White Babies No Longer Majority: Why Are Schools Not More Diverse?

BlogHer Original Post

This week the Washington Post noted for the first time in American history, white babies are no longer the majority born in the United States.

It's no surprise, considering mixed-race marriages are at an all-time high, as well.

elementary school kids

Credit Image: USDAgov on Flickr

According to the Washington Post:

As the number of white women in their 20s and 30s declined over the past decade, the number of white children dropped in most states, said Kenneth Johnson, a sociologist with the University of New Hampshire.

“The population is literally changing before us, with the youngest replacing the oldest,” he said. “This is the first tipping point. The kids are in the vanguard of the change that’s coming.”


[Editor's Note: I wrote the majority of the following post in 2009, after the last census numbers were announced. On today, this anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education, I haven't found much has changed since my initial research, though Ithaca College now has a great list of resources and additional reading regarding diversity in education. Also check out The Civil Rights Project's excellent resources. If you have any additional sources published since 2009 showing new trends resulting from increasing diversity across public schools, please leave links in the comments and I'll update this post.]


Yet despite the nature of our melting pot, many of our schools are still shockingly homogenous in the racial make-up of their student populations. I can't help but think this is not good for the future.

Even though school boards do seem to understand that diversity is important and good, they still struggle to achieve a representative mix in many major cities and suburbs. Part of the problem seems to be funding: If your neighborhood isn't diverse, your school isn't going to be, either, as long as schools are primarily funded by property tax. Then what happens once those kids move on to larger, more diverse middle and high schools with friendships already cemented? For example, in a 2009 study in Atlanta regarding why kids of different races seemed to hang only with each other, Maureen Downey at the Atlanta Journal Constitution online wrote:

Duncan joined 23 members of Grady’s Social Diversity Club. The education secretary listened far more than he talked, but was impressed with the students’ insightful comments about why teens tend to socialize with classmates who are similar to them. Some kids felt the racial divide had its roots in elementary and middle schools that were largely segregated due to Atlanta housing patterns.

So is the problem not enough diversity at the earliest phases of education? Should we be focusing most on diversity in preschools and elementary schools? These schools tend to be smaller and more neighborhood-based than high schools, which may be cementing early friendships within the kids' own race. Some say neighborhood schools are precisely the problem. Pam Spaulding at Pam's House Blend in North Carolina writes:

I guess the lesson here is some parents, when faced with the choice of keeping "to their own" versus the goal of exposing their children to kids of racial and class differences, self-segregation wins. That the diversity program is not optimal doesn't mean it should be abandoned; it means putting the time and work in to fix the problems.

Tarlton Guru wrote that the Chicago public school system said it uses race to balance schools.

The decision decried racial balancing in schools where race is used for magnet programs. Many of the magnets within the Chicago Schools use race as a factor in accepting students into their programs. There is one group of magnets in the Chicago Schools that selects students based completely on racially weighted lotteries. The students’ applications are sorted according to race, and then drawn in lotteries. This is meant to achieve racial diversity. Acceptance into other magnet programs is based on grades, test scores, academic achievement, and extracurricular involvement. Race is used as a minimal determining factor.

But is diversity in the classroom enough to ensure the kids will be friends? At the adolescent level, not really. Ria of Afro Romance points out this disturbing study:

James Moody of Duke University and an expert on how adolescents form and maintain social networks asked 90,000 teenagers at 112 different schools from every region of the country to name their best friends – five male and five female. During his analysis of the data collected, Moody matched the race of the student with the race of every named friend and compared the number of each student’s interracial friendships with the school’s overall diversity.

The unfortunate twist of his findings was that the more diverse the school was, the more the students segregated themselves by race and ethnicity hence decreasing the likelihood of interracial friendships in the school. “…increased opportunities to interact are also, effectively, increased opportunities to reject each other.”

That study brings me back to my original hypothesis: As with so many things in life, kids need to be socialized with their peers of all races early and often. That means in preschool and elementary school.

Here's the thing: If your kids don't grow up with kids of other races, no matter what you say or do or which books you read to them, they'll feel unnatural around kids of other races until they've had the chance to make friends. Take it from me: I grew up that way in small-town Iowa. My hometown may have been very white, but my adult life isn't. My city isn't. My Internet isn't. I admit my childhood social shortcomings and how they influenced my earlier thinking because it's so important people understand: We need our kids to all be friends with each other now, before they receive any racist cultural messages from the outside world. Before they start thinking they can't possibly fit in anywhere but within their own racial group.

My stomach knotted when I read this from The Red-Headed Skeptic:

I feel incredibly awkward. I would like to change it, but I don’t know how. I feel intimidated. What if I say something wrong? This is prejudiced in itself, though I don’t mean for it to be. I simply don’t know how to relate and I don’t know how to fix it. I most certainly don’t think I am better than anyone or superior in any way, so I am not racist in that way. But the truth is, I’m not color-blind because I’m too scared to be. (I think, however, that’s one of the best things about the Internet.)

In today's world, no kid should be afraid to approach another kid in friendship. We set them up to fail when we keep them apart.

Has the world changed for you or your kids since 2009?

Rita Arens writes at Surrender Dorothy and BlogHer and is the editor of Sleep is for the Weak. She is BlogHer's assignment and syndication editor.

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