...The notion, the idea that students should be provided equal access to a high-quality public education was the main tenet of the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The decision concluded that “separate was not equal" and the institutional structure of separating Black and white students should be shuttered with deliberate speed. One important tool to accelerate and ensure the integration of segregated schools, especially in states that blatantly deified to comply with Brown was busing.
Recently, the nation recalled the history of not only segregation but the ways that it was employed—and not employed to end its existence in our schools. Sen. Kamala Harris rocked former Vice President Joe Biden during a presidential debate last week by taking him to task on his record on forced busing of students during his time as a state senator during the 1970s.
Busing, a process where Black students were driven to predominantly white schools and white students were driven to predominantly Black schools, was often used as a last resort. Superficially, it was used to integrate schools and give the image of a harmonious, smooth transition in which white and Black students learned together. But more substantially, it was used a means to provide immediate access to resources and opportunities that had been denied to Blacks in a “separate,” segregated structure in which Black students had to attend schools with outdated materials, dilapidated books and overcrowding. In both instances, it was a “means”— not the “end.”
Thus, the “end” then and now is about access to resources and opportunities. There needs to be a distinction made between busing as this “means” for the sake of integrating and busing as an “end” to provide increased and improved access to resources, supports and opportunities for all students.
The issue of forcing students to leave to learn in other communities just to sit next to someone who doesn’t look like them cannot be the sole intent. And since Brown v. Board, we’ve transcended the notion and sought a reality focused on equality in which Black and undeserved students receive the same to one focused on equity which they actually, because of their circumstances, deserved and should be provided more.
Thus, I believe that today, in the context of discussions about busing students to other communities outside of their neighborhoods as the only “means” to achieve the “end” of receiving access to high-quality, innovative educational experiences and opportunities should be rejected.
Because I believe that in the end, students in Black, underserved communities should have access to high-quality, innovative educational programs and resources at home. In the schools in their own neighborhoods. And that for these reasons, maybe others choose to be bussed to them.
I will continue to stand, speak and fight for the day that busing is not inextricably linked and rendered moot when it comes to all students having access to a high-quality education.
They won't need to catch a bus. They would simply walk down the street or around the corner to their neighborhood school.