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The Constitution states that every child in the United States has the right to have a free and equal public education. However, for most of our Country’s history, this was not the case. In 1896, the Supreme court ruled in favor of Jim Crow laws, which made racial segregation in all public places legal. This meant separate movie theatres, different entrances for blacks and whites, separate water fountains, and racially segregated schools; some even had to use separate textbooks and bibles for white and black students.
In 1954, a lawsuit meant to fight against the segregation in schools, Brown v Board of Education, was brought before the Supreme Court and won. The United States supreme court ruled that segregation in schools was in fact unconstitutional. Even with the new law in place schools in the south still refused to allow black children to attend, including Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Nine African-American students, with high grades and good behavior, were hand-selected to attend Central High School in response to the new Blossom Plan, which intended to gradually integrate public schools. The students, later known as the Little Rock Nine, were met with hate, anger, and violence as they arrived for their first day on September 1957. The nine students were met by a line of soldiers from the National Guard, not to protect them but to prevent them from entering Central High. They were met with resistance from their state leaders, the members of the community, and the white students of the High School itself. The Governor of Arkansas called the National Guard, citing potential violence, to stop the nine from entering. Members of the community shouted racist slurs at them and threatened physical violence on the African-American students. The white students from the school cussed at them, spit on them, and swung sticks and bats at dummies hung in trees. If a white student tried to befriend one of the nine or stand up on their behalf they were called out and ridiculed by their peers. ‘A Major stumbling block to desegregation has been the desire by most white to maintain neighborhood schools.’ They simply didn’t want African-Americans in the same school as their white children.
This was the norm in American culture in the 1950s, with racism and bigotry passed down from generations before. White people felt the need to maintain the patriarchy and integration was a threat to that. The nine African-American students faced adversity, hate, and violence yet continued to show up on the steps of Central High. Upon making their way into the school, they were only met with more resistance as 1,000’s of people showed up to protest ‘blacks’ being in the school with white students. The Little Rock nine were removed from school that day. One show of support came from the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. He ordered the National Guard to escort the students throughout the school day. However, they faced a school year of harassment and violence, despite the protection of their escorts. They were locked in rooms, had acid thrown at them, and hot food dumped in their laps. Despite the pushback from students, faculty, and the community the students excelled, many graduating and going on to college. These nine African-American Students were willing to fight for their education and in doing so altered the course of history. When examining the history of education in the United States, most would like to think we have come a long way from segregation and unequal education. But have we really come that far?
The landmark event at Central High brought about a big change in the integration of schools and the future of education but change comes slowly. According to Chandi Wagner, ‘Despite progress, many of our students are still racially isolated. About 15 percent of black and Latino students attend schools that are less than one percent white’. She also states that funding in these schools is lower and has fewer resources. Even though schools can no longer turn away students based on race, it’s no secret that the public schools in our country do not align with the diversity of the rest of our nation.
In many minority prominent areas, there is a high poverty rate and low property taxes. With the funding for schools coming from these taxes, the districts struggle to produce the funding, lack in necessary resources, and are often forced to employ teachers that don’t meet the state criteria for certification. With segregation and integration still an ongoing problem in our public-school system, it’s important that teachers coming into the field of education understand the issues we faced in the past and the issues we still face in our schools today.
The influences of the surrounding environment play a huge role in how we see the world, how we see others, how we process information, and how we learn. It’s important that teachers understand cultural diversity and how it affects their students and their overall learning abilities. It’s important for new teachers to have a grasp on the challenges that minorities faced in the past and how they continue the fight for an equal education today. As our society grows more and more integrated and diverse it’s imperative that our schools follow suit but our public schools can’t seem to keep up. Students alike should be taught about the Little Rock Nine, young kids just like themselves, who risked their lives for equality.
Our country’s youth played a huge role in the fight for integration in our schools, confronted the crisis of segregation, and set a new precedent for our entire Country and I believe today’s students should be inspired by that. A’Leia Bundles quoted Clarence B. Jones, a friend of the late Martin Luther King, saying “a definitive discussion and description of the institution of slavery, the concomitant supporting ideology of white supremacy and the impact it has had on subsequent generations’ are missing from the history curriculum of most American high schools and colleges. Unless students and potential educators understand the role that race has played in America’s history, it’s impossible to understand America how it is today.
The African-American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were a vital part in the fight for civil rights. Even though the immediate reaction to the students was negative, their steps into that school caused huge strides in the south to desegregate our schools. These students shattered racial segregation and began to shift not only the south’s views but the views of our entire country. History has been known to repeat itself, which is why it is so important for educators and students alike to be informed about our Nation’s past. If we aren’t aware of the history of our country we’re less likely to recognize the parallels in America today.
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