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Reviewed by:
  • Color and Character: West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equality by Pamela Grundy, and: Students of the Dream: Resegregation in a Southern City by Ruth Carbonette Yow
  • Ben Keppel
Color and Character: West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equality.
By Pamela Grundy.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2017. viii + 236 pp. Cloth $26.
Students of the Dream: Resegregation in a Southern City.
By Ruth Carbonette Yow.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017. xviii + 254 pp. Cloth $39.95.

A little more than a century ago, educational theorist John Dewey set out what he believed should be the relationship between people (“the Public”) and the schools that we support primarily through our property taxes:

We are apt to look at the school from an individualistic standpoint, as something between teacher and pupil, or between teacher and parent. That which interests us most is naturally the progress made by the child of our acquaintance. . . . The range of [this] outlook needs to be enlarged. What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it destroys our democracy. All that society has accomplished for itself is put, through the agency of the school, at the disposal of its future members.*

Dewey elucidates here the contradictory demands made by and upon the modern political community. Love of the child (though a powerful and nearly universal human emotion), was most deeply felt and directly expressed when its full and singular focus was on the one or several that are not only “of our acquaintance,” but our own “blood” and “kin.”

It is no exaggeration to say that over the last century, educational observers from freelance journalist Jonathan Kozol and novelist Bel Kaufman to academic scholars Jane Roland Martin and Nell Noddings have worked over time to activate the love of self embedded in the love of our immediate biological descendant to serve an equally universal social need of protection and nurture for all our children. [End Page 148]

And yet, if we are to look back honestly on our past and measure its continuing footprints upon our present, the carefully researched and powerfully argued monographs by Pamela Grundy and Ruth Carbonette Yow confront us with the prospect, that, in too many ways, after a century of often quite purposeful collective activity, we are not only still in the place described by John Dewey in his classic text, School and Society, we are in many ways turning away from the Dewey vision and ratifying the Darwinian social gospel of a Dewey contemporary, sociologist William Graham Sumner.

With immaculate care, specificity, and attention to historical detail, Pamela Grundy takes us inside West Charlotte High School (in Charlotte, North Carolina), from its opening day in 1938 to the present. In the course of that journey we meet not only Clinton Blake, who serves as the school’s principal for more than thirty years, but his father, Cesar, a railroad mailroom worker who had migrated to Charlotte from rural South Carolina in search of wider frontier of opportunities. We learn as well about West Charlotte’s outstanding theater program, and the work of the North Carolina High School Drama association as well as the roles played by African-American churches in making certain that students received what we would later think of as “educational enrichment” (15–27).

As this narrative unfolds, we learn many new things: about how black teachers who were being pushed out of their jobs nonetheless worked as strongly supportive mentors to their much younger white counterparts; we also see how desegregation, as it moved certain student bodies around, maintained a very traditional sort of power relations among teachers and administrators, a situation in which, as many other scholars have demonstrated, white administrators and teachers replaced black educators of far greater experience. Consider the case of Sam Haygood, West Charlotte’s new principal (appointed because he would be “more acceptable to white students”), who described the education in teaching and leadership he received from Mertye Rice as she disabused him of the idea that the way...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1941-3599
Print ISSN
1939-6724
Pages
pp. 148-150
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-16
Open Access
No
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