Dunbar High School After 100 Years - Dr. Thomas Sowell

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One hundred years ago, on October 2, 1916, a new public high school building for black youngsters was opened in Washington, D.C. and named for black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Its history is a story inspiring in many ways and appalling in many other ways.

Prior to 1916, the same high school had existed under other names, housed in other buildings — and with a remarkable academic record.

In 1899, when it was called "the M Street School," a test was given in Washington's four academic public high schools, three white and one black. The black high school scored higher than two of the three white high schools. Today, it would be considered Utopian even to set that as a goal, much less expect to see it happen.

The M Street School had neither of two so-called "prerequisites" for quality education. There was no "diversity." It was an all-black school from its beginning, and on through its life as a high quality institution under the name Dunbar High School.


But its days as a high quality institution ended abruptly in the middle of the 1950s. After that, it became just another failing ghetto school.

The other so-called "prerequisite" that the M Street School lacked was an adequate building. Its student body was 50 percent larger than the building's capacity, a fact that led eventually to the new Dunbar High School building. But its students excelled even in their overcrowded building.

Some students at the M Street School began going to some of the leading colleges in the country in the late 19th century. The first of its graduates to go to Harvard did so in 1903. Over the years from 1892 to 1954, thirty-four of the graduates from the M Street School and Dunbar went on to Amherst.

Of these, 74 percent graduated from Amherst and 28 percent of these graduates were Phi Beta Kappas. Other graduates from M Street High School and Dunbar became Phi Beta Kappas at Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and other elite institutions.

Graduates of this same high school pioneered as the first black in many places. These included the first black man to graduate from Annapolis, the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. from an American institution, the first black federal judge, the first black general, the first black Cabinet member and, among other notables, a doctor who became internationally renowned for his pioneering work in developing the use of blood plasma.

How could all of this come to an abrupt end in the 1950s? Like many other disasters, it began with good intentions and arbitrary assumptions.

When Chief Justice Earl Warren declared in the landmark 1954 case of "Brown v. Board of Education" that racially separate schools were "inherently unequal," Dunbar High School was a living refutation of that assumption. And it was within walking distance of the Supreme Court.

A higher percentage of Dunbar graduates went on to college than the percentage at any white public high school in Washington. But what do facts matter when there is heady rhetoric and crusading zeal?

There is no question that racially segregated schools in the South provided an inadequate education for blacks. But the assumption that racial "integration" was the answer led to years of racial polarization and turmoil over busing, with little, if any, educational improvement.

For Washington, the end of racial segregation led to a political compromise, in which all schools became neighborhood schools. Dunbar, which had been accepting outstanding black students from anywhere in the city, could now accept only students from the rough ghetto neighborhood in which it was located.

Virtually overnight, Dunbar became a typical ghetto school. As unmotivated, unruly and disruptive students flooded in, Dunbar teachers began moving out and many retired. More than 80 years of academic excellence simply vanished into thin air.

Nobody, black or white, mounted any serious opposition. "Integration" was the cry of the moment, and it drowned out everything else. That is what happens in politics.

Today, there is a new Dunbar High School building, costing more than $100 million. But its graduates go on to college at only about half the rate of Dunbar graduates in earlier and poorer times. Politics can deliver costly "favors," even when it cannot deliver quality education.


https://www.creators.com/read/thomas-sowell/10/16/dunbar-high-school-after-100-yearsrs.com.
 

Tate

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Dunbar being a good school because it only served high scoring black students, who I'm sure were overwhelmingly from the black middle class, hardly refutes the idea that segregation was inherently unequal. Nor does it make it a model for modern struggling schools to follow.

Teaching smart, financially stable kids is very easy. You can literally put graduate students with no expierence teaching or in these communities in the room with smart kids and they'll do fine. Education is only challenging when you have to take the poor kids and the autistic kids and the unstable kids and the dumb kids.
 

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T Sowell has talked about Dunbar numerous times throughout his career, you can tell that the retrogressing of education for blacks has really bothered him over the years, especially since he credits his K-12 education for a lot of success. But what I find really interesting about his thoughts on this subject is his analysis of Brown v Board; while Sowell admits Plessy v. Ferguson was a wrong interpretation of the constitution and had to go, he still concludes that the logic behind Brown v Board as a means for enacting that change was grossly flawed since it stood on the rational that black people's self-esteem is negatively effected by segregation, thus, black progress can't occur unless they're integrated with whites. Once that idea got accepted, you now have the justification to push diversity, quotas, and a whole host of other social polices which in the end has accomplished very little for black ppl.
 

