Are America's Schools Still Segregated? (page 3)

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Updated on Jan 14, 2011

Orfield explains that schools have few resources for children who act out, and special education is one of those resources. “We create little ghettos, little segregated classrooms in school where black boys are segregated,” Orfield says. “Black boys who are being labeled as learning disabled based on behavior.”

And it’s never just as simple as dropping kids of different ethnic origins or physical or intellectual abilities into a classroom together. Children—not unlike adults—have to be prepared.

Scott Plous, a former recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in International Peace and Cooperation, looks at desegregation efforts from the perspective of a social psychologist. In addition to serving as a researcher and professor at Wesleyan, Plous maintains a suite of nonprofit Web sites called the Social Psychology Network. “I think the most important thing is how integration is handled so that each child is regarded by their peers as a valued member of the class,” Plous says.

He explains that when students from widely different backgrounds are unprepared for integration, the implementation can be viewed as unsuccessful. “In the process of integrating classrooms in the early 1970s, there were a lot of racial conflicts—it wasn’t going well,” Plous says. “There is a technique that was born out of the movement toward desegregation known as the Jigsaw Classroom.”

In essence, the technique enforces the concept that every person in the class, or small group, is essential. In order to succeed, every student must value and be able to depend on every other student.

Elliot Aronson, who, according to Plous, is one of the world’s most renowned social psychologists, developed this cooperative learning technique specifically to respond to changes in segregation. “One of the nice things about the technique,” Plous says, “is that it has lots of research and evidence to support it.”

Research has shown that with the Jigsaw Classroom children learn more effectively, enjoy school more, and have lower rates of aggression in the classroom. It’s a tool, Plous says, that can help teachers and schools gracefully handle integration. “Wise implementation of cooperative learning techniques can go a long way,” he says.

Will we see a resurgence of integration efforts? The verdict is still out. Let's just hope those implementing integration policies will use history to guide the way.

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