by Claire Miller
In 1970, 16 years after the Supreme Court ruled that separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional, Sen. Horace Tate recognized that black students were still at a disadvantage in the new, desegregated school system.
Tate, who was a member of the former Georgia Teachers and Education Association and served as Martin Luther King Jr.’s education advisor, noted that school boards in Georgia and members of the former white teachers association, the Georgia Education Association, didn’t have much of a history of protecting the interests of black students. In addition, 31,000 black teachers were fired across the South and replaced with white teachers, many of whom didn’t know how to relate to their black students.
Those events created a different kind of segregation – one that convinced black children that they couldn’t succeed.
“Horace Tate said this in 1970, but we could not hear him,” said Vanessa Siddle Walker, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Educational Studies at Emory University and keynote speaker at the 23rd annual Benjamin E. Mays Lecture. “These ideas are part of the public memory of black teachers and students, and it’s important to understand how they came to be.”
In the past, the black teachers who succeeded in showing their students that they could achieve were the ones who developed relationships with their classes, cultivated parental support in local communities and made their lessons culturally relevant.
Walker said these same efforts should be implemented today to ensure all children believe they can do well in school and in life.
“This model is not race-specific – black teachers did it, but anybody can do it,” she said. “And not only can anybody do it, but it can be effective for all children because it is human to want somebody to push you to reach your highest potential. At the root of reform, we seem to have missed these basic concepts of professionalism and ideology, these notions of inspiration and aspiration that are essential to children’s learning.”
Approximately 264 people attended this year’s Mays Lecture, which is organized and hosted by the College of Education’s Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence.
The annual Benjamin E. Mays Memorial Lecture Series, which began in 1989, is intended to encourage the discussion of issues facing urban educational leaders through a series of symposia, conferences and lectures. This program not only honors the memory of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, but also promotes his philosophy of excellence in the education of those typically least well served by the larger society.
“We were hoping to engage the audience in a dialogue rooted in the vision of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays,” said Brian Williams, director of the Crim Center. “Dr. Siddle Walker reminded us that the means to cultivate and broaden the impact of educational excellence lies in the understanding of our collective history.”
For more information about the lecture series and other events and programming sponsored by the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence, visit http://education.gsu.edu/cuee.