School Segregation through Illustrations

Integration of public schools in the United States was supposed to take place more than 65 years ago. Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 declared that the segregation of schools was unconstitutional under the 14th amendment and that children of all races should have equal access to education. While this court case could and should have ended the historically racist public school system, there are still instances of incredible discrepancies between the quality of public education provided to white children and minority children across the country.

In the comic “Segregation by Design” by Jessica Trounstine and Darick Ritter, a young couple by the names of Jennifer and Tom, sets out to find a house in the Philadelphia area to prepare for the child they have on the way. As they are searching for their house, the couple makes a list of all of the qualities they want in their new home including “under $150,000, good school for Katie, low crime, nearby park, and easy to commute to Philadelphia.” Jennifer and Tom quickly learn that they must give up some items on their wish list in order to live near a good school for their future daughter.

As the comic progresses, Tom and Jennifer’s realtor, Linda, tells the couple the story of how the suburbs of Camden and Cherry Hill became so different. Linda explains the policies that “indirectly” or “unknowingly” created such different demographics between the two towns. She tells them about Land-Use Policies and Federally Backed Home Loans used in the 1960s to allow white families to live together while shutting minority families out. Linda explains that each of these policies helped segregate schools while hiding behind other agendas.

“When the powerful worry about the character of their street or school, they change their strategy of segregation.”

While this comic is likely not a true story, the plot is all too realistic. Trounstine and Ritter are careful to set their comic in an actual US city where the issues of segregation are still influencing students and families to this day. This setting makes it easier for readers to understand the magnitude of the issue at hand. Cherry Hill and Camden are towns that exist on a real map and can be visited in real time. Even if a reader does not live in a city that experiences intense school segregation, it is likely they can estimate how closely this story takes place to their everyday lives.

The setting of this story is not the only reason that it has the potential to impact so many people. The choice to create a comic strip rather than a typical short story opens the publication to many more people. Although a child would probably not read this comic, the theme of illustrations and colorful text creates a more captivating experience for readers of all backgrounds.

School segregation is an important current issue but not necessarily everyone knows that. Through eye-catching and informative pieces such as “Segregation by Design,” hopefully the United States Education System will start to see some change.

– Currie

3 thoughts on “School Segregation through Illustrations

  1. As an education major, this topic hits really close to home. In my introductory ed class last semester we had extensive discussions on modern modes of segregation that still affect kids and families all over the country. It’s a very complex issue that you did a great job addressing. One policy issue on this subject that literature and storytelling have impacted is zoning. Policymakers sometimes try to solve the issue of contemporary inadvertent housing segregation by creating school zones based on student demographics rather than proximity to the school building. This allows the technical percentages of students of different backgrounds to appear balanced in a given school, but in reality, it often results in certain students riding for over an hour to get to school each day. This impacts their achievement as well as their parents’ ability to participate in the child’s academic life. We read multiple stories and reports from families about how this situation affected their child. These stories, such as those detailed in “Making the Unequal Metropolis” by Ansley T. Erikson (about Nashville specifically) and “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together” by Beverly Tatum, helped the public and policymakers alike realize that this issue needs to be addressed at its source (social and economic inequality) before it can be successfully solved in schools. The shift in focus may not have been possible without well-written and analyzed literature. In short, I totally agree with you that education policy, particularly when it comes to segregation and equality, would benefit greatly from literature that incorporates a more human perspective rather than a statistical one. Nashville is still struggling to address this issue effectively.

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  2. Really enjoyed this piece. The comic “Segregation by Design” reminds me of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play Raisin in the Sun and the subsequent 2010 follow up by Bruce Norris Clybourne Park. Both follow a similar story of a black family trying to move to a new home but encountering the institutional racism embedded in housing and education policy.

    While I agree with the premise here that education policy is extremely important in addressing topics such as school segregation, I think it’s important to note that education policy is just a tool. It can and has been used to both construct or deconstruct inequity. Without a properly informed and mobilized citizenry, the tool will continue to be used to maintain systems of power and privilege. Stories like “Segregation by Design” and the plays mentioned are powerful ways to stimulate that mobilization but sometimes I wonder if they are enough.

    I’ve recently been drawn to the work of Nikole Hannah-Jones and her 1619 Project with the NYT. As an activist fighting against school segregation, she’s been able to tie powerful personal narratives together with investigative journalism to break open much of the discussion around school segregation. This combination is effective as it speaks both to a general public and to policy makers. One of the issues I see with fiction and narrative-based writing is that while it makes poignant critiques, it often doesn’t reach the ears/eyes of those in power. Investigative journalism that can weave narrative and reporting together is an intersection I am hoping will continue to drive these stories into the policy domain so we can begin to correct some of the inequities brought up in this piece and more.

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