Berkeley school deals with charges of racism

You may have seen today’s story by Doug Oakley, my Bay Area News Group colleague, about accusations of racism at Berkeley’s Oxford Elementary School. Oxford is located in a predominately white area of Berkeley, and a number of children are bused in from other areas as part of the school district’s racial integration policy (See the school’s demographic breakdown here).

Two families have yanked their children from the school since January, apparently because they felt their kids were in a hostile environment:

“I recently pulled my kid out of Oxford right before spring break,” said Kim Oliver. “There has been so much blatant inequity on campus and in the classroom that I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Oliver and other parents told Oakley that they believe black children are disciplined more harshly and are blamed more often for problems. At least one parent criticized the school for refusing to change its teaching in response to “cultural learning differences.”

Of course, Oakland notes that he interviewed just eight parents at the school. Another source quoted in the story, an African-American teacher, said he felt the parents were unfairly playing “the race card,” and that the school had made progress in dealing with difficult race-related issues.

Do the problems reported at Oxford sound familiar to you Oaklanders? Do you think some adults treat black children differently, without even realizing it (and how do you know)? What have principals and/or teachers and parents done to address these concerns, and have the discussions been constructive or divisive?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    The major racism is suspect would be going on in the Berkeley school is failing to hold the black students to standards. In that way the schools often treat black children differently.

  • Nextset

    type: ..I suspect.. sorry!

  • Caroline

    I did a blog post on the issue of low-income African-American inner-city students and oppositional behavior in school, based on the book “Code of the Streets” by the eminent African-American Yale sociology professor Elijah Anderson.


    A reporter covering this issue would illuminate the situation greatly be calling Dr. Anderson for comment (actually, it would be practically remiss NOT to call Dr. Anderson for comment).

    Oakland’s Perimeter Primate blog has also addressed Dr. Anderson’s books — that’s where I learned about this particular book — and has posted an exchange with Dr. Anderson.

  • Nextset

    Caroline: Can you expound more on this subject?

    How does this fit with the falling black population rate in OUSD? And the Rising Hispanic ratio?

    I am very curious what the prognosis is for the black ghettos of CA and the USA when $6 gasoline arrives sometime after the end of this year. Presumably there will be severe gentrification of the ghettos at gunpoint if required. It’s already happening in Los Angeles where black neighborhoods are being ethnically cleansed.

    Low paying jobs become even more hopeless when transport costs skyrocket, and State Occupational Licensing is steadily pushing blacks out (or they take themselves out, your choice of words) – We see the trend to “certify” every type of occupation and subspecialty (trade guild behavior) to reduce competition.

    At some point I suspects things will get dire enough so the children are told that they will have to live in the streets and feed themselves – at least at age 18 – and the schools may represent more to them in terms of hope for the future than the schools do today.

    I believe during the previous Great Depression reportedly some 14 million teens were transient migrants. They had to travel to eat, nothing at home.

  • Nextset

    Read the article, sounds like the writer is calling for tracking and segregation in the schools – as I am – for the same reasons. Devide the disparate groups into their own programs and work on their issues without the confusion of the “cats and dogs” fighting each other all the time.

  • Caroline

    I don’t have the expertise to answer questions about those implications, Nextset.

    But I’ll go out on a limb and describe my reactions to what I learned from reading Elijah Anderson’s book:

    No, it is not our imagination or a view distorted by racism that a disproportional number of disengaged, disruptive, oppositional students are African-American, especially boys.

    But there are quite logical reasons for that to be the case. Based on what that book laid out for me (situations I had observed but didn’t have the tools to explain or analyze), this behavior makes complete sense in a certain community. It’s not thoughtless or just to make trouble for its own sake — it makes pure sense in context, as a survival mechanism on the mean streets of the inner city.

    The solutions are speculative and complex. But bean-counting the ethnicities of kids being disciplined in a school misses the point completely.

    That said, Anderson’s book also described the extreme challenges faced by a former hoodlum who truly had committed to straighten up while remaining in his community. Both the street hoodlums from his community and the officials and authorities who assumed he was a thug and treated him as such made his efforts to take personal responsibility and lead an honest, hardworking life much more difficult.

  • Sharon

    In the introductory chapter of his new book, “Against the Wall: Poor, Young, Black, and Male,” Elijah Anderson extends the discussion even further. His is a fresh perspective that is deeply thought through. What he presents is as close to the truth as anything you will find.

  • Nextset

    Caroline: I am disinclined to care very much about black thugs and what happens to them. They aren’t going to make it in civilized society, period. They are going to be dead.

    I would require the public schools to eradicate thug behavior in the normal schools directly – especially the black thugs. Talent comes in many colors. If the schools get control of the students early I believe many to most students can be directed the way the school wants. That is, if the school even is trying to get control of them (ours don’t).

    If they need a gang to join, give them one. If they need a gangleader to follow, give them one. They used to be called “Coach”. They came in various styles, boxing, baseball, basketball, football. I’d like to add “shop foreman” to that and various other titles including just plain “Boss”.

