Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A long view of Charlotte

Last night a guy named Matt Lassiter taught me more about Charlotte in two hours than I've learned in years.

Lassiter is a University of Michigan professor who recently published a book called "The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South." He spoke at the Levine Museum of the New South to a crowd of a couple of hundred -- they kept dragging in chairs to handle the overflow.

He studied Charlotte along with Atlanta, Richmond and several other Southern cities to see how they dealt with the big issues of the past 50 years -- mainly, growth and integration.

A couple of revelations (or at least they were to me):

-- Charlotte was one of the most integrated Southern cities 50 or 60 years ago, before several key decisions -- mainly zoning laws, and decisions on where to put the interstate highways -- pushed black families into the same neighborhoods.

-- The language used by Charlotteans in the battle over school integration in the '60s is exactly the same as what we use today. Lassiter dug up quotes from old newspaper stories and interviews. Some people wanted their kids in the school closest to home; others wanted diversity, and wanted their kids to have a shot at the schools with the best facilities. You could've stuck the quotes in any schools story today without changing a word.

-- The most interesting point: He gave Charlotte credit for at least still talking about the direction of the schools. He said most cities (including Detroit, where he lives) gave up long ago. White kids make up less than 10 percent of the population in a lot of big-city school districts. Governments create separate suburban districts, or parents send their kids to private schools or just move away.

So are we beating our heads against a wall? Or is the conversation still worthwhile? Comments, debates, arguments below.


Anonymous said...

I think the character of neigborhoods in the suburbs are changing. At least in East Charlotte, you will see whites, blacks and hispanics living side by side. We all want the same thing, good schools in our area. Of course we care about our children, but we also care about our property values. Areas in the city where schools are perceived as having poor schools will have low property values. This means lower taxes for the city. Do you think City Council understands that?

Anonymous said...

From my observation of school matters Charlotte is working backward.
With the recent call for de-centralization of schools,its just code for resegration of schools.

Anonymous said...

Somehow, we blame the schools for all our problems.
Schools shouldn't have anything at all to do with student assignment.

Let the kids go to school in the towns they live in. Period.

If you want diversity, it is the responsibility of the towns and neighborhoods, not the schools.

Integrate the neighborhoods, then you have integrated, neighborhood schools and everyone is happy.

Anonymous said...

If only it were that easy...As a native Charlottean who completed my entire education in the public school system (during "busing"), I would like to let everyone know "It wasn't that bad!" We didn't have the drama that is carried out today at each school board meeting--and the students were happy! It kept our schools with uniform budgets and uniform quality of teachers--how is that so bad. I'm perplexed at what's going on here these days. Obviously people don't promote diversity if not forced to.

Anonymous said...

Many conveniently seem to forget that under busing there was a huge disparity in test scores between blacks and whites. Schools may have been "uniform", but they were not properly educating all of our students. Apparently many also need to be reminded that Mecklenburg's population is much larger now than during 80's and 90's and our roads are much more congested. Like it or not, busing is no longer practical.

Anonymous said...

I guess the folks who don't want a diverse school system are reaching deep for reasons and excuses not to have a goal of diveristy.
Folks you can continue to hide your heads in the sands if you wish,but in the real world your children will someday meet my children.
Wouldn't it be nice if they knew a little about each other?
Most of what people are afraid of is differences precieved.
Or images they see on the six o'clock news.

Anonymous said...

And I guess Jimmy Mac doesn't worry that under busing minority children were leaving CMS without getting a proper education. I don't believe it's reaching deep to be more concerned about academics than demographics. In the long run, if struggling children receive (and participate in)a strong academic education tailored to their needs, whether in a diverse setting or not, they eventually will be able to hold a job and live wherever they desire. Their children will then be starting with a leg up.

Anonymous said...

jimmy mac,

Nobody says diversity is bad. But the operative word here is education -- not diversity. Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, as well as generations of Americans who trash schools and only look at standardized test scores as a measure of achievement, we have a mess.

Meck Co. kids today are two or three grade levels ahead of their peers from 20 years ago. Yet, somehow race becomes a factor.

The only way things won't be racially discriminatory is if race is not a factor at all in student assignment.

Anonymous said...

yeah, maybe people somewhere are still "talking" about CMS schools, but in my one year here, all I've seen is more and more families giving up on them. No wonder private schools are such a big business here.