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'Toxic myth'of genetic inferiority prevails

The Federal government's failure to enforce America's desegregation policies is leading to the gradual re-establishment of a racially polarised education system.

Julie Laible of the University of Alabama told the conference that local education officials - usually white and middle class - are allowing segregation to creep back into many school districts. They were also doing too little to combat the gross inequalities in educational attainment between minority and white pupils, and were often too ready to accept the "toxic myth" that genetic factors were responsible for the poorer academic performance of African-American children.

Julie Laible pointed out that 42 per cent of African-Americans over the age of 17 could not read beyond sixth-grade level. She reminded her audience that the Supreme Court's landmark ruling on desegregation in 1954 had stipulated that the doctrine of "separate but equal" had no place in American schools. Nevertheless, owing to a combination of white flight and "creative zoning" of school districts, too many minority children were still not being educated alongside their white peers.

Julie Laible also suggested that some districts were discouraging integration by building schools in "racially isolated" neighbourhoods. And she argued that even in integrated schools minority children were often kept apart from white pupils by tracking (streaming). She quoted one black mother, a lawyer, who had told her: "Black children and white children go through the same doors, but they do not go to the same classes . . . something is wrong when our children think they're dumb when they're grouped with black children. This country will be judged by the progress of all our people."

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