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“A Time for Sight”: The Debate over Color Blindness and Race-Consciousness in School Integration Policy

In light of the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, ADL offers a comprehensive lesson for high school students that examines the current debate over school integration within the broader context of the Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 and the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, AK in 1957.

Rationale: The purpose of this lesson is for students to examine the current debate over school integration within the broader context of the Brown v. Board of Education decision and 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, AK. Students first listen to an interview of a member of the Little Rock Nine to set the historical context and reflect on their personal beliefs about school integration. In small groups, students then analyze and discuss the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision on voluntary school integration plans, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education. Students apply their learning in a mock school board meeting, in which they role play a debate over the future of a district wide school choice plan promoting racial integration.

Objectives:

  • Students will reflect on their beliefs and attitudes regarding school integration.
  • Students will explore the connections between Brown v. Board of Education, the crisis at Little Rock and current struggles over school desegregation and integration.
  • Students will analyze the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision on voluntary school integration.
  • Students will consider the impact of the Supreme Court decision and current attitudes about school integration on the educational experiences of all students.

National Standards (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)

Age Range: Grades 10-12

Requirements:
Handouts: (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
  • OPTIONAL: Understanding the Language of School Integration
  • Quotes about School Integration
  • Key Questions
  • Case Study: Voluntary School Integration
  • School Board Meeting: Voluntary School Choice Plan

Supporting Documents:

Other Materials: chart paper, markers, Internet access (optional)

Time: Approximately 2 hours or 2-3 class periods
(Note: if time is limited, skip Part IV of the lesson)

Techniques and Skills: case study, connecting past to present, cooperative group work, critical thinking, debate, forming opinions, historical understanding, large and small group discussion, reading skills, research skills, role play, using the internet

Key Words: affirmative action, compelling, concurrence, de facto, de jure, demographic, desegregation, dissent, diversity, integration, majority, plurality, race-conscious, remedial, restrictive, scrutiny, segregation, standard, unconstitutional, unitary

Procedures

NOTES:
  • This lesson presupposes that students have a basic understanding of Brown v. Board of Education and efforts toward school desegregation. If your students require more in-depth instruction on these topics, see the ADL curriculum unit, Looking Back Reaching Forward: Exploring the Promise of Brown v. Board of Education in Contemporary Times.
  • Terms such as segregation, desegregation and integration are used frequently throughout this lesson. It is recommended that educators review the meanings of these terms with students so that they are used accurately and consistently. See Understanding the Language of School Integration for a listing of definitions.
  • During this lesson, students are challenged to explore and articulate their personal feelings about sensitive topics including segregation, discrimination, and the value of diverse school communities. Talking about themes related to diversity requires that students demonstrate maturity and compassion for others. It is recommended that educators use the guidelines in the ADL document, Establishing a Safe Learning Environment, to set some ground rules for discussion.

Part I: Historical Context (5-10 minutes)

1. Prior to the lesson, preview the audio Interview with Minnijean Brown Trickey and the transcript of the Interview with Melba Pattillo Beals. Decide whether to use both or one of the interviews for this lesson.

    NOTE: Trickey and Beals are both members of the “Little Rock Nine,” a group of African-American students who were initially prevented from attending Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in early September 1957, but who were ultimately admitted later that month under the protection of the U.S. Army and subjected to a year of physical and verbal abuse by many of the white students.

2. The day before the lesson, assign students to either read the transcript of the interview with Melba Pattillo Beals or listen to the audio interview with Minnijean Brown Trickey for homework. Tell students that both women are members of the “Little Rock Nine” and ask for a volunteer to explain what that term refers to (or provide a brief explanation if no student is aware of the term). Ask students to be prepared on the next day to share what they know about Little Rock and the Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, and to pose any questions they have about these topics.

    OPTIONAL: If students are unfamiliar with the terms commonly used in school integration discussions, have them review the handout Understanding the Language of School Integration as part of their homework assignment.

Part II: Personal Beliefs about School Integration (20-30 minutes)

3. Prior to the next class, write up some of the Quotes about School Integration, each on a separate sheet of chart paper, and display them around the classroom. (Select enough quotes so that you can form small groups of four to six students for each quote.).
4. During the next class, ask for a few volunteers to share what they learned from the interview they read/heard for homework, what they know about Little Rock and its relationship to Brown v. Board of Education and to ask any questions they have as a result of the homework. Spend about 10 minutes on this discussion.
5. Tell students that you asked them to reflect on the events that occurred at Little Rock Central High School in 1957 in preparation for today’s lesson about an important Supreme Court case that also relates to school desegregation and integration, decided 50 years after the events in Little Rock. Ask students to bear in mind the experiences and perspectives of the “Little Rock Nine” as they consider this modern-day court case.
6. Tell students that before delving into the facts of the court case, they will be asked to reflect on their beliefs about school integration. Draw their attention to the quotes about school integration displayed around the classroom. Instruct students to walk silently around the room, read all of the quotes and then stand by the one that most resonates for them or that most reflects their opinion about school integration at the moment.

