Sheff Common Hour Lecture

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Although I enjoyed learning about the history of the Sheff v. O’Neill case last semester in Cities, Suburbs, and Schools, I really look forward to learning about the current steps that reformers are taking to meet their ultimate goal of desegregation. The lecture given by Michael Paris, professor at CUNY, Staten Island was different than the Sheff events that I attended earlier this semester. Paris stated that there is a growing disinterest in school desegregation cases across the United States. However, he believes that the issue of desegregation should not just be a question of yesterday, but instead a question for the next 20 years. He praised the reformers efforts because they mobilized for change by fighting for rights that are guaranteed under the state’s constitution instead of the federal constitution that is often used. I thought that it was interesting that he believes that the Sheff case (in theory) is replicable in other states, because of the strong emphasis on equal education opportunity. In this case the reformers used desegregation as a means to an end. Although this might not be the best solution for other states, he feels that other states can learn from the “plan of attack” that was taken to fight for equal education for all students.

In light of the praise that Paris gave to the reformers, he also voiced his criticisms. One of the criticisms that I found interesting was the fact that the Sheff reformers shied away from using positive racial solidarity as a resource, and have tried to fight for urban minority students and suburban white students to sit in the same classrooms. I remember reading an essay written by two Trinity students that highlighted Jumoke Academy in Hartford. Although the school was successful at raising students’ test scores, it was criticized by Sheff proponents because it was not racially balanced. ¬†As the Sheff reformers are preparing to discuss the goals for the third settlement, I have began to question whether the Sheff case is still worth fighting for, or should a total different approach be taken in the fight for equal education for all. I’m not completely sure where I stand with that as of now, but I do believe that they should really look back on the their plans and results very carefully before moving forward. I would hate to see the court give up on the case without any true accomplishment (in terms of actually hitting goal) to show for.



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Victoria Smith Ellison

Victoria is a student at Trinity College in Hartford, CT majoring in Educational Studies.