The Battle Against Discrimination in the U.S. Educational System

Education in the U.S. has come a long way from what it was back in the past. Though problems have been faced and achievements have been made from the Reconstruction Era, Jim Crow Era, and to the present, there still continue to be hardships that people face pertaining to the educational system. Back in the Reconstruction Era, the major conflicts that arose centered around the minority group, African Americans, as they pursue the opportunity to obtain education which had long been withdrawn from them as slaves. During the following Jim Crow Era, the biggest discord laid in segregation and the unjust differences the showed between the conditions of the white and black school systems. Presently, problems do not necessarily lay with big groups of people like a certain race but more of towards a person individually and their corresponding instructional environment. This would pertain to matters such as bullying and other forms of intentionally directed harm. Through the three notable time periods of the Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the current era, the challenges concerning education may differ, but there are similar attributes that can be seen through all of the time periods. In such a way, the discrimination and challenges faced experience change. The Reconstruction Era first started along with the passing and ratification of the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States, in 1865. With the end of the label which had long restrained them, African Americans were then set on the long objective to become equal with the whites, looking for the same freedoms as they enjoy. The first step on that journey would be to educate themselves. Later, with education, they would continue to find new opportunities appearing before them. The majority of African Americans at the start of the Reconstruction Era were newly freed slaves and as they became independent, they had to learn to support themselves. To do so, they would need to be literate, which being educated would bring them. Besides learning to help oneself individually, like with reading and signing work contracts, it would also help prove that African Americans were just as mentally capable as their long viewed white superiors. In that process, they would prove that they were just as worthy to the rights and freedoms as they past white suppressants and start gaining equality. Thus, many freedmen “viewed literacy and formal education as means to liberation and freedom” (Anderson 17). Even though it might seem like so to some, not all whites were opposed to African American education. Those who supported their education privileges were the Republicans, even if it started slow at first. The support did not stop there as a new political group, called the Readjusters, formed in Virginia in the 1880s. This newly formed group did not just promote education for African Americans, but for both blacks and whites. The major obstacle came in the form of a group of people who were the Democrats, mainly consisting of whites from the South. This opposition was mainly caused by the past history of the South where slaves, whose labor those states’ economies ran upon, worked under landowners. Before, as slave owners, they did not permit their slaves to be educated as they were afraid that they would start to speak and act out on their own, eventually leading to a rebellion. In the fact that blacks had been held as slaves for a considerable amount of time, so being in the lowest social class, and without being literate, they were automatically stamped with being a minor group of people. Past habits and ways of thinking are hard to push back, and by continuing to view African Americans as inferior to them, this was shown in those whites who rose up to oppose their fight for education. When blacks started attending school, one would find a commotion among the white Southerners who were scared that the African American children would somehow “infect” their own children. Afraid of such an outcome, the result was that various white students were withdrawn from school. Among the complaints, there was another one that people such as John McClure, a resident of Albemarle County, made. McClure made a statement on how tax money was wasted on African Americans. If one were to consider this from a neutral standpoint, stating that the money is wasted on them could be considered hypocritical as African Americans also paid a part of the taxes, even if that amount might have been less, and not just solely white people. McClure then said that, “9 out of 10 of them may go to school 5 years and they won’t advance much beyond a spelling book and in 12 months after leaving school will forget everything.” This draws back to the popular white opinion that African Americans are not that mentally adept. Violence from Democrats came in many forms. They would do things that are less harmful like sending (death) threats and spewing insults at African Americans. More cruel acts would be when whites actually murdered and lynched the other race. Arsoning would also be used, not just on freedmens’ abodes but also on schools that were built for them. School buildings were often burned at the same rate they were being built. This caused great difficulty as there was not much money to use to rebuild schools and many African Americans had to use what they had available, so buildings like churches were often used instead, like the one shown here (The Bullock Texas State History Museum). The acts did not end with just African Americans but anyone associated with them. For example, people who were openly known as teachers were shunned, even if they were part of their fellow kin. While female teachers experienced less injurious behavior, males underwent the threat of death by taking on that occupation. This is an idea of how some whites would act on their hate and repulsion of the African Americans. With the 14th Amendment giving citizenship and the 15th Amendment that was ratified in February of 1870 