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I just want to clarify an assumption being made itt.

Dunbar only served middle class black kids.

"Dunbar High School was first published in the 1970s, those few educators who responded at all dismissed the relevance of these findings by saying that these were “middle class” children and therefore their experience was not “relevant” to the education of low-income minority children. Those who said this had no factual data on the incomes or occupations of the parents of these children – and the data that existed said just the opposite. The problem, however, was not that these dismissive educators did not have evidence. The more fundamental problem was that they saw no NEED for evidence. According to their doctrines, children who did well on standardized tests were middle class. These children did well on such tests, so therefore they must be middle class.

It so happens that there was evidence on the occupations of the parents of the children at this school as far back as the early 1890s. As of academic year 1892-93, of the known occupations of these parents, there were 51 laborers, 25 messengers, 12 janitors, and ONE doctor. That hardly seems middle class. Over the years, a significant black middle class did develop in Washington and most of them may well have sent their children to the M Street School or to Dunbar High School, as it was later called. But that is wholly different from saying that most of the children at that school came from middle class homes.

More detailed data on parental occupations are available for a later period, from the later 1930s through the mid 1950s. These data reveal that there were far more children whose mothers were maids than there were whose fathers were doctors. Mary Gibson Hundley, who taught at Dunbar for many years, wrote:

“A large segment of the homes of the students had one or more government employees for support. Before the 1940s these employees were messengers and clerks, with few exceptions.”

It is possible, of course, to redefine “middle class” in relative terms for the black community as it existed at that time, but such verbal dexterity serves only to salvage words at the expense of reality. The parents of Dunbar students may or may not have been a random sample of the black parents of their time, either occupationally or in terms for their aspirations for their children, but neither were most of them people with professional careers or levels of income that would be considered middle class by the standards of American society as a whole."...

"A related stereotype is that the children who went to Dunbar High School were the light-skinned descendants of the black elite that derived from miscegenation during the era of slavery. Here again, the facts have been readily available – and widely ignored." - Thomas Sowell, excerpt from Black Education: Achievements, Myths, and Tragedies


Educational results of schools that weeding out weak or difficult students is not a model to follow for struggling schools.

It would be a great achievement if we could develop a system that educates all students successfully, despite whatever kinds of attitudes, intellectual limits, or behavior problems a kid may have. But how many generations of other kids are ppl with this idea willing to sacrifice as you try to achieve this sort of perfectibility, especially when something of this nature has never existed on the face of this planet and has very little evidence that it ever could. If educational outcomes are improved when you remove disruptive students or separate kids based on abilities, than the answer is probably to continue doing so.
 
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Dr. Acula

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One anecdotal story does not negate the national trend of how separate but equal was not equal and negatively effected blacks.

Desegregation was not the silver bullet to educational attainment in the black community and don't think it was claimed to be. I don't think anyone argued that everyone would be a rocket scientist.

However if we're going to go on to highlight anecdotal stories as support for wide sweeping national legislation, we've all heard post-segregation of charter school and private schools with a high amount of black students boasting 97% college attendance rates. So this is an easy counter argument to this whole article. Also seen stats that said that this is one of the most educated black generations ever. So there you go.

Given how much an intellect Sowell is touted to be, this is a surprisingly weak article and weak argument. Disappointing.

Government enforced and mandated segregation is not the answer and will always end with the minority and out of power group being dictated to and ruled by the majority. This is not something you want on law books. Now maybe forced busing and other "intergration" plans can be looked at in retrospect whether they are good but still can't justify legal discrimination.
 

Tate

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I just want to clarify an assumption being made itt.

Dunbar only served middle class black kids.

"Dunbar High School was first published in the 1970s, those few educators who responded at all dismissed the relevance of these findings by saying that these were “middle class” children and therefore their experience was not “relevant” to the education of low-income minority children. Those who said this had no factual data on the incomes or occupations of the parents of these children – and the data that existed said just the opposite. The problem, however, was not that these dismissive educators did not have evidence. The more fundamental problem was that they saw no NEED for evidence. According to their doctrines, children who did well on standardized tests were middle class. These children did well on such tests, so therefore they must be middle class.

It so happens that there was evidence on the occupations of the parents of the children at this school as far back as the early 1890s. As of academic year 1892-93, of the known occupations of these parents, there were 51 laborers, 25 messengers, 12 janitors, and ONE doctor. That hardly seems middle class. Over the years, a significant black middle class did develop in Washington and most of them may well have sent their children to the M Street School or to Dunbar High School, as it was later called. But that is wholly different from saying that most of the children at that school came from middle class homes.

