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Busing for Integration vs. Neighborhood Schools

This lesson plan will introduce students to the political, social, and economic issues surrounding school desegregation using oral histories from those who experienced it firsthand. They will learn about the history of the "separate but equal" U.S. school system, the 1971 Swann case which forced Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) to integrate, and the recent decision to discontinue busing for racial integration in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. They will compare and contrast neighborhood schools with schools integrated through busing, and listen to oral histories of students who have experienced both types of schools in CMS. Through discussion with classmates, they will create a list of the negatives and positives of both neighborhood and integrated schools. Students will then write an argumentative essay explaining which type of schools they would support, and will defend their argument with evidence from the oral histories.

Grade 10 - English Language Arts
Grades 10-12 - Social Studies
Classroom Time Needed:
3 50-minute class periods, or 2 90-minute block class periods

Learning Outcomes
Curriculum Alignment
Materials and Resources
Additional Web Sites

Learning Outcomes

Students will recognize the complexities of public school desegregation, and understand the arguments both for and against busing for integration.

Students will be able to relate history to the personal experiences of North Carolinians through listening to oral histories.

Students will formulate their own opinions about this controversial issue and express them in an argumentative essay.

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Curriculum Alignment

North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grade 10 English Language Arts

Goal 3: The learner will defend argumentative positions on literary or nonliterary issues.

  • Objective 3.01 - Examine controversial issues by:
    • sharing and evaluating initial personal response.
    • researching and summarizing printed data.
    • developing a framework in which to discuss the issue (creating a context).
    • compiling personal responses and researched data to organize the argument.
    • presenting data in such forms as a graphic, an essay, a speech, or a video.

North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grade 10 Social Studies

Goal 5: The learner will explain how the political and legal systems provide a means to balance competing interests and resolve conflicts.

  • Objective 5.01 - Evaluate the role of debate, consensus, compromise, and negotiation in resolving conflicts.

North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grades 11-12 Social Studies, Contemporary Issues in North Carolina History

  • Goal 2: The learner will evaluate North Carolina's educational system as related to current concerns.
    • Objective 2.02 - Analyze the legal and economic impact of recent court cases on education.

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Materials and Resources


Technology Resources

  • Computer and Internet connection, if streaming oral history excerpts from this site
  • Speakers
  • CD player, if burning a CD of oral history excerpts

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Teachers should listen to the oral history excerpts and review discussion questions.

Students should have some basic background knowledge about school desegregation, and should have an understanding of the history of racial segregation in the U.S.

Class One

Review the important court cases in school desegregation, including:

  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
  • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (I - 1954 and II - 1955)
  • Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971)
  • 2001 ruling by Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that CMS was “unitary” and therefore ending race-based student assignments

(Links to court cases provided in Additional Web Sites.)

Review the importance of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) in the process of school desegregation in the U.S. CMS was the district from which the Swann case originated, and was also the district from which the 2001 ruling by the Fourth District Circuit Court originated. This ruling said that CMS had achieved a “unitary” school system, as opposed to a “dual” system of separate black and white schools, and was no longer required to uphold racial quotas in school assignment. This ruling essentially ended busing in CMS and much of the Fourth District.

Emphasize to students that CMS is no longer required to use busing or quotas to make sure that all schools have an equal racial distribution of students.

Review with students the data about the racial make-up of CMS and the high schools in the district (links included in Additional Web Sites.) Using the "Student Profiles" you can review student demographics from 2001-2002 to the present.

Lead a class discussion about the high schools' demographics. Do they now reflect the demographics of the neighborhoods they're located in? How have the demographics of the schools changed since 2001?

In preparation for class two, ask students to informally interview a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or other relative or community member about his or her memories of school segregation and integration.

Class Two

Review what students already know about the desegregation of schools as a class, asking them to summarize the relevant court cases.

Ask students to relate stories their relatives shared about experiencing segregation and desegregation in schools.

Introduce the concept of an oral history, and discuss their value as we study important events. Mention that oral histories provide a chance for the "regular person" to record his or her experiences, not just the well-known or famous people often recorded in written history. Ask students to come up with more reasons we should value oral histories—such as allowing minority groups to record and publicize their experiences, making connections between generations, passing on the art of storytelling, etc.

Hand out the oral history transcript to students and instruct them to take notes as they listen.

Play the first oral history excerpt, from Arthur Griffin, a man who attended segregated Charlotte schools in the 1950s and 1960s and later became involved in the desegregation movement (2 min 5 sec).

Play the second oral history excerpt, from Ned Irons, a student who graduated from integrated Charlotte schools in 1999 (1 min 57 sec).

Play the third oral history excerpt, from Latrelle McAllister, a woman who experienced the integration of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in the 1970s (2 min 27 sec).

Discussion questions:

  • Which speakers did you feel support integration? Which support neighborhood schools? Did any of the speakers seem undecided?
  • What are some of the specific negatives and positives of integration expressed by the speakers?
  • Ask for any other opinions or thoughts about the oral histories.

Class Three

Divide students into small groups. Assign one student to be the recorder, and ask groups to brainstorm about the positives and negatives of neighborhood schools (in which students attend the schools closest to their homes and which reflect the demographics of the neighborhood) and integrated schools (which are legally required to have the same distribution of racial demographics as the school district, often accomplished through busing).

Prompts for discussion include:

  • Why would a parent want to send his or her child to a neighborhood school? An integrated school?
  • Which type of school would you prefer to attend? What are some reasons you would choose this type of school?
  • Is a neighborhood school necessarily segregated?
  • Think back on the experiences you heard about from family members and from the oral histories.

Share the ideas that the groups have come up with among the whole class, writing the ideas for each type of school on the board. In support of neighborhood schools, students may mention points such as less time wasted travelling on buses; a greater sense of community among teachers, parents, and neighborhood residents; potential for increased amount of parent involvement if parents don't have to travel so far to their child's school; and neighborhood support for academics, sports, and other school activities. In support of busing, students may mention points such as wider social experiences which teach you to get along with a broader range of people, exposure to cultures and neighborhoods outside your own, a sense of fairness or balance among schools, and preparation for participating in a diverse society.

Distribute essay assignment (included in Assessment) and allow students time to begin brainstorming ideas for their arguments.

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Argumentative Essay Assignment:

Write an essay explaining your position on neighborhood schools vs. integrated schools. First, review what you’ve learned, reflect on personal experiences, and recall the oral histories to decide which argument you will make. Next, research the demographics of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district. Examine the racial make-up of high schools in that district, and compare them to the racial make-up of the neighborhoods in which they’re located. Your teacher and school media specialist can help you find this information. Begin drafting your argument, making sure to include personal reactions, data from your research, and quotations from the oral histories you heard. How did you feel when you first started thinking about this issue? Has your opinion changed?

Revise your draft, making sure your arguments are logical and are supported with information from your research and the oral histories. Review your draft for grammar, spelling, and organization, include a References/Works Cited page, and turn in your final essay.

Students should make clear the side they’re arguing for, and should support this argument with logical points. Their arguments should include at least one point drawn from their personal experiences, one point drawn from the oral histories, and one point drawn from their research.

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Additional Web Sites

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Brown v. Board of Education II (1955)
Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971)
Fourth District Decision that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools was unitary (2001)

Demographic Information about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

CMS School Profiles (choose a school at the top of the screen, and click on "Student Profiles" in the left menu)

Complete Oral Histories

Arthur Griffin oral history
Ned Irons oral history
Latrelle McAllister oral history
Documenting the American South - More oral histories about desegregation and civil rights across North Carolina

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