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Eco-Apartheid: Linking Environmental Health to Educational Outcomes

by Antwi Akom - 2011

Background/Context: The issue of how to achieve a racially diverse student population has become increasingly challenging since a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court split decision endorsed the importance of creating diverse schools, while simultaneously limiting the assignment to public schools based on an individual student's race or ethnicity. The article examines innovative efforts at achieving racial integration in Berkeley, California, as well as other district efforts in New York City, to curtail the dangers associated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in school building materials and develop plans to remediate contaminated school buildings.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In this article, the author draws on the disciplines of environmental sociology, critical race theory, and social epidemiology to examine the relationship between school desegregation, environmental inequality, structural racialization, and health and educational outcomes. The author proposes a conceptual framework for linking environmental health to educational outcomes that considers the dynamic social processes through which social and environmental inequalities—and associated health and educational disparities—are produced, reproduced, and transformed.

Setting: Berkeley Unified School District has achieved substantial integration in a city where neighborhoods are polarized by racial-ethnic, socioeconomic status, and environmental inequality. Moreover, the Berkeley integration plan was upheld in 2009 by the state appellate court, a decision that the California Supreme Court allowed to stand. As a result, the Berkeley Unified School District's plan to maintain diversity could serve as a national model for other public schools that are seeking constitutionally sound desegregation programs.

Research Design: Using empirical evidence from the published literature, as well as the author’s own practical experience conducting community-based participatory research in Berkeley, the author applies the eco-apartheid conceptual framework to the city of Berkeley.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The eco-apartheid framework provides a useful model for theory building in the study of environmental health and educational equity. Moreover, the author recommends that theories of racial and educational inequality in general would benefit from a more serious consideration of the role that environmental inequalities play in structuring the relationship between health and educational inequality. Additionally, the author highlights the ways in which existing research on desegregation remains in need of theoretical strength and methodological rigor with respect to environmental inequality.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 4, 2011, p. 831-859
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16110, Date Accessed: 5/8/2021 6:35:31 AM

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About the Author
  • Antwi Akom
    San Francisco State University
    ANTWI AKOM is as an associate professor of environmental sociology, urban education, and African American studies at San Francisco State University. His research focuses on the links between race, environmental health, and educational equity in cities and schools; the role of the clean economy and STEM education in facilitating pathways out of poverty for vulnerable populations; and the role of local knowledge in the production and amelioration of environmental health and educational inequities.
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