    OPTIONAL: To keep small groups to a manageable size, tell students that there may not be more than five people gathered at any one quote, and to select their second choice if their first choice is already “full.”

7. When all students have selected a quote, instruct the members of each small group to discuss why they chose that particular quote, what it means to them and how they think it relates to the current debate in U.S. society about school integration. Allow 5-10 minutes for discussion.

    OPTIONAL: If you feel it would not be safe or productive for students to physically stand next to a quote and publicly reveal their opinion on the issue of school integration, have them privately select a quote and do some individual reflective writing in response to the above discussion prompts.

Part III: Analyzing the 2007 Supreme Court Decision (40-50 minutes)

8. Tell students that you’d like them to delve deeper into the issue of integration, as it relates to today’s schools, by considering a very significant court case that was decided in June 2007. Write the name of the case on the board or a sheet of chart paper:
    Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education
Ask students if they have heard of this case. Point out that it is actually two cases that were decided together by the U.S. Supreme Court because they both dealt with voluntary school integration plans (one in Seattle, WA and the other in Louisville, KY) that use race as a factor in student enrollment. Allow students to share what they already know about the case.
9. Have students get back into their small groups. Tell them that they will be receiving background information about the case and some questions for discussion. Instruct students to read over the materials and then discuss the Key Questions. After explaining the task, hand out the documents listed below. Allow about 30 minutes for this small group process.

    NOTE: Decide which handouts and how many you will incorporate into this activity based on the ability level of your students. Depending upon time and student skill level, you may consider searching for more basic texts and assigning them for homework prior to the activity. It may also be necessary for you to provide a brief overview of the case for students, verbally summarizing the key points.

10. Reconvene the group and ask for volunteers to share highlights from the group discussions. Ask students if they agree with the majority, concurring or dissenting opinion in this case and why. Clarify any outstanding questions students may have about the decision and what it means for public schools around the U.S..

    NOTE: In this case, the opinions of Justices Kennedy and Thomas were considered concurring opinions, which means that they agreed with the judgment of Chief Justice Roberts and the other justices representing the majority opinion, but not their reasoning, and therefore presented different rationales as the basis for their decisions. Justice Kennedy’s concurrence was of particular importance because while he asserted that the Seattle and Louisville plans lacked adequate justifications for their specific racial classifications, he disagreed with the majority conclusion that the Constitution requires school districts to ignore de facto segregation in schooling and affirmed that a district may consider it a compelling interest to avoid racial isolation and achieve a diverse student population.

Part IV: Role Play—Voluntary School Choice (40-50 minutes)
    NOTE: If you do not have time to implement Part IV, skip ahead to step #15 below to conclude this lesson.

11. Tell students that for homework they will prepare to participate in a role play that will allow them to apply their ideas about school integration to a real-life situation. Distribute copies of Case Study: Voluntary School Integration and School Board Meeting: Voluntary School Choice Plan. Explain that this fictionalized case study of a community struggling over its school integration plan is based on actual events. Instruct students to read both handouts and to prepare comments for a mock school board meeting that will take place in class the next day. Tell students that they will be participating in the role play as themselves, so their comments should reflect their actual viewpoints.

    OPTIONAL: You may also wish to share with students the following brief documents, which provide an overview of the extent to which schools are segregated nationally and what impact this has on the educational experience for all students.
    State of Segregation
    Social Science Findings about School Integration

12. The next day in class, set up the role play by telling students they have been invited to a school board meeting to discuss Greenfield School District’s voluntary school choice plan. Point out that in light of the Supreme Court decision in Parents Involved, many community members are questioning the legitimacy of the program and that this forum will provide an opportunity to hear from all sides before a vote is taken on whether or not to continue with the plan.
13. After setting the stage, designate a spot at the front of the room that will serve as the podium and invite student volunteers up to make their case one at a time. After each speaker, allow members of the audience to respond or to ask clarifying questions before inviting the next speaker up.
15. To close the meeting, have students vote on whether or not the plan should be eliminated, continued as is or continued with changes. Debrief by asking students what surprised them about the class discussion and voting results and whether or not they changed their thinking as a result of this exercise.
16. To conclude the lesson, ask students to reflect back on the interview of Minnijean Brown Trickey or Melba Pattillo Beals that they read/heard. Remind students that you initially asked them to bear in mind the experiences and perspectives of the “Little Rock Nine” as they considered the modern-day debate over school integration. Ask students how they think those students who were involved in the early days of school integration might view the current case and debate over school integration. Ask students if they think that the current decision, in Chief Justice John Roberts’ words, “is faithful to the heritage of Brown” or, in the words of dissenting Justices Stevens and Breyer, “rewrites the history of one of this court’s most important decisions” and “undermines Brown’s promise of integrated primary and secondary education.”


   Handouts/Supporting Documents:
Download a PDF of Handouts
Download a PDF of the entire unit
(.pdf format requires Acrobat Reader)
A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute Recommended Multicultural and Anti-Bias Books for Children
A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE Programs and Resources
THE MILLER EARLY CHILDHOOD INITIATIVE of A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute





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