Annmarie Adams is an education writer who has covered desegregation issues for the Hartford Courant newspaper. She was interviewed by Tracy Esposito in December, 2003.
1. In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge (social, academic, or otherwise) faced by minority students attending primarily white schools?
The greatest challenge faced by minority students attending primarily white schools is the belief that minority students are intellectually inferior. If minority students succumb to this insidious notion, which is derived from a culture of low expectations, they will become psychologically crippled. This hampers their academic careers. It will also wipe out their confidence, and eventually they will give up hope. This is how we have already lost a generation of black students, and we are on the same path to losing another generation.
2. Do you think that minority students have anything to gain by attending predominantly white schools?
I don't think they gain as much as people think they would have gained. Here's what minority students gain from attending predominantly white schools: lessons on how to make whites comfortable. It's a survival strategy, a must for being black in America .
3. As a reporter who deals with integration issues, how do you view the results of the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision? That is to say, how do you think that integration has changed the educational experience of minority students?
What people failed to realize is that there was a Brown II. This decision, coupled with numerous court decisions in the last 49 years, reversed the gains made by the May 17 1954 Brown decision. Schools are more segregated than now than they were back then. The North is more segregated than the South. Here in New England , Connecticut is known by local blacks as the Mississippi of the North. Children who were bused into all white schools during the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s came out emotionally scarred. Today, minority students who attend schools in the suburbs are placed in lower academic tracks; and those who are qualified to be in AP or honors classes don't want to be. That's because if they end up in AP or honors classes, they are ostracized by their black friends or isolated within an all-white setting. In addition, many minority students are not encouraged to be in more challenging classes. Overall minority students, whether attending racially integrated schools or segregated schools, are receiving substandard education. I think minority students before the Brown decision were receiving quality education although they were schooled in poor, dilapidated buildings with limited resources. That's because they had teachers who cared and who demanded excellence.
4. According to Claude Steele's article “Thin Ice,” minority students score lower on standardized tests, receive lower college grades, and have lower graduation rates than white students. Steele has attributed minority students' lower success rate, in large, to stereotype threat theory (the idea that minority students are less motivated to succeed academically because they believe people already expect them to fail based on their ethnicity). Have you witnessed this phenomenon in your research?
Oh yes I have. I spoke of that in my previous response to question 1. Minority students are being conditioned to accept their academic inferiority. It's all in the mind. If they don't believe they can succeed, they will not. This is mental slavery, and it's painful to witness in the children I've interviewed. Their attitudes at times are: “why bother?”
5. How do you think Claude Steele's stereotype threat theory applies to the experience of minority students on predominantly white campuses? That is to say, is there a correlation between a student's ethnicity and his or her level of social achievement or overall well-being?
This question of stereotype threat ties into the culture of low expectations. There is a correlation between a person's ethnicity and his or her level of social achievement and overall well-being because minority students deal with the stereotype threat on a daily basis. This kind of anxiety causes mood swings, depression and overeating. And for those students who haven't developed a coping mechanism, this high level of anxiety can lead to high blood pressure and other types of disease. How can that be good for someone's overall well-being? And if you are not well, how can you fully achieve social success?
6. According to Beverley Daniel Tatum's book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? , academic success is associated with being white. Tatum bases this assumption on the fact that school curriculums are white-focused and teachers and administrators are usually white. Thus, some minority students reject the pursuit of academic success on the grounds that doing so would cause them to be perceived as “acting too white” by their peers. Conversely, minority students who are overachievers often find that white overachieving students don't accept them as their intellectual equals. Both of these problems are evidence of the pressure society imposes on minority students to embody an accepted ethnic identity. Do you think that minority students' quest for identity affects the way they approach coursework?
Without a doubt, yes. Sometimes minority students try too hard. They study more often than their white counterparts and forsake their friends, even though they need those friends to help them cope with the stress of being a minority. So they end up hurting themselves even more. If over-achieving minority students are among other minority students, they don't know how to fit in. It's hard for them to adjust. So they sometimes end up on an island by themselves.
7. My research has suggested that one way to improve the educational experience of minority students is to ensure that there are minority teachers, administrators, and student leaders represented within a school system. The theory is that minority students will feel empowered if they see individuals like themselves represented in their power structure. Do you think this theory is accurate? How feasible would it be for schools to create such a situation? If you don't agree with the theory, what measures do you think would create a more favorable environment for minority students?
I think this theory is accurate. As a matter of fact there has been research that supports this theory.
It's very feasible to create such a situation. I think if there's a will, this situation would happen. There are numerous measures to ensure minority student success. I'll only list a few: a culture of learning and high expectation must be evident; discipline must be stressed; parent involvement is key; moreover, minority students must learn their history. I think once black students know they come from kings and queens, that they weren't always slaves, they are likely to exceed society's expectations.