giving suffrage to African Americans, white Democrats looked for ways to interfere with this newly granted right. This started with violence at election sites, physically blocking and meddling with freedmen to prevent them from entering, and poll taxes. It carried onto a loophole in the 15th Amendment’s voting conditions in the form of literacy tests, beginning in the 1890s (a bit more than a decade into the next era). This obstacle was clever on their part as this test did not conflict with the conditions of the amendment, and would stop the great number of African American adults from voting as the majority of them were still illiterate at the time. Although these tests proved to be quite unreasonable, they ended up staying until the latter half of the 1900s. An example of these tests is shown above, taken from the Texas State Technical College Archives. Some states’ tests might be come harder than others. One of the more excessive literacy test from Louisiana had rules proclaiming, “Do what you are told to do in each statement, nothing more, nothing less. Be careful as one wrong answer denotes failure of the test. You have 10 minutes to complete the test.” That certain test held 30 questions and as one continues to look, the more abstract and vague the questions get. In this way, actions would get as excessive as invading a guaranteed right by law. Gradually, but surely, progress was able to be made. The Reconstruction was a bit rough to start, but that is expected of most beginnings, especially something so revolutionary. Violence started to decline and African Americans steadily moved and spread throughout the country. During the transition between the 19th century and the 20th century, one of the most significant things that happened was the Plessy vs. Ferguson case which took place in 1896. This case was a result of when the African American, Homer Plessy, didn’t sit where his race was designated to sit on a train. He was arrested for not moving and argued that the railroad companies invaded his 14th Amendment rights by use of segregation. The Supreme Court “ruled that segregation was legal as long as the accommodations given to both groups were equal” (Good 11), leading to the well known line, “separate but equal”. With that ruling, one should know that while African Americans were able to establish ways to achieve education, there would still be a long way to go before segregation would be eliminated and equality would start to show. Taking the “separate but equal” line into consideration, the school buildings for both races soon had the same necessary and basic things available for use. Of course, those who are still against African American education will find a way to make the others’ schooling worse than theirs. This then mainly came down to the quality of whatever that was available to enhance education. Where the whites had new, up to date material and products at hand, the African Americans were stuck with the old and shabby things. While white schools had clean, new facilities with flushable toilets and classrooms containing nice desks and central heating, African American schools were housed in small, older buildings with outdoor toilets and classrooms that had to make do with benches for desks and no heating. While white schools had school buses and new textbooks, African American schools had books that were in bad shape and no provided transportation. Since schools for blacks were more sparse and further apart, their students had to go through the trouble of walking miles to reach school. The teachers for each type of school also received different pays with the white ones receiving the better income. African Americans, as expected, took rightful action to correct the injustices, often taking problems to courts. On the bright side, courts often ruled in favor of African Americans’ plaintiffs and judges ordered schools to provide equal facilities for all but segregation persisted. In 1950, after so many years of discrimination, a change needed to be made. This led to something that would cause a turnaround: Brown v. Board of Education. Led by Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP ( the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), this consisted of five cases concerning school segregation. Three of which took place in 1952, and since the justices could not come to a decision, the cases were scheduled to be heard again in 1953. By that time, two more cases were added. These cases would determine whether the states of Kansas, Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia violates any amendment rights (Good 20-21). The first case was a combination of two lawsuits filed against the Delaware school system. One was called Bulah v. Gebhart. It concerned a girl named Shirley Bulah and how she was not able to board a bus that passed by her house in the morning, instead having to walk two miles. Her mother then filed a lawsuit against school officials when the Delaware Department of Public Instruction refused to allow her daughter to board the vehicle when asked. The other one was Belton v. Gebhart. Here, the case involved a girl named Ethel Louise Belton and the complaint was that even though her school had three times more students than another white school, it did not have any any extracurricular activities whatsoever. A lawsuit ensued. Those two cases together went to the Delaware Court of Chancery who ruled the existence of segregated schools as unconstitutional and for the students to be sent to a school for white children. This later went to the U.S. Supreme Court (Good 22-23). The following case would be the Davis v. Prince Edward County, named after a student called Dorothy E. Davis who attended Robert Moton High School in Virginia. The students of this overcrowded school requested the school board to end segregation, of which they were refused. During the trial, experts from both sides were called up to present their opinions. The experts from the school district said that the mixing of the two groups of children would be risky and cause