As an historian of education and the African American experience, I am interested in understanding how communities decide who they will and will not educate. In 2009, I published Schooling Citizens: The African American Struggle for Education in Antebellum America (University of Chicago Press). Schooling Citizens received the Outstanding Book Award from the History of Education Society in 2010.
While white residents of antebellum Boston and New Haven forcefully opposed the education of black residents, their counterparts in slaveholding Baltimore did little to resist the establishment of African American schools. Such discrepancies suggest that white opposition to black education was not a foregone conclusion. Through the comparative lenses of these three cities, she shows why opposition erupted where it did across the United States during the same period that gave rise to public education.
As common schooling emerged in the 1830s, providing white children of all classes and ethnicities with the opportunity to become full-fledged citizens, it redefined citizenship as synonymous with whiteness. This link between school and American identity increased white hostility to black education at the same time that it spurred African Americans to demand public schooling as a means of securing status as full and equal members of society. Shedding new light on the efforts of black Americans to learn independently in the face of white attempts to withhold opportunity, Schooling Citizens narrates a previously untold chapter in the thorny history of America’s educational inequality.
While Schooling Citizens traced the origins of segregation in American education, my current research explores the desegregation and re-segregation of public schools, particularly through the adoption of policies like school choice and zoning. After completing Schooling Citizens, I researched Cambridge, Massachusetts during the late 1970s and early 1980s as it attempted to equalized educational opportunity by abolishing attendance zones. I then became interested in understanding how state and local actors utilized school zoning and school choice policies to allocate educational opportunity outside the United States as well.
My current project, "There Goes the Neighborhood School: A Comparative and Transnational History of Zoning and Choice in late 20th century New Zealand and the United States," explores how and why ideas about the neighborhood school, and its relationship to concepts of equality, citizenship, inclusion, and social justice evolved during two experiments with public school choice and de-zoning that unfolded during the late twentieth century -- one in Cambridge and the other in New Zealand. I am presently a research fellow at the Stout Centre for New Zealand Studies at Victoria University (Wellington), where I am conducting archival research on the history of school zoning, de-zoning, and re-zoning in New Zealand between 1970 and 2001. My project pays particular attention to the period between 1991-1998, when New Zealand dramatically altered its school enrollment policies multiple times, eliminating and then re-instituting guaranteed access to neighborhood public schools.