    One thing I know – you cannot use most females to socialize hormonal, physicality inclined concrete-thinking males. You need an Alpha Male not a Woman. Unless you have a seriously Alpha Woman (Modesty Blaise?) which are hard to find but out there. Alpha Males are usefull in socializing girls also. Public Schools are typically devoid of Alpha Males – which is why the places are such disasters.

    Authoritarianism has always worked in keeping secondary schools clean and decent. The students can find their inner spoiled brat later when they have their own financing.

    There are no problems in the public schools that won’t be solved when we completely get rid of the feminization of these places.

  • Caroline

    But if it truly is rational survival behavior to be oppositional and disruptive — something for which Anderson makes a strong case — it seems beyond the ability of teachers to change that. If a kid truly (and possibly accurately) believes that he’s literally in physical danger on the street if he doesn’t demonstrate his toughness by being a resister at school, what kind of discipline can convince him to behave in a way that may put his life in danger once he leaves school?

  • Nextset

    PS: Caroline:

    The only racism I’m worried about is that which keeps black children from being forced to come to heel because the authority figure is afraid of them or indifferent to the need to discipline them. The toughest teachers I knew were tougher on the black students – so it seemed – because they made it a priority to get them into line and producing beyond anything the kids ever thought they could do. They were lovingly called “slave drivers”. Some of them came from a long line of slave drivers. Some of them were even decended from the house slaves – or so they said. (some were white also)

    And I knew many of these people, male and female, secondary, college and professional school teachers. They’re all dead now. They weren’t politically correct either. All of them had this little habit of placing their best students at the next level – phone calls were made, applications were filled out, introductions were made. Some of these people are why I did University Law School and why I’m in the profession I am. And I can remember every sharp look and sharp question – and the tough grading too. And these people were public school teachers…

    My High School was male dominated, male principal, dean, 50% of teachers etc. The discipline was relatively severe. People would be suspended for PDA not to mention truancy. Deportment was job one, academics and testing was job 2, then football, etc.

  • cranky teacher

    “One thing I know – you cannot use most females to socialize hormonal, physicality inclined concrete-thinking males. You need an Alpha Male not a Woman. Unless you have a seriously Alpha Woman (Modesty Blaise?) which are hard to find but out there. Alpha Males are usefull in socializing girls also. Public Schools are typically devoid of Alpha Males – which is why the places are such disasters.”

    Nextset: Are you a fascist? Seriously. I’m not saying a Nazi, but are you supportive of an authoritarian crackdown in all realms of society? Or do you just keep these beliefs in the magic of authoritarian alpha males in regard to schools?

  • cranky teacher

    Also, would it ever occur to you that many parents of children who don’t need that kind of authoritarian school to behave might not want to send their child to such a school?

  • Nextset

    Cranky: It’s funny what University level Anthropology classes do to you!

    There is nothing facist about the Rouge Elephant Syndrome. It’s a fact of life. If you don’t want more black male “rouge elephants” you have better get some males in to socialize these kids. – Before they wind up dead or in prison.

    That silly facist namecalling is typical of leftist (usually white) liberals who are just as totalitarian as Stalin once they get any power at all.

    We’ve tried it your way – and since 1960 all the US has obtained is a massive flood of proletariat blacks into the prison industrial complex. This what your “pretty please” methods of schools have done – and remember, I attribute to the schools as much or more influence over adolescent development as the bio-parents. If the public schools were run my way the kids would wear better as self supporting and honest adults.

  • Sue

    Let’s put Nextset in charge, so the trains will run on time, too.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: I believe that all schools should be choice – the kid and the family should want him or her there, and the school should want to accept the student as being an appropriate fit for the school.

    Authoritarian schools environments are critical in many instances – all the more so when you are dealing with large numbers of hormonal adolescents into physicality. A family may want to go another route. More power to them. Homeschooling intrigues me. One of my newest law associates was homeschooled until he started college. His family made the choice to have nothing to do with the public primary and secondary schools. He is the first person I’ve actually met who grew up this way.

    The bottom line is how all people intend to feed and clothe themselves in this Brave New World. If the US economy tanks like it did in the late 1920s, primary and secondary education will be seen in a new light.

    Too many people I see every day learned too little in their primary and secondary schooling. The level of education in the service workers (for example) I see is dangerously low. It doesn’t take much for the working class (much less the underclass) to fall into real trouble – how do they even manage their health and dental issues, much less legal, financial and consumer issues?

    Sue: Your humor warms my heart. Please continue. By the way, what do you do for a living?

  • Nadja

    Nextset is correct about two things: adolescent males need alpha male role models; and the dangerous mis-education of students in primary and secondary schools.

    If you really want to see how ineffective women are at raising and training young males take a good look at the fatherless boys in the inner city. For grins and giggles, talk to anyone who works in the justice system about what I will politely refer to as the “urine test” for violence – in other words, the most violent males are the ones who urinate sitting because they have been raised in an environment totally bereft of male role models. One of my acquaintances is the male RN at a facility for juvenile delinquents where the staff are deliberately kept in ignorance of the offenses their charges have committed – allegedly to prevent biased behavior on the part of said staff. The staff, being disinclined to being folded, spindled, or mutilated, derived this simple bathroom test to assess the violence potential of new arrivals. It works.