Emory Report
November 10, 2008
Volume 61, Number 11



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November 10
, 2008
Conference looks at educational divides

By Ann Hardie

More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the nation’s public schools are separate and unequal and becoming more so all the time.

That was the upshot of the Department of Sociology’s recent conference “Re-examing Race, Ethnic and Class Divides,” with an emphasis on the fault lines in grade and high schools.

Panelists also discussed the role immigration is playing in changing the face of Atlanta and the challenges confronting Latino families living here.

Panelists painted a sobering picture of African American and Latino students languishing in schools with too little funding money and qualified teachers.

Assistant Professor of Sociology Dennis Condron called racial segregation “the most salient” factor driving the gap between black and white students. He emphasized that school districts are being released from court-ordered mandates to desegregate, contributing to the problem.

“Students who attend segregated minority schools gain fewer math and reading skills than do students at either mixed or segregated white schools,” he said.

Minorities attending integrated schools aren’t doing so well either, the panelists reported. Pervasive stereotyping and racial hierarchies exist in schools. As a result, African American students often end up in remedial classes where they don’t belong or disproportionately tagged for detention. All students get the message that to be white is to be high achieving, and vice versa.

Associate Professor of Sociology Amanda Lewis found room for hope. By approaching race as a social construction, not a biological category, her research focuses on how “race is made and remade” in classrooms, hallways and schoolyards based on the ideas students and teachers have about it.

She cited the example of a teacher who assumed that an African American student in baggy pants and a ball cap did not belong in her overwhelmingly white honors class. At the same time, racial attitudes can change.
“Race is never a finished product. It functions as a dynamic artificial and powerful category,” she said. “In some ways it is the happy part of the story. None of this is fixed.”

Emory’s Race and Human Difference Initiative, the Division of Educational Studies, African American Studies, the Transforming Community Project and the Hightower Fund co-sponsored the conference.