UD historian studies school integration in new book
Raymond Wolters
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9:23 a.m., Feb. 19, 2009----Race and Education 1954-2007, published by the University of Missouri Press, could be subtitled “The Age of Desegregation and Integration,” according to its author, Raymond Wolters, Thomas Muncy Keith Professor of History at the University of Delaware.

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“I wrote the book as a historian, who has studied and written about the topic for decades,” Wolters said. Calling himself as an independent scholar, Wolters examines the court cases, the prevailing and conflicting social theories of education during the past half century and the effects of desegregation and integration in public schools.

Wolters distinguishes between desegregation, where race cannot be a factor in admission to a school, and integration, which mandates racial balance in schools.

The book begins with the historic Brown v Board of Education decisions of 1954-55, which struck down the separate but equal policy for African Americans and whites and said that schools could not discriminate on the basis of race. Subsequent cases (Green, Swann and Keyes) went beyond desegregation and legislated integration and racial balance.

In the introduction to his book, Wolters wrote “I believe the court was on the right track and was acting in harmony with the opinions of most Americans when it insisted that agencies of the government should not discriminate on the basis of race. I further believe the Court veered in the wrong direction when it equated desegregation with integration,” adding that his view is “out of step” with many scholars. “I insist, however, that my views are in step with the opinions that prevail among most American citizens,” Wolters said.

Most recently the Supreme Court has leaned toward the Brown ruling in Seattle and Louisville cases in 2007, and integrationists are dismayed by Court rulings, according to Wolters.

In his book, Wolters traces the history of desegregation, which he believes most Americans subscribed to, and integration, which he believes went beyond desegregation and has had unforeseen consequences. Whereas he said Brown dismantled segregation laws, Green, Swann and Keyes “required school officials to consider race and strive for racially balanced schools.”

Wolters examines what integrationists hoped to achieve and the unforeseen outcomes of integration such as the loss of middle class African Americans in urban areas, white flight, increased enrollment in private schools, the disintegration of black neighborhoods where the school was often a uniting and stable force, and the disengagement of young African Americans.

He also points out that integration has not substantially reduced the achievement gap between African Americans and other races.

Now there is a desire for neighborhood schools by both African Americans and whites, Wolters said.

On a local level, Wolters described the effects of desegregation and integration in Wilmington, Del. Desegregation in the years after 1954 “seemed to go well,” according to Wolters, but there were some demographic changes.

Whites moved from Wilmington and a growing number of African Americans from the South and also Puerto Ricans moved to the city, and from a middle class city, Wilmington became the home of many impoverished people.

In 1954, Wilmington schools went from 72.9 percent white to 9.7 percent in 1976, and students' academic performance went down and disciplinary problems went up.

There are many factors in educating children and youths, Wolters said -- including ability and IQ, family support, cultural values and teachers -- and when any are lacking in the equation, the result is lower achievement. “There are no simple panaceas for solving these problems,” Wolters pointed out.

The current rulings, returning to nondiscrimination instead of integration, provide a new opportunity for educators “who can no longer regard getting the 'right' racial mix as the key to better education.

“They have to experiment with other approaches,” Wolters wrote, “ The stage is set for a new era in the history of American education, an age of school reform.”

A graduate of Stanford University with a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley, Wolters joined the UD faculty in 1965. He is the author of The Burden of Brown, Right Turn and Du Bois and His Rivals.

Article by Sue Moncure