Dream in Black and White
New York Daily News, Monday January 18, 1999
as America comes together to celebrate the birth of the Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr., we also celebrate his dream a dream of
a world where skin color is not the defining factor, where the
content of one's character counts above all else. Especially for
have a dream that one day . . . little black boys and black girls
will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls
and walk together as sister and brother.
36 years after King spoke these words on the steps of the Lincoln
Memorial, children attending most New York City schools, especially
public ones, find themselves learning in a segregated reality
divided along racial lines.
1.1 million students in the city's public schools, only 15.7%
are non-Hispanic whites, according to the Board of Education.
Black students stand at 35.9%; Hispanic students, at 37.5%; Asians,
schools, however, actually mirror those citywide totals. The vast
majority of schools are dominated by one racial or ethnic group,
with only a sprinkling of others. Some examples: At Public School
8 in Staten Island, 88.1% of the students are white; 2.1% are
black. At PS 224 in Brooklyn, 97.4% of the students are black.
30 in Jamaica, 93% of students are black. Just a few miles across
the borough, in Middle Village, is PS 128, where 85.8% of children
6 on the upper East Side, 74.5% of kids are white. Just a few
blocks uptown, at PS 133, 92.4% of the students are black.
expect these lopsided numbers in Mississippi, where the Confederate
flag still waves and where race-baiting groups such as the Council
of Conservative Citizens is a popular social club, even among
certain members of Congress.
that this is happening in New York, with New York's children,
ought to be a cause of shame. And alarm.
findings, of course, are not news to the children themselves or
their parents. They are accustomed to monochromatic schools and
classrooms; some prefer it that way. There are many reasons for
these divisions, some benign. Housing patterns are the most obvious,
driven largely by income and choice.
nobody should fool themselves into thinking that a virtual
resegregation of the schools nearly 40 years after the height
of the civil rights era is a sign of success. Children who spend
their growing years almost exclusively with children of their
own race will not be prepared for the multi-cultural world that
easiest conclusion to draw is that raw racism still lives. No
doubt it does. But that's not the whole story. The Board of Education
president is black, and the schools chancellor is black and many
of the 32 school districts in this city are run by blacks and
Latinos. The problem is more covert, more insidious.
solution, even if it were possible, is not busing kids to "mix
things up." In fact, there aren't enough white kids to really
make a big difference. While there is some truth to the conventional
wisdom that whites have fled the public system, it's more accurate
to say that white families with children have fled the city
many of them in search of better schools. Of the 269,000 students
in private and parochial schools, only 58% are white. Even if
all those kids went to public schools, white students would still
only number about 320,000, less than 25% of the city total.
point is that, given the choice, those parents of any race who
can leave public schools often do. It is not a coincidence that
Mayor Giuliani sends his children to parochial school and Public
Advocate Mark Green sends his kids to private school. Or that
the two black members of the Board of Education, President William
Thompson and Manhattan rep Irving Hamer, send their children to
schools are the model discipline, high standards and accountability.
And oddly, the Rev. King might even be proud: As a system, the
private schools are more racially diverse than the public ones.
loving, involved parents want the best for their children.
This was illustrated three years ago, when the mayor got private
donors to sponsor a School Choice Scholarship, where 1,300 kids
got a chance to attend the private or parochial school of their
choice. More than 22,700 parents signed their kids up for the
most of the parents in public schools don't have a choice. That's
why it's so important that all schools improve. Only then will
we have real integration, because parents of means won't flock
to certain neighborhoods for their "good schools" or
abandon the system and the city. And parents of lesser means won't
be stuck with the short end of the stick, where their children
have to wade through years of poor education and fall further
behind in the educational race.
Copyright 1999 Daily News, L.P.