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Students of the Dream: Resegregation in a Southern City

reviewed by Kristen Duncan

coverTitle: Students of the Dream: Resegregation in a Southern City
Author(s): Ruth Carbonette Yow
Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 0674971906, Pages: 272, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

When the Brown v. Board of Education decision was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, many people believed it would revolutionize education as students of all races would sit next to each other in schools, learning together for the first time in U.S. history. In the decades following Brown, school districts created a number of programs to achieve desegregation, but many of those programs have since ended or been struck down by federal courts. 64 years later, schools in the United States are just as segregated as they were when Thurgood Marshall argued for desegregation in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. In Students of the Dream: Resegregation in a Southern City, Ruth Carbonette Yow writes about the resegregation of schools in Marietta, Georgia, examining issues such as school choice, tracking, and undocumented students, as well as the city’s history of desegregation during the 1960s.

In the introduction, the author introduces the reader to Marietta, Georgia and its flagship high school, Marietta High School (MHS). Describing Marietta as a small town just outside of Atlanta, Yow discusses the importance of football culture at MHS and introduces the reader to a few of the school’s alumni. These alumni include Black and Latino football players who graduated from MHS in the 2010s and Daphne Delk, the Black woman who desegregated Marietta High School in 1964. Next, the author provides the reader with a brief history of school reform that discusses U.S. Supreme Court cases involving school desegregation. The introduction closes by discussing the methodology of the study, finally returning the focus to the MHS Blue Devils football team, where much of the school’s desegregation story lies.

In Chapter One, Yow uses the narratives of former football players to discuss the ways in which participation in the football program at MHS contributed to integration, providing a space for football players to interact and befriend students of different races. Using participants’ voices, however, Yow points out that many of these cross-racial friendships withered away after high school, with football alumni admitting that they had very few friends of other races in adulthood. Additionally, while Black men on the football team were embraced at MHS, Black women did not have the same experience; football-related groups and activities for women, like majorettes and cheerleading, were not open and accommodating to the Black women at MHS.

In the second chapter, the author focuses on the ways in which school choice programs have exacerbated structural inequity in Marietta City Schools. The chapter begins by explaining that school choice programs are a product of White resistance to school desegregation and argues that Marietta’s current school choice program contributes to segregation. Offering a critique of the district’s failure to address resegregation, the author explains that instead of working to better serve the Black and Latino students who constitute the majority of the district, officials have created programs to lure middle-class White families back to the school district. Yow also explains how decisions made by city government have affected historically Black areas of the city, ultimately affecting school attendance zones.

In Chapter Three, Yow discusses how students are segregated within the walls of MHS. Marietta High School students are tracked into vocational, college prep, and the International Baccalaureate (IB) program pathways. Although more than three-quarters of the school’s students are Black or Latino, the lauded IB program at MHS is comprised almost exclusively of White students. Using the narratives of students who have attended MHS, the author discusses the ways tracking has existed and persisted in the years since MHS first desegregated, noting that tracking keeps students segregated even as they attend school in the same building. While the school district touts the IB program as its shining star, Yow uses interviews with MHS alumni to display how problematic the program is in its current state; IB and pre-IB students have access to the school’s best teachers and smaller class sizes, while the resources required to sustain such an exclusive program could be redirected towards helping a larger number of MHS students reach academic success.

In the fourth chapter, the author discusses Latino students as “the new integrators” (p. 114), comparing them to the Black students who integrated American schools in the mid-20th century. Yow uses these students’ narratives to discuss the inequities they face in living in the United States and how inequitable schools can make their lives even more difficult, particularly for those students who are undocumented. After providing the reader with a brief lesson of how neoliberal trade policies all but forced many people to leave Mexico for the United States, the author discusses the dangers that exist for undocumented students at MHS. The state government of Georgia has passed laws that increase the risk of being detained, and the county in which Marietta is located is one of the toughest in the state regarding detaining undocumented immigrants. Yow notes that while many of these students have dreams of attending college and have what it takes to succeed there, their options as undocumented students in the U.S. are severely limited. She also discusses the ways in which students leverage their social capital to work towards the goal of community uplift.

In the conclusion, the author explains that any attempts to halt and reverse resegregation will first require that policymakers understand that the policies and programs of the past will not solve today’s problems. If Marietta City Schools are to equitably serve all their students, policymakers will need to let go of their nostalgia and focus on improving the quality of life for the people currently living within the city limits. In the epilogue, Yow discusses Franklin Road, an area that is currently home to many poor people of color and which is a target of developers. As the book closes, Yow notes that while bulldozers can tear down apartment buildings, they cannot tear down a community that is vibrant and resilient.

Students of the Dream is an interesting and enjoyable read. Yow skillfully weaves together participant narratives, U.S. Supreme Court decisions, immigration law, and trade policy to help the reader see how these things intertwine to create the resegregated schools we find today. While each of these topics is complex enough to warrant its own book, it seems that these issues are rarely addressed in tandem and in relation to school resegregation. Yow does this while also telling the story of integration in the 1960s, where Black students entered predominantly White schools for the first time. In approaching the text this way, Yow is able to draw parallels to current resegregation issues and helps readers to make connections they likely would not have otherwise made.

While I enjoyed reading this text, there are some additional issues and aspects of resegregation that the author could have addressed, the first of which is White flight. While there was a brief mention of parents who opted to send their children to schools in the nearby Cobb County School District, there was very little mention of White families leaving the city of Marietta or why they left. As White flight plays a very important role in school resegregation, it seems that it receives too little attention in this book. Additionally, while undocumented Latino students certainly deserve the attention afforded them in this text, the experiences of Black students who attended Marietta High School are somewhat minimized. It was Black students whose schools were closed as they were forced to desegregate White schools. More than a half-century later, it seems MHS is still not serving the needs of Black students, although they constitute the majority of the school’s population. This is certainly worthy of attention.

As a metro Atlanta native whose parents attended segregated schools, then desegregated schools after the all-Black high school they attended was closed, I approached this book with slight skepticism. After reading the introduction, I began to let my guard down, and ulitmately I learned a lot from Yow’s participants and her policy lessons. Having spent much time reading about, writing about, and discussing the issue of school segregation, I can say that I finished this text much more knowledgeable about 21st century school segregation than I was before.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22396, Date Accessed: 1/19/2019 5:57:24 PM

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