school for students in the postBrown era. I use data gathered from 250 students in more than thirty elementary and secondary schools drawn from four studies (see table P.1). the studies focus on local samples of students within select schools, primarily in . . .

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