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In 1954, education in the United States was supposed to change. The inequities that young children of color had faced for decades were to be erased giving equal access to everyone. Finally, there was to be diversity in education.

But what did diversity mean in 1936, or 1966 or 2006? There are many schools trying to answer that question.

 

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.”

I never had the opportunity to visit Caswell Country Training School in North Carolina. It was a segregated school that operated from 1934 to 1969. Many schools during this time period faced enormous challenges trying to adequately educate students so that they could pursue higher education if given the opportunity. Yet, Caswell is seen as a blueprint of how to be a successful community school. The successes of the school are chronicled in Their Highest Potential: An African-American School Community in the Segregated South by Vanessa Siddle Walker.

 

The principal, N. Longworth Dillard, hired the most highly successful teachers from historically black colleges. Their evaluations were rigorous and the expectation was for teachers to not only teach but visit the homes of the students and churches of the community. The PTA meetings were mandatory with parents spearheading financial campaigns to buy materials for annual pageants, trips and classrooms. Parent advocacy was the reason the school finally received a permanent building with art and recreational facilities and adequate heating system.


The staff was not content with students learning just academics. The wide array of clubs that were offered exposed students to art, music, drama and debate. Faculty was not afraid to speak to students regarding their character development and set a level of expectation in and outside of the classroom.


Students graduated and came back to Caswell to become teachers truly connecting their dedication and belief in the mission of the school.


“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?”


Manhattan Country School in New York, New York was founded in 1966 as a model for integrated education. Currently it is still seen as a leader in multicultural education.


From its first year of existence to present day, the school has no racial majority and is explicit in creating an economically diverse community as well. When you walk in their classrooms, you hear teachers asking students in 4th grade to think about how issues affect gender, race and class. Students learn not only to express their own opinion but to understand what it feels like to be in another’s shoes. Respect and appreciation for differences is central to their curriculum.


The school has expanded its pursuits of equity and social justice to include gender equity and environmental justice. Each year, classes are required to facilitate a community project that will support the school community as well as the surrounding community. These projects has led the school to eliminate the use of paper cups in the school as well as establish their annual Martin Luther King, Jr. walk .

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”


The School at Columbia University is connecting to its community through education. The school was created in 2003 primarily as a school that could be attended by the children of Columbia University professors. However, the school has a need-blind lottery process open for all District 3 and 5 families. This lottery process allows students who live in one of the most struggling districts in New York City to attend a private school.

Situated in a new building on West 110th Street, the school has managed to bring together a faculty of master teachers from across the country to build an integrated curriculum. The students have an opportunity to think through an essential question by exploring and questioning it themselves then talking to the experts of Columbia for their perspective.


The school has been able to create a community of learners that also include parents. Since many of the parents are educators themselves, parents become resources and partners in the school. They spearhead a variety of activities including a science expo.


Each of these institutions has already embraced the recent line of ‘Education is the civil rights issue of our time”. To them, education has always been the civil rights issue of their time.

“The time is always right to do what is right.”



All quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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