violence to break out, an idea that had a similar suggestion to those from the past time period. The psychologist for NAACP attested that segregation caused African American children to think they weren’t as good as the white children, yet another idea that was present during the Reconstruction era. The judges unfortunately ruled that segregated schools in the state was legal and it would continue but this trial impacted people nationwide to join the fight for equality (Good 24-25). The Briggs v. Elliot case was about Clarendon County, South Carolina and the struggle to get education for black students. The case was titled after Harry Briggs, a student’s father who challenged South Carolina state laws on segregated schools. In this trial, the NAACP called a social scientist who testified with the results of a conducted experiment with African American students. The scientist concluded that African American youths suffered when forced to attend segregated schools as they believed that they were less significant than the white kin, causing low self-esteem. While the court decided that segregation would continue, schools would need to be made equal so no additional damage would to done to the students (Good 26-28). In Kansas, which had the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case, there were no laws that made it necessary for schools to be segregated. It let the communities in those cities who were more populated decide this instead. The problem was laid in junior high schools and that when segregated junior high schools were built in Topeka for white students, there were not any built for African American students. After elementary school, they only attended an integrated junior high school for one year before the Kansas Supreme Court decided that those schools should not be integrated. The situation then turned and looked better, but only on the outside did it look equal. Most of the basic necessities were about the same with those of the African Americans typically being slight worse, like how both races might get the same textbooks the ones that blacks get maybe being older. The most prominent form of inequality was the familiar lack of even opportunities given to each group. Like how one girl wanted to learn how to play a string instrument but those classes were not offered to African American schools. After the first attempt by the local Topeka NAACP president to ask for integrated schools was ignored, he called for help from the NAACP. The final judgement from the district court stated that Topeka schools did not violate state segregation laws. Due to that, the case would go to the U.S. Supreme Court where the issue would not be about equality as the Topeka schools looked equal, but rather whether segregation itself infringed on the 14th Amendment (Good 28-32). The issues with segregated schools in the District of Columbia involved much of the usual problems where African Americans only had things of the lower value. It was to the point that even public playgrounds were segregated. The Consolidated Parents Group organized a strike and called attorney Charles Hamilton Houston to help with the case. While preparing for the case, the lawyer sadly had a heart attack. James Nabrit Jr. then took over but he objected to file a plaintiff on equal schooling, instead taking to desegregation. For a test on segregation, eleven African American students were sent to enroll in a newly built high school, and as expected, they were rejected. Named after one of those eleven students, Spottswood Thomas Bolling, the Bolling v. Sharpe case was later sent to the federal Supreme Court along with the other four cases (Good 33-35). The decision that was reached on May 17, 1954 was groundbreaking and quickly spread around the country through media such as the newspaper shown at right from The New York Times. It called for the end of segregation, turning the educational system for the better. Justice Earl Warren who wrote the court decision inscribed that:Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group… Any language in contrary to this finding is rejected. We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Schools were instructed to desegregate in a timely manner. However, it would still take up to a few decades before more defiant states, once again the unaccepting Southern states, were able to get rid of segregation. As a Republican platform stated 1976, “Diversity in education has great value” (Gerald R. Ford Library). When the end of segregation came, the educational system took to improvement. With segregation tensions finally being able to be moved aside, other issues that had been suppressed before could finally reach the limelight and be dealt with. Educators and reformers “attempted to transform traditional passive, autocratic classrooms into active learning environments. Reformers believed that to cultivate the skills and individual initiative necessary for a free society, schools must reflect America’s democratic ideals” (U.S Department of Education). Coming in with the new times was new technology. With these technological advancements, classrooms were open to new resources to enhance teaching and learning. Like so, schools were taking leaps and bonds for betterment. Alas, advancements with the educational system itself did not mean advancement with discrimination within it. The movement into the present time period shed new light on forms of discrimination that were not as greatly recognized in the past, those of which could be simplified to acts of targeted harassment between certain individuals. These acts would increase and become something that is often seen if many schools nationwide, much like that in other countries. All of these acts would typically fall under the term of bullying, something that about 30 percent of the kids in the U.S. are involved in. Defined as the “use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants” (Dictionary.com), this term can also connect to all the motives and moves of oppression that whites used against African