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Mission Impossible? What States With Large Percentages of Rural Schools Tell Us About Federal School Improvement Grants

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 90, No. 3

Kristen L. Buras, Georgia State University


It is not uncommon to reference dire conditions in the South to make the nation appear more racially equitable and economically advanced by comparison. In this essay, I argue that the meanings and complexities surrounding commonplace disparagement of the South are not only troubling, but serve to advance the forms of race and class power ostensibly under critique. I do not contend that depictions of the South as racially oppressive are inaccurate or wrong. Rather, my purpose is to reveal that southern exceptionalism is a farce; the North has played a pivotal role in perpetuating White supremacy, which is a national problem, not a regional one. Second, disparagement of the South, seemingly premised on critiques of White supremacy, is likewise premised (with contradiction) on the marginalization of historic traditions of Black education and resistance. Third, when combined, these tendencies enable the most destructive forms of educational reconstruction to be advanced as solutions to what historically has been called the “Negro Question.” To develop my argument, I draw on critical theories of place and race; historical scholarship on the Jim Crow North and South, Black education, and resistance; analyses of popular culture, with a focus on historical and symbolic representations of the South; and a decade of research on school reform in New Orleans, where privately managed charter schools and alternative teacher recruitment—reforms bankrolled by White northern philanthropists—have been advocated as the means for refining southern space, uplifting the race, and modernizing public education to align with business. In the final analysis, I show how conceptions of place and region influence, often in unacknowledged ways, the racial dynamics of urban educational reform in the South and ultimately the nation, much to the detriment of African Americans.