Is Separate Education Better?

Arts and Sciences

In a large city on the East Coast, two different approaches to education for young black male students seem to offer distinct choices for the future: one a charter school modeled on elite private schools, complete with students in jackets and ties taking Latin, and the other a public school, trying to distinguish itself by focusing solely on this particular student body.Freeden Blume Oeur, an associate professor of sociology, spent a year studying both schools, and reports his findings in a new book, Black Boys Apart: Racial Uplift and Respectability in All-Male Public Schools (University of Minnesota Press). Perry High School and Northside Academy in the city of Morgan—all names are pseudonyms—were both supposed to be solutions to the problem that the schools and society were failing young black males.
Blume Oeur is skeptical that they are the right answer, though. “Black male academies are less a ‘school reform’ effort and more a poignant example of the continual institutional efforts to reform young Black men during periods during periods of stark inequality,” he writes. They are also “a strange mix of democratic empowerment and privatization, segregation and separation, strict discipline and love.”
Tufts Now reached out to Blume Oeur to learn more about the experiments in schooling and what they mean for larger American society.  
Tufts Now: What inspired you to do the field work to study all-male black high schools that became your book, Black Boys Apart?
Freeden Blume Oeur: I had previously taught sixth grade in a low-income, all-black middle school. That experience motivated me to study how histories and processes of racial and social class segregation restrict opportunities for black youth. In graduate school, I became more interested in how communities and schools separate kids by gender, voluntarily and involuntarily. This opened my eyes to how separating schoolchildren by race and by gender has …

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