A book co-authored by Knox Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Deirdre Dougherty, Making School Integration Work, recently was published by Teachers College Press. The book tells the story of how two school districts were merged into a single district to work toward solving school segregation.
Dougherty, who joined the Knox faculty in 2018 and specializes in the historical origins of contemporary educational inequalities, explained that she first started this research in 2016. Co-author Paul Trachtenburg, a professor at Rutgers Law School, was conducting research on a community in New Jersey that he believed had successfully become integrated through voluntary action. She explained, “That merger set up a district that, to this day, is actually what we call ‘diverse by choice.’” Then a graduate student, she was selected for the project as a research assistant because her research was on school desegregation, she speaks Spanish, and she has a background in qualitative methods
During the research, Dougherty went into the high school and held focus groups with students in the English Language Learner track about how they felt about school. She did interviews with Latinx parents about how they felt the school was doing in terms of outreach and with teachers, social workers, and administrators about the programs and practices that they had put into place to get to true integration.
“In this project, we were really trying to get people to understand the difference between desegregation and integration—desegregation is merely the legal removal of policies that segregate schools,” said Dougherty. “Integration, or ‘true integration,’ means that there is an acceptance of desegregation and real means through which people of color can set the terms of the process and the community can work together to create educational spaces where all students have equal access and feel an equal sense of belonging. This book tries to show the multiple and entangled processes that have enabled true integration.”
Dougherty explained that this research is related to her teaching in the Educational Studies Department at Knox because of her interest in the relationship between education and race.
- “I draw on historical and qualitative/ethnographic methods in my research. I guess you could say that this research frames the stance I take when I talk about schooling in the U.S.,” she said. “I want students to emerge from my classes with an understanding that school is a powerful institution that reflects and reproduces the best and worst things about our society.”
The book is intended for students, teachers, administrators, and policymakers. “It's set up so that each chapter starts with a vignette about a different facet of integration and ends with a set of lessons that we can take from how this one place approached creating within-district and within-school integration,” she said. “I think the book shows that the process is messy and hard, but ultimately, very necessary.”
Dougherty said that this work continues to influence her research. She has completed a new manuscript, currently under review, that focuses on school desegregation in Maryland between 1950 and 1980. “I'm interested in the history of educational inequality and, in particular, in the ways that race is constructed through discourse.”
When asked about how her work is related to current events, Dougherty said that the public reaction to COVID-19 reveals the centrality of schools in our lives. “They provide a variety of services that we forget about,” she said. “Just paying attention and being invested in our communities is the best thing we can do.”
More information about Dougherty’s book can be found on the publisher’s website.