In 1965, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent E.C. Funderburk wrote a message at the beginning of this guide for interracial education. He asserted that "the goal of this book was to provide resources for teachers and school administrators to help them better meet the challenges of providing equal educational opportunities to children." The page displayed shows lesson plans that the school board believed would ease racial tensions between student peers and their teachers. Despite Fairfax County’s efforts to integrate schools, as we have seen in previous exhibits, Funderburk's stated aim was not fully implemented.
School officials, administrators, teachers, and guidance counselors were not prepared for educating children in a desegregated school. Previously, most teachers had taught in segregated classrooms in Fairfax County. White teachers, in particular, came from white residential communities where they rarely interacted with minorities. In the bottom paragraph, it is clear that the school board listened to some concerned teachers and created a book for them, which was printed and circulated during the first year of Fairfax County's effort to implement desegregation, in 1965. The school board's active response to teachers' needs stands in stark contrast to the school board's reactions to students and minority groups who voiced frustrations about the lack of integration in their schools.
This first page of the orientation chapter presents a few drawings that mostly feature groups of white people sitting around a table discussing prejudice. There are no images in this book depicting a person of color. A text that is supposed to facilitate inter-racial communication did not reinforce this important message through illustrations. The page states that prejudice is formed as a result of contact with prejudiced people de-emphasized the systemic nature of discrimination and racism.
In the first paragraph under "Discipline," there is an assumption that productive learning and cooperative behavior are challenging goals to achieve in schools where different designated races were "mixing" due to integration. The authors suggest that being fair, firm and consistent, regardless of race, are the best ways to discipline student. However, in 1967, just a couple years after this booklet was published, a student group from Vienna told the Fairfax County School Board that school discipline was not implemented equitably. Eight years later it was apparent that this issue had still not been addressed or resolved.
The second suggested activity aimed to facilitate integration. The didactic message inspired the title of this exhibit page, referencing an old Nat King Cole song. The second suggested activity is one example of many in this book proposing to assist students' understanding of other cultures and peoples. Seeing if children can identify Nat King Cole did not seem to create an integrated and cohesive environment in Fairfax County schools. Having famous Black artists and their music mentioned in integration policies actually avoided discussion of systematic injustices in the United States. Why ask the question “Who is singing?” This seems like a better question to pose: Why does racism persist?
( Spotift playlist)
What would have made this book more successful in its application would have been the school board's willingness to sit down and talk with Black community leaders and hear their suggestions for successful school integration. The Black community had to advocate for this basic consultative approach since the beginning of public education in Fairfax County. Black parents and teachers did not get a seat at the table because the school board deliberately did not provide them with a chair.
Unfortunately, we grapple with many of these issues today. Controversies sparked by certain parents and concerned citizen associations, protesting what they believe is a "critical race theory" agenda in the school curriculum, echo past incidents and events presented in the School Street exhibits. Understanding a more nuanced history of desegregation may help Virginians appreciate another view of the evolution of the public education system in the Commonwealth.