Elevate Difference

Lessons in Integration: Realizing the Promise of Racial Diversity in American Schools

This dense volume brings together a wealth of scholarly essays that address the topic of integration in American schools in the early twenty-first century. The book is the fruit of a collaborative research roundtable convened by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Harvard University in 2004. 

2004 was also the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka that led to the end of legal segregation in American schools. However, fifty years after Brown the authors of these essays look deeply into what is working, what is not working, and what has been forgotten since the desegregating schools was a serious project. Many of the essays put the focus squarely on the damage wrought by President Bush’s education agenda and No Child Left Behind, particularly the lack of bilingual education and the focus on high stakes testing. 

Written by a range of researchers from developmental psychologists to education professors the essays in Lessons in Integration provide a range of scholarship that supports education policy makers and practitioners who are advocating for strategies that value students cultural backgrounds and make schools and classrooms welcoming, safe learning environments for all. Many of the chapters, with their charts, graphs, and formulas, may be overly scientific and dry for the casual reader, but this book will be a valuable resource for those in education studies. 

Two of the most compelling essays break out of the scientific style employed by the other authors and focus on case studies. "Desperate to Learn: The Schooling Experience of Latinas in North Carolina" by Maria Teresa Unger Palmer documents the mismatch between secondary schools structure and the needs and expectations of immigrant students. It does so by documenting the experiences of thirteen Latina students over the course of several years. The students’ voices in Palmer’s piece remind readers what the authors of the book aim to do: better serve students from a range of backgrounds and provide quality education for all.

"Preparing Teachers for Multiracial and Underserved Schools" by Christine E. Sleeter focuses on the need to train a more diverse group of teachers and teachers who are prepared for the challenges for the multicultural classroom. She argues that novice teachers must be in training programs that are diverse and that these programs should admit students that want to pursue cross-cultural learning experiences, have maturity to fully consider their students backgrounds and learn from them, and possess academic ability. 

Taken together, this volume provides a framework for educators, administrators and researchers to take leadership roles in ensuring that American schools live up to the promise of high-quality, accessible education for all. While much lip-service has been paid to the multicultural vision of America perhaps best represented by the election of President Barack Obama, Lessons in Integration provides strong research of what schools and educators must do to actively serve and support America’s diversity.

Written by: Eleanor Whitney, April 11th 2009