Segregation Forever

How Dallas got what it wanted

The plaintiffs at the hearing, with Gilliam very much in the lead, tried to persuade Sanders that two and a half years of stunning progress is not enough. They suggested we might need as long as five years before it will be safe to send the district out the courthouse doors for good. Pointing to the chaos that had preceded Moses, they suggested he could leave in a year and things might return to abnormal.

I'm sure I was not the only one who saw irony in Gilliam warning the court that if Moses left, the district might slide back into the mess it was in when she was on the board. That was the period when white board members were involved in insurance scams and got caught on illegal phone bugs using the "n" word; black board members were accused of making school district personnel work in their homes; the board was racially split on everything with everybody trying to slam-dunk everybody else; and, in the end, it should be noted, Gilliam was defeated for her board seat by a younger, more conciliatory opponent. But bad as it may have been then, now that the district is firmly on the wagon, I don't think the court will agree to prevent backsliding by keeping it locked up in the drunk tank.

At several points in the hearing the plaintiffs, speaking through Cloutman and a series of witnesses, asked a legitimate question: Given that it was so bad so recently, how do we know this good stretch will last? The one with the best answer, I thought, was Moses.

Superintendent Mike Moses says it's possible to change the culture of a school district in a couple of years, and he's done it.
Mark Graham
Superintendent Mike Moses says it's possible to change the culture of a school district in a couple of years, and he's done it.
School district lawyer Robert Thomas says Dallas schools are "integrated" even if they never were "desegregated."
Mark Graham
School district lawyer Robert Thomas says Dallas schools are "integrated" even if they never were "desegregated."

During most of the hearing, even when his presence wasn't required, he sat in the back of the room kneading his large hands and turning first one ear, then the other, soaking up every word. When it was his turn in the dock, his plainspoken response to the trust question was that the district itself--the teachers and administrators, the kids and the parents out in the schools--had never been in on the big wobble. Without pointing explicitly to his predecessors, he said it's possible to take a basically sound institution, give it good leadership and help it perform a whole lot better.

"I don't think that everything that happened in DISD since 1994 has all been negative," he said. "The students and teachers and principals have all carried on rather well."

Moses told the court: "I do think you can change an organization in a year or two. You can change its mind-set. You can change people's telephone personality...You do what you say you're going to do."

In the courthouse corridors during recesses, there was much off-the-record speculation about why the plaintiffs would want to disown the success of recent years. There is a spectrum of possibilities, beginning with a sincere mistrust of the district based on decades of bad faith and bad blood. A certain cadre within school administration may see its position as threatened without court protection. For years the suit itself has been a bully pulpit for the plaintiffs, and nobody gives up a good pulpit peacefully.

But I can't help seeing another possibility, too. If this is success, and if the district really is getting ready for Carnegie Hall, then much more than the courthouse door is about to open. Success, in the education of American children, means that they are ready to spread their wings and fly out into the big world.

Even though the school district itself will be virtually segregated when Sanders sends it home--and he will--the children won't be. Their reading scores and their math scores and their essays and the violin lessons and the enriched history courses in the learning centers--the things Ed Cloutman is so proud of--all of these are feathers in the wings that will carry them to the one place Dallas has worked so long to keep secret:


Or desegregation. Call it whatever the hell you want. The word doesn't matter. It's black young people and white young people and Latino young people working together, living together, going out together and...yes (shudder)...getting married and having families together.

The Dallas nightmare.

I think that's why the plaintiffs want to stay in court. They want the court to shield them from the world beyond its doors. And somewhere in here is the wonder of life itself: that the ultimate joke is on all of us. Nobody's right, least of all me, the liberal who can't stand to see great test scores coming out of racial separatism.

In the end the only ones who count are the kids and the teachers. Thank goodness young people have no respect for the rules and will go wherever their wings can take them. Thank goodness good teachers, the ultimate seditionists, can give them flight.

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