Should We Encourage All-Black Schools?

Stuart Buck thinks so, an idea that John McWhorter endorses.  According to them, the phenomenon of socially punishing students who "act white"--i.e. focus on grades--is something that happens mostly in mixed-race schools, where black students are trying to maintain a distinct identity.  When all the kids are black, getting good grades is just . . . getting good grades.

Buck does not mean that the notoriously lousy all-black inner-city schools should be our model for success. But in the increasing numbers of all-black charter schools, as well as public ones turned around by dynamic principals, students calling one another "white" for liking schools is as unheard of as it was in the black schools of yesteryear. Our visceral recoil today at any conception of an all-black school as reminiscent of shabby one-room schoolhouses in the segregated Deep South must be discontinued.

The idea is plausible:  DC's all-black Dunbar school used to routinely trounce all-white schools in academic competition.  And a similar argument has been made in favor of all-girl's eduction; as one scientist I know laments, "Sometime around seventh grade, most of the girls decided to be stupid."  When there are non-girls in the mix, girls define themselves more as girls and less as people.  And when one of the important characteristics of "girl" is supposed to be "more caring than brainy" . . . well, girls maybe don't want to be caught in physics class.

But even if you support the idea in theory, in practice, the problems are daunting.  I'm not sure such a school would be legal; and one worries that even if allowed to operate, it would be starved of resources.  On the other hand, it's not as if schools like Dunbar were showered with the best of everything.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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