CUNY Professor, Michael Paris, came to common hour on Thursday, April 18 to present his lecture “Serving Two Masters Revisited: Cause Lawyering and Legal Mobilization in Sheff v. O’Neill“. During the lecture, Paris presented some critiques of the means by which Sheff v. O’Neill sought to remedy the demographical isolation of Hartford public school students. Paris was knowledgeable and engaging. He spoke quickly and passionately about the Sheff case and educational equality. He is brilliant and well-spoken. He spoke of the importance of center cities, like Hartford, and how they should be a resource to the surrounding communities instead of economic wastelands. It was clear throughout his presentation that he is quite fond of the late Derrick Bell. He refers to Bell’s work to make a case against some of the implications that can be drawn about race from the Sheff lawsuit. For instance, Paris points out that the racial isolation was cited as the cause for unequal educational opportunities. This is problematic because one could infer that there is something wrong with a school setting that has black and brown children in the majority. Is the education received of any better quality simply because that black child is able to sit next to a white one? Paris says no. He also examines the argument for using socio-economic status as a tool for desegregation in lieu of race. He finds that to negate race would be to “roll up history like a rug” and push aside other important factors (the history of wealth, housing, policy) that contribute to the current climate in public school education. He also asserts that socio-economic based desegregation would work well in some settling, but not in all. Paris says that race and space are tied. He states that poverty cannot be easily eliminated, but all schools can be middle class.
This lecture was interesting to me, because I am analyzing a metro integration plan from the late nineties that proposes steps to provide quality education for all students. Paris said the Sheff victory is sometimes viewed as an expensive remedy with little reform. The lecture gave me a new perspective on the work that has been done in the local fight for school equality and the work that is still left to do. Entering into the third phase of Sheff, it may very well be time for a new direction.
For Final Essay on Sheff case and Educational Equity, please read project finalized in EDUC 308: Cities Suburbs and Schools: The Struggle for Educational Equity During the 1970s: Lumpkin v. Dempsey, here.
Listening to Professor Paris from the CUNY College of Staten Island’s lecture on the Sheff v. O’Neil case after having sat through and written a journalism piece of the case. Paris was very particular about telling the story of school desegregation from differing points of views while reminding everyone in the room that the topic of conversation was as relevant as it was in the 80s. The Sheff vs. O’Neil case was centered around school desegregation and fought the fact that many Hartford residents were not able to receive an equal opportunity for education because of what many consider “racial isolation.” For many years now, people have questioned whether race or poverty is to blame for creating instances of unequal opportunities in the school setting. Paris reiterated that Sheff reformers argue that a combination of poverty AND race both contribute to this phenomenon which ultimately affects many students in Hartford and across the nation.
I did not understand the seriousness of the Sheff V. O’Neill movement after having attended the meeting that one cold saturday morning. Seeing that this case has inspired many lecturers and other parents who have experienced a similar case is inspiring to me as well. I enjoyed Michael Paris’ thorough lecture on the Sheff v. O’Neil case and as inspiring as I felt his passion and expertise on it was, I feel as if the only way to actually achieve equal education opportunities is to gather those who are strong advocates for the movement and have them go out into different cities to educate parents that may be misinformed.
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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.
On April 18th, 2013, guest lecturer Michael Paris gave a presentation on the “death (and possible life) of school desegregation” in the United States. His presentation centered on the Connecticut court case of Sheff v. O’Neill, which is surprisingly not as well-known in the public sphere as one might think, especially considering it produced the only recent decision in which the Court made a statement on government’s role in providing its citizens with the right to an equal education. The plaintiffs in Sheff vs. O’Neill, charged that the combination of racial isolation and concentrated poverty that plagues Hartford, and various other cities in the United States, prohibited urban students from getting the opportunity to an equal education. In 1995, the Court ruled against the plaintiffs, but just one year later, that ruling was reversed by Connecticut’s Supreme Court in 1996. The Supreme Court argued that the plaintiffs had the right to an equal education but did not have the right to racial integration in Connecticut schools. Additionally, the Court did not offer any solutions or recommendations on how to eliminate the unequal educational opportunities that urban students of Connecticut face from early childhood and on. Since the landmark decision of Sheff v. O’Neill, Connecticut has seen a rise in the popularity of inter-district magnet schools and urban-to-suburban transfer models that aim to give students an equal education and close the achievement gap in the process. Several interesting questions were raised during Paris’s lecture. One student asked why magnet schools and urban-to-suburban transfer models were being implemented, but wide-scale reform of the Hartford Public School system was not being used as a means to achieving equal opportunity for citizens. Also, Trinity College professor Jack Dougherty asked why current educational reform measures have focused more on racial integration than socio-economic integration, the latter being perhaps the most effective tool progressives could use to fix the dire problem of education in America.
April 18, 2013
Today, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture hosted by guest speaker Michael Paris, a professor at SUNY Staten Island, during common hour at the Rittenberg Lounge. I came into the lecture feeling fairly on top of my game (as you will) considering I am rather familiar with the Sheff v. O’Neill case and the district’s ongoing and relentless pursuit for school desegregation.
After Professor Paris went into a brief history of the Sheff v. O’Neill case, he discussed the politics implemented by Sheff’s lawyers and offered some insight into the lawyers’ approaches. This intrigued me the most, because I never really explored the tactics employed by the lawyer and whether or not their strategies were that effective. That said Professor Paris provided his audience with a brief list of criticisms. To begin, he question if the lawyers were too focused on the consequences of the wrong, and not the wrong itself. He explained that the lawyers might have put far too much emphasis on the “damaged children” (the consequences of the wrong) rather than the wrong itself (in this case, racial concentration and isolated poverty). Furthermore, he argued that the lawyers’ argument strayed away from the positive of racial isolation and identity. As he explained, Professor Bell was quite infuriated by this common misperception that Blacks are a damaged race. He then began asking his audience a series of questions, such as “How can you say it’s race,” or “What conception of racial justice allows it to be said that it is race and not poverty?” I looked around the room and the audience seemed to be struggling as much as I was to answer the question. How could one make a legitimate argument that racial segregation has caused this drastic inequality between the Hartford district public schools and the public schools of its surrounding suburban counterparts? In reality, it is a combination of race and poverty. However, I learned in Professor Dougherty’s course last semester that it was far too complicated to keep the economic component in the lawsuit and was subsequently taken out. Should the lawyers maybe have tried harder to include that in their case—if it had stayed in the original complaint, would we see more positive results with the school desegregation effort? I’ll leave you, the reader, with that food for thought. Moving on, the last criticism Professor Paris provided was that there were no real confrontation or protests. Professor Paris seemed to believe that the most effective way to get results is with protests and confrontation—pressure on those in charge, as you will. Needless to say, this criticism was met with some disagreements by the members in the audience. Members of the audience seemed to argue that confrontation and protests are not necessarily the most effective means of getting one’s point across. Professor Paris seemed to have backed down a little on this stance upon some debate with a member of the audience.
The lecture today by Michael Paris from the CUNY College of Staten Island was very interesting regarding the Sheff v. O’Neil case on school desegregation. Paris explained how the two sides made riveting points on the subject, which to many is no longer seen as a vital movement. Yet Hartford is one of the few places left it seems that the issue of desegregation is relevant. I thought it was very interesting when Paris made the point that O’Neil reformers believe that poverty is a more important factor in creating equal educational opportunities rather than race is. Yet Sheff reformers believe that it is both poverty and race that create unequal educational opportunities.