In our high school class, we spent almost two hours editing the text
that accompanies the first seven pictures in this slideshow
on the history of school desegregation in Prince George’s County.
We had planned to cover much more ground, but I believe the editing exercise
was extremely useful.
First, I don’t think the students usually edit what they write, so
this was a valuable experience for them.
Second, there are profound political differences implied by small changes
in the way you describe events. It sounds very different to say, "African
American students were required to ride buses to predominantly White
schools," or "The NAACP forced the County to bus students
to promote integration." Both are true; but the political implications
are hugely different. Trying to write narrative text is a wonderful
way to learn skills of historical interpretation.
Third, I kept pressing the class to make sure we had evidence for our
claims. They wanted to say, for example, that busing led to White protests
in Prince George’s County. This turned out to be true, but at first
nobody could remember any evidence to support the claim. I tried to
persuade the class that we have an obligation to prove to ourselves
that our assertions about specific places and times are right.
The text that is currently on the Website does not yet reflect the students’
latest edits. They were eager not to focus too much on their own high
school (which used to exclude Blacks as a matter of law). Our students
themselves would all be excluded today, but they still don’t like the
negative focus on their school. They also want to avoid a simple Black/White
narrative, since the communities they know are more ethnically and racially
diverse. But it’s hard to figure out what to say about other races in
the 1950s. It appears from old yearbooks that some people who would today
be called Latinos attended all-"White" schools. We have no data
on Hispanics/Latinos, since the Census did not use that category until
the 1970s. As for Asians, there were only 283 in the County in 1950, according
to the Census, so we don’t know what happened to their kids.
I also had an interesting conference call with NACE
members and participated in an "audio press conference" sponsored