More detailed data on parental occupations are available for a later period, from the later 1930s through the mid 1950s. These data reveal that there were far more children whose mothers were maids than there were whose fathers were doctors. Mary Gibson Hundley, who taught at Dunbar for many years, wrote:

“A large segment of the homes of the students had one or more government employees for support. Before the 1940s these employees were messengers and clerks, with few exceptions.”

It is possible, of course, to redefine “middle class” in relative terms for the black community as it existed at that time, but such verbal dexterity serves only to salvage words at the expense of reality. The parents of Dunbar students may or may not have been a random sample of the black parents of their time, either occupationally or in terms for their aspirations for their children, but neither were most of them people with professional careers or levels of income that would be considered middle class by the standards of American society as a whole. "...

"A related stereotype is that the children who went to Dunbar High School were the light-skinned descendants of the black elite that derived from miscegenation during the era of slavery. Here again, the facts have been readily available – and widely ignored." - Thomas Sowell, excerpt from Black Education: Achievements, Myths, and Tragedies


Educational results of schools that weeding out weak or difficult students is not a model to follow for struggling schools.

It would be a great achievement if we could develop a system that educates all students successfully, despite whatever kinds of attitudes, intellectual limits, or behavior problems a kid may have. But how many generations of other kids are ppl with this idea willing to sacrifice as you try to achieve this sort of perfectibility, especially when something of this nature has never existed on the face of this planet and has very little evidence that it ever could. If educational outcomes are improved when you remove disruptive students or separate kids based on abilities, than the answer is probably to continue doing so.

The black middle class in segregated America isn't the same as what constitutes the black middle class today. Steady salaried work-middle class. Not being in poverty-middle class. Everything is relative.

Except you're not actually achieving significantly better results. The stable, smart kids in public schools score as well as the same students in charter schools. The difference is the overall averages in charters aren't weighted down by also having low scoring students. It's a numbers game.
 

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I just want to clarify an assumption being made itt.

Dunbar only served middle class black kids.

"Dunbar High School was first published in the 1970s, those few educators who responded at all dismissed the relevance of these findings by saying that these were “middle class” children and therefore their experience was not “relevant” to the education of low-income minority children. Those who said this had no factual data on the incomes or occupations of the parents of these children – and the data that existed said just the opposite. The problem, however, was not that these dismissive educators did not have evidence. The more fundamental problem was that they saw no NEED for evidence. According to their doctrines, children who did well on standardized tests were middle class. These children did well on such tests, so therefore they must be middle class.

It so happens that there was evidence on the occupations of the parents of the children at this school as far back as the early 1890s. As of academic year 1892-93, of the known occupations of these parents, there were 51 laborers, 25 messengers, 12 janitors, and ONE doctor. That hardly seems middle class. Over the years, a significant black middle class did develop in Washington and most of them may well have sent their children to the M Street School or to Dunbar High School, as it was later called. But that is wholly different from saying that most of the children at that school came from middle class homes.

More detailed data on parental occupations are available for a later period, from the later 1930s through the mid 1950s. These data reveal that there were far more children whose mothers were maids than there were whose fathers were doctors. Mary Gibson Hundley, who taught at Dunbar for many years, wrote:

“A large segment of the homes of the students had one or more government employees for support. Before the 1940s these employees were messengers and clerks, with few exceptions.”

It is possible, of course, to redefine “middle class” in relative terms for the black community as it existed at that time, but such verbal dexterity serves only to salvage words at the expense of reality. The parents of Dunbar students may or may not have been a random sample of the black parents of their time, either occupationally or in terms for their aspirations for their children, but neither were most of them people with professional careers or levels of income that would be considered middle class by the standards of American society as a whole. "...

"A related stereotype is that the children who went to Dunbar High School were the light-skinned descendants of the black elite that derived from miscegenation during the era of slavery. Here again, the facts have been readily available – and widely ignored." - Thomas Sowell, excerpt from Black Education: Achievements, Myths, and Tragedies


Educational results of schools that weeding out weak or difficult students is not a model to follow for struggling schools.

It would be a great achievement if we could develop a system that educates all students successfully, despite whatever kinds of attitudes, intellectual limits, or behavior problems a kid may have. But how many generations of other kids are ppl with this idea willing to sacrifice as you try to achieve this sort of perfectibility, especially when something of this nature has never existed on the face of this planet and has very little evidence that it ever could. If educational outcomes are improved when you remove disruptive students or separate kids based on abilities, than the answer is probably to continue doing so.