Americans. One of the most, if not the most important thing, one needs to understand is the origins of bullying. Just like lots of other events, it will be key to understanding the situation itself if it is known where it started from. This tyrannical behavior can solely come from oneself, like if someone is taken with being in power, having that upperhand, and using violence, they are likely to become a bully as they already show characteristics of such a being. It might also be that bullying is done for thoughts of personal gain, like a person wanting attention or a way to relieve stress (i.g. failing academically). Another case of a person’s self actions causing them to become a bully is that while they themselves do not necessarily intend to be recognized under that term, that person ends up being marked as bully usually due to their mannerism which in that case would be being supercilious or a trait like that, especially added if they are the type to freely out. There are then the outside forces and events that could have impacted a person to act out as a bully. This can be issues a person has faced or are facing pertaining to possibly their family, history, or surroundings. The similarity that is usually present between the experiences of people who might end up an intimidator due to those sort of circumstances is that they were at some time exposed to neglect or abuse. This would stimulate a person to grow a negative way, shaping many into bullies. These are just some common causes and of course, it could be that someone just strongly dislikes (hates) another, like in the feelings that whites harbored for African Americans in the past, that harrassment is done. After becoming a bully, it would come down to what actions a person would take to do so, and with those actions, victims undergo varying types of hardships. Types of bullying behavior can be classified into three categories: verbal, physical, and social. It isn’t unusual that people might think that the physical type of bullying is more detrimental to a target next to the verbal and social types. Multitudes see physical health as more vital than mental health, but in reality, they both have the ability to cause immense harm. Every one of those can cause the victim to have forms of low self esteem and self value, both included under the mental state of mind. All three of them can also cause outward harm as well. While it is only the physical types of bullying that injury is inflicted by the outside force, the bully, each of the three types have the potential to cause harm through self initiation. This is considered self harming, something that is used by many as a way to bear with their suffering. It is even harder if it is added that the sufferer does not have any friends or peers to help support in those tough situations. It is often, though, that a sufferer might not have anyone to help them as these people as are often ostracized, making it hard to make relations with others. Not just that, but blackmailing can also be used to make sure that the bullies are outed. When worst comes to worst, it can get as serious as suicide, that is, if their abuser does not get them first. If this was to be compared to the past two eras, there can things found that correspond between those who initiate and those who receive. When it comes to the initiators, they all held themselves as above the other group that their acts were initiated upon and they did such actions with intentions that were not moral.  For the receivers, they probably did not do anything to deserve such treatment other than being in a situation of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They sustain brutality that can range all the way from contempt glances to death itself. The thing that is unique about the the present time period, is that both sides can actually be suffering. Again, many bullies become who they are due to personal issues that they face. With help and guidance, the present group of initiators and receivers can be led to solve their problems. Luckily, since bullying is something that affects so many youths nationwide, in a negative way at that, there have been many programs, projects, and organizations to help those who are suffering from it. It is also a good thing that bullying can easily be dealt with civilly if patient, unless actions went out of bounds and invades another’s rights, which is simpler than having to legally solve cases like with segregation and equality troubles in the past. In this type of way, people work to solve complications, specifically with prejudice, that relate to education. Discrimination is something that can be found everywhere. It is something that people try to fix yet can never seem to get out of. The school systems are no exception. In the U.S., this can be seen from past to present. Starting with the Reconstruction Era, the country wavered at the thought of giving the minority group African Americans, educational freedom. Fortunately for blacks, their influence grew and spread along with educational achievments despite the amount of opposition they received. In the Jim Crow Era, when schooling had been securely established for the race, the next obstacle would be dealing with segregation and equality within the system. After decades of being stuck in the same place, the ruling of the Brown v. Board of Education case, which abolished segregation in schools, finally brought the revolutionary thought of equality for whites and blacks seemed like a more likely reality. As of now, education in the U.S. is something that all its inhabitants can enjoy. Without surprise, there still continue to be problems, like with targeted harassment and violence. Like in the past, effort is continuously being put in to end these kind of problems within schools so that it can be something that all can take good part in. Thus, discrimination within the educational system has been ever present, but is also ever changing, hopefully for a future where discrimination is faced by none.

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