After reading writer after writer calling on our school board to “fix” our failing schools, I cried, I have seen this play before, always directed by white, educational protagonists. Consultants who have never addressed this problem in real life, are hired from our universities to show that something is being done. This effort, too, like others, will pass.
When I returned to Charleston, I learned of two schools in Charleston County functioning at high academic levels -Buist and Academic Magnet. They were racially diverse with an assigned quota of seats for Black students at the schools. White folks, having fled the city to avoid the desegregation ruling of the courts, began moving back to the city. They wanted the seats at these schools for their children and were committed to get them. They were successful. Black students are now almost invisible in these schools. White people are privileged. Please remember that a court action was threatened recently, because quotas, as such, were deemed illegal. The school board capitulated without a fight, failed to seek alternatives, so they could keep those schools desegregated. NO COURT ACTION. Please be reminded that when a Black child wanted to attend a white, segregated school, the board fought that effort all the way to the Supreme Court. The protagonists, in both cases, are white.
Black Community, we have a problem. We seem to always have a problem. We have been told that we don’t care about education by our failed board members and educators. We were told, constantly and convincingly, that the problem is our children. We were told that the problem of unsuccessful schools that we had to attend, is that we as a people, were uncaring. When many of us got tired of trying to convince teachers and administrators that we do care–no response. When the schools continued to fail our children, we too began to blame the children of our community. Are we the problem? When the school states that poverty is the reason why the schools are failing, then we must ask are the schools in our community promoting poverty? We need to ask what those schools are doing to eliminate poverty. What better course for the schools to take than teaching our children how to read, think, and learn how to learn. We should insist that more money be used to teach teachers how to teach. Teachers cause learning.
Education is the key to freedom. Effective teachers are the key to effective learning. We are organized and governed by the Act of Consolidation. Section 8 of the Act of Consolidation states, “no teacher or other professional employee shall be transferred from one constituent district to another without the approval of such employee, the board of trustees of the Charleston County school district and the trustees of the constituent districts involved.”
No superintendent can be effective working under such restrictions. This Section guarantees the white, desegregated schools the opportunity of having the best educators. Too often, in many of these failing schools, we expect the students to outperform, academically, their teachers. Teachers need to be taught how to behave, and how to teach the students attending failing schools; too many teachers in these schools are the rejects from the white schools. If the principal excesses a teacher, that teacher should not be sent to teach at a failing school. When this occurs the systemic devaluation of these schools is affirmed. The staff and students are taught not to value themselves as potential effective teachers and learners.
I know success is possible; not only do I believe it, I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it. Charleston has to untie the hands of the superintendent and board members must consider Section 8 of the Act to be null and void. The superintendent must be able to do the right thing, not the white thing. The greatest challenge that we have is not to listen to the scuttlebutt coming out of 75 Calhoun Street, but to believe that our children are capable of being exceptional learners and we are capable of being exceptional advocates for our children. Everyone–politicians, educators, clergy and parents, need to be held accountable because our children are dying.
Charleston County schools will not be cited for the mental destruction of our children by our state or federal educational departments. The white schools are desegregated. The failing black schools are segregated. My children can attend the white schools where seats for black children are limited by an unspecified quota. No white school will tip unless the system wills it. If we were not concerned with tipping, (keeping the attendance of the black student population low at white schools), our entire system could be desegregated. What is Charleston County’s promise to its tax paying citizens? We need to have this conversation and demand equity and excellence for all children. After all, we do care, don’t we?
Luther W. Seabrook, Ed.D
Former Executive Assistant for
Curriculum and Instruction at the
South Carolina State Department of Education