Right point, wrong lesson

Once upon a time, before U.S. schools were desegregated, the District of Columbia's Dunbar High School provided a top-flight education to the city's black elite and future leaders--so much so that families moved to Washington so their kids could go to school there. Over the years, much ink has been spilled reminiscing about the great days of Dunbar and the educational decrepitude that, for the most part, now envelops it. That familiar history was recently subjected to revisionism by Howard University law professor Brian Gilmore, who asserted in the Washington Post that Dunbar was never a place of entirely equal educational opportunity. Throughout the 20thCentury, Gilmore says, Dunbar's lighter-skinned African-American pupils were considered "privileged" while dark-skinned blacks were not. Today's Dunbar High School has its high-achievers, its laggards, and its troublemakers, he writes, but so did the Dunbar of the 1930s. Romanticizing the education provided by pre-integration, all-black schools is unwise. On the other hand, plenty of data attests to a decades-long slippage in Dunbar's educational quality, even as the school remained almost 100 percent black. Gilmore concludes by wondering whether we should tolerate polices that allow extreme segregation. He ought instead wonder whether we should tolerate policies that allow shoddy education to be the modern-day norm at Dunbar High School and far too many other places, regardless of who's enrolled.

"Rose-Colored Views of an All-Black School," by Brian Gilmore, Washington Post, September 2, 2007

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