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Let heart be guide in education, not laws
By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published July 1, 2007
Like many of us, Renalia DuBose wasn't surprised when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that race shouldn't matter when it comes to educating public school children.
Still, for her, the decision limiting school districts' ability to use race to achieve diversity in the classroom hit hard. It sent the wrong message.
"I hope that educators won't see this as an opportunity not to do the right thing for poor children and children of color, " said DuBose, assistant superintendent for administration of Pasco County schools.
This is a seminal moment for public education. Some even think it's a step backward. But while there was much fuss and gnashing of teeth, DuBose, 50, takes a longer view.
She has the benefit of experience. The 1954 landmark Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation decision taught her that courts can tell people what they're doing is wrong, but they can't force people to do what's right.
In 1967, DuBose was a third- grader in an all-black school in deeply segregated Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle.
Yes, 13 years after Brown outlawed "separate but equal, " little had changed in Jim Crow Escambia County. Her school had no textbooks, no library.
But her father was a black preacher who was active in the civil rights movement. He didn't see why after all these years, his two daughters were still attending a substandard all-black school. He wanted his girls to attend the white school three blocks from their house. DuBose's older sister transferred in 1965, and she followed in 1967.
Academically, she felt prepared and she thrived.
DuBose later earned a bachelor's from the University of Florida, a master's from the University of South Florida and a doctorate from Florida A&M law school. She's an adjunct professor at USF. Both her children are Florida Gators. Before being hired by Pasco a year ago, she worked with Hillsborough's school district for 24 years.
She saw firsthand how Hillsborough schools struggled with desegregation and trying to provide a quality education for its long-neglected black students.
But after all these years, we still haven't figured out all the kinks in the race and education equation. And for many school districts, it's no longer just a simple matter of black and white. For Pasco, where there has never been court-ordered busing, the concern is socioeconomics. Whether students are poor or affluent too often determines how well they perform in the classroom.
And in Pasco, students of color aren't always poor. For instance, Wiregrass Ranch, one of Pasco's newer high schools, has a 40 percent minority population - Hispanic, Indian, Asian, black. Judging by the housing patterns in that area of Wesley Chapel, these aren't poor folks.
However, at places like Cox, Lacoochee and Pasco elementaries, schools with sizable numbers of black and Hispanic students, an overwhelming number qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Poor students come to school with more needs, regardless of color.
And all parents want their children to get a decent education. DuBose's father taught her that lesson 40 years ago. It's something that educators must acknowledge.
"Educating all children should be a matter of conscience, of the heart, " she said.
No Supreme Court decision can reverse that.
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.