:jbhmm: I actually agree with this...The number one factor in education is PARENT INVOLVEMENT....So the prestige of the school and the parents wanting their kids to do well is what led to those wonderful results before the 1950s far more than social class.

Conversely the kids of the poor and underclass do poorly because their parents dont care ...they just want them out of the house and if they get a free lunch in the process great.
 

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where is his evidence that the reason this school produced seemingly good outcomes was because it was all-black?

this guy is just totally intellectually bankrupt. i am always surprised by how many people follow his words
:usure: Its your literacy in question here....Where did he say that it excelled specifically because it was all black?...He clearly stated it excelled because it was exclusive

For Washington, the end of racial segregation led to a political compromise, in which all schools became neighborhood schools. Dunbar, which had been accepting outstanding black students from anywhere in the city, could now accept only students from the rough ghetto neighborhood in which it was located.

Virtually overnight, Dunbar became a typical ghetto school. As unmotivated, unruly and disruptive students flooded in, Dunbar teachers began moving out and many retired. More than 80 years of academic excellence simply vanished into thin air.
 

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where is his evidence that the reason this school produced seemingly good outcomes was because it was all-black?
That's not his claim, his claim is that an all black school COULD produce good academic outcomes, thus, the whole argument about blacks needing to be integrated with whites to progress in this context or that black schools were inferior because they were all black was nullified as false or at least heavily flawed.

Here is another article were T sowell discusses the same topic in more detail.

"Chief Justice Earl Warren said that racially separate schools “are inherently unequal,” even when they were provided with the same tangible resources. To separate black children “from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”

Inspiring as such rhetoric may seem, it establishes no fact, nor even a probability. I happen to have been one of those black children who went to a segregated school in the South. The fact that there were no white kids in our school was something that no one I knew ever expressed any concern over, or even noticed. There were no white kids in our neighborhood or anywhere we went. Why would we be struck by the fct that there were no white kids in our schools – much less be so preoccupied with that fact as to interfere with our learning the three R’s?

Our school was in fact inferior, but it was inferior to the all-black school I later attended in Harlem. It was certainly inferior to an all-black school in Washington that had produced outstanding education for more than a half a century – a school within walking distance of the Supreme Court which virtually declared its existence impossible. It was not being racially separate, or all black, that made schools inferior – and decades of social disruption and racial polarization from court-ordered busing did little or nothing to reduce the racial gap in educational achievement. While Browndid not prescribe busing for racial balance, the logic of its argument led inescapably to that conclusion, even if no one thought of it in 1954. Reasoning matters and logic can exact a high price for having been ignored.
" - Thomas Sowell
 

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:usure: Its your literacy in question here....Where did he say that it excelled specifically because it was all black?...He clearly stated it excelled because it was exclusive

correct, and that's not some grand revelation. this is the case with a lot modern day charter schools. they maintain their stats because they remove students that won't make their numbers look good (english language learners, students with disabilities, kids from broken homes)

that's not a model of education that is viable for all which is why that school eventually crumbled.

i agree that busing wasn't a well thought out tactic but this is a poor argument against integration. there have been incredible gains in education for black people since that era
 

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correct, and that's not some grand revelation. this is the case with a lot modern day charter schools. they maintain their stats because they remove students that won't make their numbers look good (english language learners, students with disabilities, kids from broken homes)

that's not a model of education that is viable for all which is why that school eventually crumbled.

i agree that busing wasn't a well thought out tactic but this is a poor argument against integration. there have been incredible gains in education for black people since that era
:ufdup: Youre wrong..I have my kids in a upper tier mostly black charter school..many of the students there are from single parent homes,most arent wealthy and theres some ESL kids...The key difference is the parent involvement there is pretty high..
The part thats true is they expel disruptive kids and frankly thats a good thing..if youre a teacher working through a difficult math or science module and you only have an hour taking 20 minutes away to deal with the one kid who wont behave puts the whole class behind.
 

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his argument from a high achieving black perspective is no different than the white argument for not wanting their kids having to go to school with black kids. he says that dunbar was good when it was accepting good negroes, but when it was forced to accept kids from the neighborhood who weren't good negroes, they just ruined it. just like they ruin everything huh? if you want separate schools for high achieving black kids so they don't have to interact with the black riff raff just say so. don't use desegregation as a crutch.
 
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